Thursday, May 26, 2022

Robinson Crusoe & Finding Contentment

I find myself reading more contemporary books these days. So when I return to reading from the dead authors, often it feels like going home again after a long time away and I remember why I was so steeped in books of the past when I was in middle school. There is such a comfort to me in the long sentences. 

Even as I have been reading more newish releases, I'm also trying to make my way through books that have been unread on my shelves for much too long. One of these is Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. I expected it simply to be an adventure story and pleasantly found that it contains much more. I've read his Moll Flanders a couple of times; in college it was presented as being considered the first novel, which I now find strange on realizing that he wrote Robinson Crusoe before Moll Flanders. Maybe it has a thinner plot, but I also found it easier to read. It's philosophical, yes, but in a readable way (to me at least).

Published in 1719, the language is closer to that of the King James Bible than to that of Victorian novels. But it's also much more familiar than reading, say, The Pilgrim's Progress. As our narrator finds himself stuck on his island and as he begins to think of himself as a kind of prodigal son, the philosophical and religious reflections he has put me interestingly in mind of C.S. Lewis. Despite this book being written at a specific period in time by a person with specific religious views, it gets very much to the core of Christianity apart from specific time period views (which, granted, is probably the case given the rise of Protestantism that most of Christianity today is based on). The very point is that, being apart from all of society, Crusoe can read the Bible that he has himself and understand it and focus simply on growing his relationship with God. 

And that's quite a wonderful message. I got more out of reading this book than I've gotten out of many of the contemporary Christian non-fictions books I've read lately. As Crusoe reflects on his sorry state in the island, he also reminds himself of God's providence in delivering him from the storm and seeing to it that his needs are taken care of. The emphasis then becomes on thankfulness as a means to contentment and what we might call joy in any circumstances. He focuses on his daily tasks of seeing to his food and housing and includes in his daily activities prayer and Bible reading. He doesn't ask, God what am I supposed to be doing? Why am I here? When will this or that happen? He simply does what is before him each day and keeps in communion with God. 

This book gives perhaps the best discussion I've seen about contentment--also about doing God's will. If we aren't saved by works, then our focus doesn't need to be on asking, what should I do? Like Crusoe stuck on his island, cultivating the relationship with God is what we should be doing and that's all (bear with me). As Christians, we are not required to do more. God doesn't need us because he can achieve his purposes through anyone. However, it's as we spend time simply focusing on him that, in the right timing, we will be led to do specific things and then we will be able to be responsive to them. 

Christians talk a lot about being metaphorically in the desert or the wilderness as going through a time of trial. I like the idea of adding to being on an island. Sometimes there are periods in which we are asked simply to do the day's tasks. And that's okay. (And yes, there is much more that could be said about this book, but I've only touched on one sub-topic because this is simply a blog post after all, remember?)

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