To Write or Not to Write?

This essay is about life, books, and inspiration.

Can you imagine living in an illiterate society, a society without written novels, poetry, or instruction manuals? Our industrial “first world” society is based upon handing down information via written documents. (At this point, many of those documents exist only as electronic bits, in a certain order, that can be decoded into text and media that are understandable to humans. And if you’ve ever accidentally deleted or otherwise lost a computer file, you know how quickly that information can disappear.)

What is the point of all these written documents? They provide a sort of collective memory for our society, so we don’t have to remember all of the information that we need in life. However, when you think about it, all the books in the world cannot tell you what to do in a new situation. And if the world really is changing as quickly as it seems, how can we know what to do and say in new situations? Are we utterly lost?

Some of the greatest and most influential teachers in history did not write down their teachings. Socrates, Buddha, and Jesus made waves in their respective societies, but they didn’t write instruction manuals for us. Of course their followers recorded many of their words, but there might be a reason that they didn’t write treatises. For one thing, as society develops, people need new information. Secondly, books are not sufficient to guide us in this ever-changing world. At each point in humanity’s history, people have needed different ideas and cultural structures. And, as Jesus was recorded as saying, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12, NASB). If we cannot bear to hear certain things, then we are likely to block them from our minds until we are ready to hear them.

Both Socrates and Jesus claimed to receive inspiration from a spiritual source. Socrates said that a spiritual guide prevented him from acting when he was about to do something that might prove detrimental. And in the Gospel of John, Jesus is recorded as having said this:

“Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works…. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” (John 14:10,16-17, NASB)

This helper that Jesus referred to is usually called the Holy Spirit. This is the spirit that guides certain people who are open to spiritual guidance. The above quotation says that the “world cannot receive” the spirit. “The world” means those who are spiritually blind and are not open to spiritual things.

The book of Daniel says, “Many will be purged, purified, and refined, but the wicked will act wickedly; and none of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight will understand” (Daniel 12:10, NASB). Therefore, some people, referred to above as the “wicked,” do not understand spiritual things.

A world in which everyone was guided by the spirit would be a world in which books were unnecessary. If everything that you needed to know was provided instantly from the spiritual world, then you would not have to worry about what to do our say. An illiterate world might very well be a happier world than a literate world. After all, animals don’t write or read books, and who is to say that a human necessarily has a happier and more fulfilling life than a butterfly, a mouse, or an ant?

It seems to me that people record things because they are afraid of not knowing what to do, or because they want to believe that the future will be like the past. But if the world is always changing, and the future will not be like the past, then we need something more reliable and instantaneous than books to instruct and inspire us.

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