The Book That Understands Me

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

Psalm 19:7 ESV

In his commentary on 1 & 2 Samuel, Bill Arnold relates what happened to French philosopher Emile Cailliet. During World War 1, as a 20-year old youth, he was confronted with the horrors of war. He asked:

What use, the ill-kept ancient type of sophistry in the philosophic banter of the seminar, when your buddy – at the time speaking to you of his mother – dies standing in front of you, a bullet in his chest? Was there a meaning to it all? A [person] can endure anything if only it appears meaningful. But what of the caprices of Fate, what of random killing, of senseless ordeal? Deep in the mud during long winter nights when silent knives became arms of predilection on both sides, I wondered. By then, my thinking had no longer anything to do with philosophy taken for the sake of a qualifying exam… I too felt, not with my reason but with my whole being, that I was naked and – war or no war – destined to perish miserably when the hour came.

He descended into a state of utter pessimism:

The moment came when I was overwhelmed by the inadequacy of my views. What could be done about it? I did not know. Who was I, anyway? Nay, what was I? These fundamental questions of human existence remained unanswered.

Then Cailliet was shot, but was saved by an American field ambulance crew. After his recovery and discharge he resumed his graduate studies. He reflected:

During long watches in the foxholes I had in a strange way been longing – I must say it, however queer it may sound – for a book that would understand me. But I knew of no such book. Now I would in secret prepare one for my own private use. And so, as I went on reading for my courses I would file passages that would speak to my condition, then carefully copy them in a leather-bound pocket book I would always carry with me. The quotations, which I numbered in red ink for easier reference, would lead me as it were from fear and anquish, through a variety of intervening stages, to supreme utterances of release and jubilation.

Eventually he put the finishing touches to “the book that would understand me”. He sat down under a tree on a beautiful sunny day and, as he read his precious anthology, found himself becoming increasingly disappointed. As Arnold comments:

Instead of speaking to his condition as he expected, the passages only reminded him of their context, of the circumstances of his labor over their selection. Then, Calliet says, he knew that the whole undertaking would not work, simply because it was of his own making.

That same day, in quite an extraordinary manner, his wife came into the possession of a Bible. Prior to this Emile had been adamant that religion would be taboo in their home and he had never even seen a Bible by the age of 23. But on that day he was eager to read the Bible and recalls:

I literally grabbed the book and rushed to my study with it. I opened it and ‘chanced’ upon the Beatitudes! I read, and read, and read – now aloud with an indescribable warmth surging within…. I could not find words to express my awe and wonder. And suddenly the realization dawned upon me. This was the Book that would understand me! I needed it so much, yet, unaware, I had attempted to write my own – in vain. I continued to read deeply into the night, mostly from the gospels. And lo and behold, as I looked through them, the One of whom I spoke, the One who spoke and acted in them, became alive in me.

The Bible – the book that understands me!

Bill T. Arnold, 1 & 2 Samuel: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 87-89.

HT: Face-to-Face Intercultural 

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