by Ruth Hammond Barrus
In the word of Elder Sterling W. Sill, "The most important fact in the universe is God. The second greatest factor is found in human beings, and ranking in the third place would undoubtedly come our treasury of great books."
It is easy to agree with the importance of these true things, but I would like to say that I find all three of these things in the treasury of books. I find God in the sacred books of scripture. I thrill when I hear Abraham testify: "Thus I, Abraham, talked with the Lord, face to face, as one man talketh with another, and he told me of the works which his hands had made..., and he (the Lord) put His hands upon mine eyes, and I saw those things which His hands made, which were many, and they multiplied before mine eyes, and I could not see the end thereof." (Abraham 3:11-12)
Moses also reveals to us (Moses 1) that when God is with us, all things are opened unto us, even to the ends of the earth, but when God is not with us "man is nothing." Through great books, I know God and also can bear testimony of Him.
It is through great books that I can know a person better, how he thinks, and feels and why he does things the way he does, than if I lived with him for 25 years; because I am not just dealing with revelation, I am dealing with interpretation and the capability of insightful interpretation is vital to my growth and understanding.
Henry James -- "Something is happening to me every minute - is it wasted on you. Are you interpreting it."
To become interpreters of life we need to explore life, and character, and experience in depth in a kind of selectivity that will add dimension and fulfillment to our lives. Plato has indicated a selectivity process that can be relied on. He said that it takes 100 years to know the worth of a masterpiece. And isn't it a note of optimism in a very pessimistic world, that that which has survived the 100 years of evaluation process has been that which has made man better.
Plato also made another point of evaluation which maybe can guide us in our selectivity. He said all great masterpieces should contain three touchstones. 1. Universality, 2. Suggestivity, and 3. Individuality. The prime example of these 3 touchstones is the scriptures.
Our next vital sources for them is in our great literature. President David O. McKay says that the arts and great literature are affirmation of the gospel. As in the scriptures, we learn through experience the nature of good and evil, but more importantly we learn that it isn't the conflicts and problems outside us that destroy us -- they provide the challenge for us to make decisions regarding our lives -- but the weaknesses of man on a multitude of things -- civilization, society, parents, religion. Nothing seems to escape the blame of our weaknesses. The individual becomes easily stripped of all responsibility, and he lies bleeding, a victim of our society.
The scriptures, however, clearly point out that it is given unto all men to know good from evil -- and this brings the circle back to man and the responsibility for his defeats.
It was not the daughters of King Lear that destroyed Lear, -- but his weakness of love of flattery; nor was it Lady Macbeth who destroyed Macbeth, but his love for power; just as it was not Iago who destroyed Othello, but his weakness of jealousy.
"Through scripture and great books we learn that mans greatest enemy is in himself -- outside conflicts only provide the challenge to prove oneself. This is a lesson our age should learn anew, and we cannot, except we come close to the wisdom of the ages."