Monday, January 30, 2017

Book Review: The Life of Our Lord by Charles Dickens

The Life of Our Lord: Written for His Children During the Years 1846 to 1849 by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens wrote The Life of Our Lord for his family, so that his children would have a simple and straightforward way to learn about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. He never published it in his life time and bequeathed the manuscript to his son on condition that he not publish it. His son respected his father's wishes but did not lay such a restriction on his own son who published the book in 1933.

The book follows the gospel accounts, retelling the many events and teachings in Jesus's life with simple language. Each parable is followed with a paragraph by Dickens explaining what the parable meant (though not in detail--he doesn't get into the significance of the angry loyal brother in the Prodigal Son). The book is about the length of a gospel, making it easy to read in a short time.

I was a little surprised by two omissions. First, Dickens describes how, after being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus went into the wilderness to pray and fast. But he skips the temptations by the devil. Second, he misses the whole Eucharistic significance of the Last Supper! After explaining each parable in turn, it is very odd not even to quote Jesus saying over the bread, "This is My body." Maybe he thought the issue was too complicated for his children (the oldest was twelve in 1849) or he just wanted to focus on the gospel message as a model for behavior rather than a core set of beliefs. Saying anything with certainty is hard since the book wasn't published or discussed in his lifetime.

Dickens' summation at the end is typical:
Remember!--It is Christianity TO DO GOOD, always--even to those who do evil to us. It is Christianity to love our neighbours as ourself, and to do to all men as we would have them do to us. It is Christianity to be gentle, merciful, and forgiving, and to keep those qualities quiet in our own hearts, and never make a boast of them, or of our prayers or of our love of God, but always to show that we love Him by humbly trying to do right in everything. If we do this, and remember the life and lessons of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and try to act up to them, we may confidently hope that God will forgive us our sins and mistakes, and enable us to live and die in peace.

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