It seems an unprofitable activity, to review one of the worst books I’ve read, but actually the very reason why the book in question was bad is also, at the same time, a healthy challenge. I should probably add that I don’t read a lot of biographies and autobiographies, while I’m sure there are some great ones out there then I’ve never really been particularly interested them. Perhaps it’s an extension of an inherent self-centeredness on my part : why read about someone else when my life is more interesting? Hopefully, that’s only a small part of it.
Anyway, I picked up Comfy Glasgow: An Expression of Thanks by George Mitchell because it had been resting unread on my bookshelf for a number of years (I think around five) and it looked like it could be an interesting account of a Christian living in a deprived area (I based this on the logic that all of Glasgow is more or less a deprived area). It also had a series of good reviews on the back including one by Derek Prime whose name I recognised and generally approved of.
As you may have guessed from the understated title; the book was somewhat of a disappointment. But let’s deal with the positives first: it’s well written and it’s very much about an ‘ordinary’ Christian, not someone who is a big deal, well known or had a Damascus Road conversion. Mr Mitchell lived your bog standard life, if it can be reduced so.
Therein, does not lie the problem. Just because his life was ordinary does not mean it could not have been interesting. In fact, I hoped this would make it better: seeing the trials and struggles of the average Christian. Regrettably, this wasn’t so. Mr Mitchell’s account of growing up is, as a review on the back says: “historically, culturally and socially excellent, doing justice to the great City of Glasgow.” But the issue in question is that the book is not spiritually excellent.
When I got to the end of the book I was left wondering whether or not Mr Mitchell was a Christian. I hope he is (was?) and I was troubled that such a thought would exist after reading an openly Christian autobiography. But if he was a Christian then his book had little to say about it. Sure, it mentioned church, it mentioned his conversion, it mentioned studying in bible college, it mentioned various religious activities. On the surface his life was a Christian one. I think I do give him the benefit of the doubt. But there was nothing said by Mr Mitchell about his own spiritual affections, nothing about the inward struggles of the Christian life, very little said about Jesus, very little said about the fight of every Christian against the world, the flesh and the Devil. There were no mountains of faith or pits of unbelief. Nothing about growth in holiness, love, knowledge and communion with God. Instead there was a great absence, a conspicuous lacking of spiritual reality, spiritual deepness and spiritual maturity.
The biggest question on my mind at the end of reading his book was: is that it? Is that all you have to say for yourself? Was that your life? Because it was nothing. By neglecting to discuss his relationship with his Father God in any great detail his life was rendered meaningless. A well written banal account of an ordinary life where he went there and did this, got married and then did that and moved there. There was so much of self and so little of Christ!
Mr Mitchell’s autobiography is a heart searching cautionary tale to every Christian. Do you want your life to be so empty? Unless Christ is at its centre it will be. I expect most of us will live ordinary lives, very much like Mr Mitchell’s in many ways, comfortable, middle class, a few kids and a job. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with such a life but only if God is glorified through it and in it. Is Christ written across every page of your autobiography?
Mr Mitchell reflected back on his life and barely mentioned his God. It made me sad, and angry and it challenged me greatly. What if, at the end of my life, such a thing could be said of me? What if, one day, I write an autobiography and Christ barely gets a look in? What if I waste my life too? What if I am wasting it now?
As it says in Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (1v2) And Comfy Glasgow is exactly that – well written vanity. This is the point of Ecclesiastes, there is an inherent vanity to life, a meaninglessness to it all. We’re born, we live, we die. Statistically speaking, one out of one people die. There isn’t anything we can do about it and we can’t take anything with us. Mr Mitchell’s book brilliantly captures this emptiness. When all was said and done his life was a vanity, seemingly devoid of any meaning or purpose.
Without God, without God at the centre, such is a life we will all live. Even as Christians we can waste our lives away, chasing many things except our God. I’m not saying that you need to turn your back on the standard middle class dream. By no means. It is equally possible to waste your life as a sacrificial social do-gooder if Christ is not there. But please, seek the Lord, have Christ at the centre of your heart, live as though the gospel that saved you was true!
Be concerned as well, be worried, be warned, for the story you write could so easily be exactly like Mr Mitchell’s. This is my fear over my own life. For such a thing would be a tragedy. Take a long hard look in the mirror, allow the challenge to hit home, ponder whether or not Christ is your all in all. Could you write a book about your life and barely mention him? Could you list all the things you’ve ever done but nothing of the hard won lessons of the school of Christ? Would your story be all about you and not about your Lord?
Perhaps Mr Mitchell was not as bad as I remember, perhaps he did talk more about spiritual things than I recall. But the lasting impression was of a man who knew very little of the internal reality of the Christian life. The resulting shallowness was scarce enough to paddle in. For this very reason I recommend you read his book and allow it to challenge you to know more of the love of Christ which surpasses all knowledge.