John Grisham, who “may well be the best American storyteller writing today,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, certainly does not classify himself as a Christian writer. However, he effortlessly weaves Christian language into the pages of his novels, as when he describes the heart of a missionary woman in The Testament or mentions the encouragement a lawyer receives during his “quiet time” in his latest legal yarn, Sycamore Row.
A sequel to the timeless classic, A Time to Kill, this latest novel returns readers to the Southern community of Clanton, Mississippi. Racial tension still exists in the late eighties, and this becomes painfully obvious as a wealthy white businessman dies, leaving behind a handwritten will which provides nothing for his own children and gives nearly his entire estate to his black housekeeper, who had cared for him during his final struggle with cancer. A full-out legal war ensues over the validity of the handwritten will, as lawyers from across the nation scramble to the small town to try and stake their claim in a piece of the tempting financial pie.
Grisham’s purpose in writing the novel? Most likely to provide readers with a really good story, pure and simple. As I read through Sycamore Row, however, I couldn’t help but notice that several biblical principles continually rose to the surface of my mind. This led me to realize that, if a reader so chose, they could read this novel as a parable – a modern story that uses language relevant to the readers of the day, but also reinforces timeless principles or truths.
Here are the three Timeless Truths that I found reinforced throughout the pages of this gripping legal thriller:
Truth #1: Death is a Present Reality For Us All
“And it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” – Hebrews 9:27
The story begins with a dead man swinging from a sycamore tree, and continues to give account of the townspeople as they imagine their own impending deaths and what they might choose to write in their own final will and testament.
The truth is clear: death is real, and no one gets to escape it. Preparing yourself for the end would be wise.
Truth #2: You Can’t Take It With You
“The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods’…But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’” – Luke 12:16-21
Seth Hubbard had been a shrewd businessman, and at the end of his life he had millions stashed away in multiple bank accounts. But as lung cancer claimed his life, he realized that he couldn’t take a penny of it with him.
The truth is clear: earthly rewards are temporary, and it is foolish to live for these things. How much wiser it is to live in light of eternity!
Truth #3: The Love of Money Will Corrupt You
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” – I Timothy 6:10
Lettie Lang, housekeeper of the deceased, is overwhelmed to learn that her former employer listed her as the sole beneficiary of his massive estate. As word gets out, however, overwhelmed doesn’t begin to describe it! Suddenly her extended family begins coming over for long visits, she can’t seem to get rid of her neighbors, countless lawyers begin hassling her, and everyone in town seems to be watching her with their hands extended, hoping for a financial gift.
The truth is clear: when kept in perspective and used with purpose, money can be a useful tool. However, when we begin to love and crave money, even the kindest heart can become ugly. Our hearts can only have one master, and financial gain is a hard taskmaster!
Christian Reader Rating: PG (for mild language and occasional references to the possibility of an “improper relationship” between the deceased and his housekeeper)