Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe isnt read much anymore. When asked, most people muster a vague recollection of a story involving a man shipwrecked on an island, learning to live in a primitive wilderness all by himself . Many who attempt to read it either lose interest because Crusoe doesn’t even get shipwrecked on the island for several chapters (much like Moby Dick, which takes a hundred pages to get Ishmael out to sea). Those that persevere frequently lament that the book becomes a tedious literary version of a survival guide, a “what to do if you are ever stranded on a desert island” kind of book. Most people, not needing such a manual, pass on the opportunity to read this work…to their loss.
Robinson Crusoe is more than just a Swiss Family Robinson-style book on how to survive in the wilderness. It is a meditation on how to understand the relationship between your life and Divine Providence. Defoe’s preface, which is not included in many modern editions for some reason, makes this point explicit:
If ever the Story of any private Man’s Adventures in the World were worth making Pvblick, and were acceptable when Publish’d, the Editor of this Account thinks this will be so.
The Wonders of this Man’s Life exceed all that (he thinks) is to be found extant; the Life of one Man being scarce capable of a greater Variety.
The Story is told with Modesty, with Seriousness, and with a religious Application of Events to the Uses to which wise Men always apply them (viz.) to the Instruction of others by this Example, and to justify and honor the Wisdom of Providence in all the Variety of our Circumstances, let them happen how they will.
The book begins with the choices that led Crusoe to the island. As he learns to cope with his existence, he starts by thinking that wrecking on the island was God’s punishment and that he has ruined his life. As he adjusts to his new surroundings, he beings to view the situation, though not ideal, as God making the best of a bad situation Crusoe created by his own choices. Finally, Crusoe comes to believe the wrecking on that island wasn’t a punishment, nor a salvage job, but rather the best possible route he could have traveled. It was a manifestation of God’s severe mercy. Wrecking on that island was the best possible thing that could have happened to him. When Crusoe realizes this, he declares:
So little do we see before us in the world, and so much reason have we to depend cheerfully upon the great Maker of the world, that He does not leave His creatures so absolutely destitute, but that in the worst circumstances they have always something to be thankful for, and sometimes are nearer deliverance than they imagine; nay, are even brought to their deliverance by the means by which they seem to be brought to their destruction.
Crusoe learned that his own vision is limited and God’s is vast; that his own plans are faulty and short-sighted; that God’s are complete and perfect; that not only is God able to work in spite of bad circumstances, but that even those bad circumstances are made by Divine Providence into the very conduit of God’s blessing and provision.
Robinson Crusoe is a literary parable demonstrating the truths of God’s word which we know all too well but frequently have difficulty holding on to in tough times. Truths like: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” and “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials.” Or “All things work together for good.”
Read it for yourself and see if you believe it. And along the way, you’ll learn how to make raisins and raise goats.