Posts Tagged 'Angelic Conflict'

Is Fantasy Only for Kids? No Way!

To tell you the truth, I’m not sure where this idea that fantasy is only for kids came from. I’ve been reading science fiction and fantasy since middle school. I started with Madeline L’Engle and Andre Norton, progressed to Heinlein, Asimov, and Herbert. I read C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy as a teen, and unbeliever, and had no idea they were allegorical (I found Perelandra to be boring, and That Hideous Strength incomprehensible – they were better when I reread them ten years later as a believer).

Anyway, I never would have thought any of those were “for children,” not even Lord of the Rings which I devoured in high school. Yes, it has dwarves and hobbits and some funny bits, but the devotion to fantastical histories, the density of the prose and the sheer expanse of the tale was unlike any kids’ books I was familiar with.

From there it was Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Watership Down, Patricia McKillip, Anne McCaffrey, C.J. Cherryh, Katherine Kurtz, Stephen Donaldson, and more recently, Robert Jordan and Robin Hobb.

With the exception of Watership Down, I would never have considered any of these writers or books as being for children. Thus it never even entered my mind when I began writing fantasies of my own, that they should be written for children. As I detail in my article Why I Write Fantasy (see the tab above), my intent in part was to analogize the angelic conflict all Christians have been entered in at the moment of new birth after believing in Christ. And I didn’t wish to do it in a simplistic manner. It was also, particularly with Legends of the Guardian King, to trace the trajectory of a man’s spiritual life from unbelief to salvation and on through the various stages of spiritual growth.

Clearly the issues on my radar would be issues faced by an adult, not a child. The spiritual precepts would include those wrestled with by adults, not children.

It was not until I entered the field of Christian Fantasy, that I discovered — to my great dismay — the assumption that all fantasy is for children or young adults and should therefore be “clean” and free of sex or “gruesome” or “extreme” violence. I had well-meaning acquaintances tell me how they had given or recommended my books to the eleven-year-old boy next door, or their nine-year-old nephew.

It’s possible an eleven-year-old could follow the main line of the action, but much of the meat of the story I would think would go right over his head. Not that that’s a bad thing. I read my own share of books just that way – following the action, or certain story lines while the bulk of what was going on remained out of my grasp… (Lord of the Rings comes to mind in that regard – my perception of it as a 40+ year old was far different than when I was 16). It’s just… middle school kids were never my primary audience, and here I was facing a mindset that assumed they were not just my primary audience but my only audience!

And since I was writing for kids… how dare I insert into my book the heresy of having my – adult, male, spiritually disillusioned and until-then-celibate – hero commit a sexual sin! I received irate letters from grandmothers who bought the novel for their grandsons, forced to tear the offending two pages from the book before they could pass it on.

Outraged reviews turned up from mothers on Amazon and Christian Book dot com who, having read the book to make sure it was suitable for their young sons, had discovered it wasn’t. How dare I try to trick them like that and put such a thing in a Christian fantasy!

I remain bemused. I know in time past the entire field of speculative fiction was regarded as juvenile and struggled to gain legitimacy as acceptable reading material for American adults. The reason, supposedly was because none of it was “real.”

This objection has been nullified for science fiction for the most part as more and more of what went for science fiction in the old days has become science fact in ours.

So that leaves fantasy, the last bastion of the “make believe” and the “not real” and only children believe in such … well… fantasies.

As if many romances today are not “fantasy”; or many detective and spy novels! And what about Stephen King and Dean Koontz? Most of what they write about is “not real,” but somehow their books are not seen as “only for children.” In fact they are not seen as being for children at all. (Particularly King’s).

So why does fantasy still have the bad rap of being kidstuff?

The only answer I can think of is that it really does provide an excellent vehicle for portraying truths of the Christian life related to the angelic conflict. And since part of the intent of the opposition force in that conflict is to hide the fact that it exists… well then…. The one genre that people should pay the least attention to is the one that can actually reveal the most about what is really going on… and historically has.

Which makes the whole kidstuff thing almost… acceptable.  Almost.

For a more detailed treatise on all the ways fantasy does what it does, see my aforementioned article in the tabs above: “Why I Write Fantasy.” And if you want to know more about the angelic conflict, check out the tab called “The Angelic Conflict.”

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”  ~ Mt 7:15

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Here are some typical pictures of wolves in sheep’s clothing:

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And here is a picture of what wolves in sheep’s clothing REALLY look like:

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 You will know them by their fruits, not their looks. Not their personalities or mannerisms, not by the way they talk nor even many of the words they say some  cases… It may take a lot of time for fruits to be manifested. Hence the need to be well-schooled in the Word of God, lest we be taken in by their big brown eyes, sweet faces and soft, fluffy wool.

“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thron bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit.” ~ Mt 7:16,17

A Self-Made “Man”

 

I thought I was done with my musings on the nature of Satan for the moment, but some of the comments on previous posts, plus my discovery of this last bit of excerpt from Chafer’s book Satan, has convinced me there’s at least one more post to do on this subject.

Maybe I’m misreading things, but people seem very reluctant to admit that Satan could possibly want to build and order and do “good” things. Several commenters keep coming back to him as ruiner, render, devourer.

I have no argument with that. In the end that’s exactly what he is. Right now that’s exactly how he feels toward God, God’s plan and ways and God’s people.

He’s the roaring lion walking about seeking someone (in context, some believer in Christ) to devour …

But what exactly does “devour” mean. After all, he’s not a literal lion. So how might he go about devouring?

In the context of the verse where this appears (1 Pe 5:8), the believer has just been told to humble himself, to cast all his anxiety on the Lord, to be of sober spirit (not letting emotions get the best of him) and to be on the alert because his enemy the devil is on the prowl seeking to devour him.

Since Rev 12:10 says that Satan is in heaven accusing the brethren day and night before the throne, and since he is a creature who can only be in one place at a time, clearly this roaring lion is not Satan himself, at least in the vast majority of cases.

Instead it would be his minions and the world system he has devised. The word for “devour” — katapino — means to drink down, swallow down, devour.

When you drink or swallow or devour something, it becomes a part of you. Its original form is broken down, changed to other things and assimilated into the body. That is, it becomes part of the body. So the believer’s thinking — because the spiritual battle we’re in is all about thought, the source of action — and motivation and way of living — is drunk down, swallowed up, changed to something else.

Changed to the system of thought the world advances, one that exalts self and opposes God, though it may not always be obvious that’s what it’s doing. Because very often it includes God, the Bible and even Jesus Christ in its subtle methods of exalting self and opposing God. That’s the nature of a counterfeit, to include as much truth as possible into the lie, because the more it looks and sounds like the real thing, the more people will be deceived.

Consider Chafer’s observations regarding Satan:

“His own terrible sin before God would not be condemned in the eyes of the world, for it is that which they most idealize and praise.

In his sin he aspired to that which is highest, and proposed to realize his ideal by his own self-sufficiency and strength.

Are those not worthy goals in our world today? Aren’t we forever being told, even as Christians, that we must strive for excellence and offered myriad ways of doing so in our own strength? Don’t we have and venerate all sorts of competitions to determine who is most excellent? (Especially now that Olympics Season has begun!)

Chafer continues:

“True, he has lowered his Creator, in his own mind, to a level where he supposes himself to be in legitimate competition with Him, both for authority over other beings and for their worship.

“Yet this unholy ambition and disregard for the Creator is a most commendable thing according to the standards of the Satanic order (ie, the present world system).

“In the language of the world, Satan is simply “self made” and every element of his attitude toward his Creator is, as a principle of life, both commended and practiced by the world.

“Though hiding himself, Satan has had the satisfaction, under limitations, of governing the affairs of men; and the delight, to a large extent, of receiving their worship.

If people – including Believers in Christ – are admiring and living by his ideas and his values, then they are essentially worshipping him even if they don’t realize it. And in that regard they have been “devoured”.

 

 

Satan is Not God — and it Irks Him

Over the weekend I received a comment on my post last week Demonism or the Depravity of Man? from a reader that raised a good point and which I’d like to address.

My reader said this in regards to the post:

“I can agree with you that people have a very misguided view of the innate goodness of man.

I’d have to disagree with Chafer about Satan. In John 8:44, Jesus says to the Jews, “You belong to your father the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. …” They wanted to carry out the desires of the devil and indeed they did most brutally murder him. That doesn’t sound like “And certainly he does not prompt them; for they are the natural fruit of an unrestrained fallen nature…”

Man is depraved and therefore a useful tool to carry out the devil’s desires.”

In my original post I was pointing out that contemporary portrayals of Satan and demons as vile, murderous beings bent only on gross evil and the torment of hapless souls were not accurate. To do so, I used some quotes from a book called Satan by Lewis Sperry Chafer.

But I see from the above-quoted comment that there is more to the matter than I discussed, and that Chafer has presented.

I think the best encapsulation of Satan’s nature now is that he is consumed with exalting himself and attacking God. He hates God and wants to do anything he can to thwart His will and plans. Satan wanted desperately to get our Lord to sin before he reached the cross, or, failing that, to kill Him outright before He could do the work He’d come to do. Because once Jesus Christ reached the cross and bore the sins of the world, it was over for Satan, although it’s clear he’s still in denial about that fact.

Currently he also attacks Christians, in whom God lives, in any way He can. He might use a religion to do that, such as Islam, whose Koran instructs its followers to kill Christians.  Or he might choose to do whatever he can to mess up their service and their witness, either by thwarting them, persecuting them, even killing them, or by drawing them away from truth with a counterfeit and duping them. These latter mostly involve the nice guy Satan, or, in light of having just watched The Incredible Hulk, how about the Bruce Banner version?

As he sees his time coming to an end however, (particularly in the Tribulation period), he will abandon his outwardly respectable veneer and show himself for the monster that he is, so unhinged he’ll order his minions to attack the very grass of the field, just because God made it.

Which would be the huge green guy version, going about roaring and smashing things in his rage.

This is all in Chafer’s book; he is not saying Satan never indulges in gross and immoral sins, just that he has given us a skewed view of his personality and his purposes. A view that sees him as gross and immoral and not only incapable of producing any of the good things in the world, incapable of even liking the good things.

I think he does like the good things, just as long as he doesn’t have to acknowledge them as coming from God. In fact, I think he even sees himself as good and right, someone who truly wants  to make everything in the world work well, because it reflects well on him as the leader. His goal is to be like God, as I’ve said, and thus to show himself able to do everything God can do. And before sin appeared, God’s kingdom was righteous and well-ordered.

But Satan isn’t God. So when things don’t go as he likes — as they inevitably will — he’ll throw a fit, and do whatever his deranged nature prompts in the midst of his fury. [Back to The Hulk again]. For now, being restrained by the hand of God, he cannot act freely, but during the Tribulation, when that hand of restraint is removed, and he grows more and more desperate to accomplish his goals, his true nature will be revealed.

Designer Faith

I thought I was done with the Barna survey, but it seems I am not. Because in thinking about the last two bits of information, in addition to something else I came across yesterday, I find I’m being led to do at least one more post on this subject.

I was initially surprised to learn that the Barna Group’s numbers indicated that more than half of self-identified born again believers and almost three quarters of American adults don’t believe Satan is real,   then not so surprised upon learning how very few Americans — even among the born again Christians — hold to a Biblical worldview any more. The lack of a Biblical worldview in part explains the disbelief in Satan… but how is it that so many of our countrymen lack one?

The other thing I came across yesterday was an opinion regarding the controversy over whether the Bible is to be taken literally or figuratively, and that kind of clarified things for me, especially taken in combination with one last bit from the Barna Group’s research.

The writer of the opinion did not believe that basic Bible stories were to be taken as literal, real, historical events but were merely instructional tales. Or at least some were. Others might not be. In any case, the individual defended this viewpoint with the claim that there are many things that can’t be known and thus chose not to question everything and demand that all be defined.

This was not the first time I’ve encountered the opinion that spiritual things are not to be questioned too closely, nor defined in too much detail. It always sounds lofty and somehow more spiritual than the mundane, prosaic activity of trying to make everything fit.

But yesterday, it finally  dawned on me that a person with this viewpoint is primarily concerned with what they believe the Bible says, not what it actually says. And by choosing not to question or seek to define their terms, they pretty much cut off all chance of finding out what it really says.

Imagine  if a scientist did that!  

– Oops!  I forgot! Some of them do!

Okay but they’re not supposed to, and many of them don’t. The whole point of science is to find out about our world, and the way to do that has always been to question and define. The way to understand anything is to do that, even the word of God.

Especially the word of God, I would say.

Which is why I advocate learning from a pastor who has been rigorously prepared in the original languages, the historical settings at the times of writing, and the various categories of doctrines as they are found and/or developed throughout the Bible. You can’t just sit down and read it for yourself without knowing any of these other things and expect to really understand it in depth. Yet that is what many do.

Or so I had thought. In fact, it would appear that most don’t really read it at all…

Last year, an article in USA Today last year called Designer Faith  reported on another Barna Group survey which found that “people no longer look to denominations or churches”  for their theological edification but have made of it a do-it-yourself project. Or, as the article was subtitled, “are tailoring religion to fit their needs.”

“By a three to one margin (71% to 26%) adults noted that they are personally more likely to develop their own set of religious beliefs than to accept a comprehensive set of beliefs taught by a particular church.” 

When it comes to the born again Christians, the number decreases, but not by much and still makes the majority for  61% of them favor an “a la carte” approach to the development of their theological beliefs. 

Worse of all, “leading the charge in the move to customize one’s package of beliefs are people under the age of 25, among whom more than four out of five (82%) said they develop their own combination of beliefs rather than adopt a set proposed by a church.”

As George Barna said, “America is headed toward being a country of 310 million people with 310 million religions.”

It’s kind of amazing and at the same time creepy to see things playing out as the Bible warns.

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires… ”    ~ 2 Ti 4:3

More From Barna: Biblical Worldview

Yesterday I posted the stats about the surprising number of people in the United States who do not believe Satan is a “real force” (let alone a real “person”). Even among self-identified born again Christians, he is only believed to be real by less than half of them.

The same Barna survey  I quoted from also provides some explanation as to how and why this situation has come to be.

In the survey investigating Changes in Worldview Among Christians, the Barna Group identified 6 salient points of belief necessary for one to qualify as having  a “biblical worldview.” These were believing…

    • that absolute moral truth exists;
    • that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches;
    • that Satan is a real being or force;
    • that no one can earn their way into Heaven through good works;
    • that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth;
    • and that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today.

In the research, anyone who held all of those beliefs was said to have a biblical worldview. The results?

Only 9% of American adults  were found to have a Biblical Worldview. Nine per cent of Americans!

Even more surprising, out of those who self-identified as “born again”  Christians,* only 19% were found to agree with all  six  of the points constituting the survey’s “Biblical Worldview”  listed above. That’s less than a quarter of those who call themselves “born again!”

“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some (believers) will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons…”  ~ I Ti 4:1

*For the survey, “born again Christians” were defined as “those who said they have made a personal to commitment to Jesus Christ that is important in their life today and that they are certain that they will go to Heaven after they die only because they confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior.”

I have to say, however, that I would not have qualified as born again in their survey since I take issue with the insertion of a making “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ,” having certain knowledge of eternal salvation, or confessing one’s sins for salvation.  

My definition of a born again Christian is anyone who has believed in the atoning work of Christ’s substitutionary death on the Cross for eternal life. And that’s it.

Or, as Acts 16:31 puts it:  

 “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved…”

Barna: Minority Believe Satan is Real

Yesterday I posted a bit about my thoughts regarding the depravity of man, and touched on some insights given by Lewis Sperry Chafer in his book Satan, regarding the latter’s motivations and methods of operation, motivations which did not include trying to get men to commit gross sins like cannibalism and tortuous serial murders, but if anything would be trying to keep them from doing so. His primary goal is to take God’s place by acquiring the worship of God’s creatures, and proving that he can do just as good a job as God can. In fact, a better job.

In order to accomplish that, he has been willing, as Chafer pointed out, “to be ridiculed by the world as a being without reality… an imaginary fiend, delighting only in the torment of unfortunate souls; making his home in hell,” a metaphor, as it were, for “all that is cruel and vile.”

I have observed that he has had success in this area amongst the general run of people.  In fact, I noted in my post on What the Night Knows, this very fact was addressed by Koontz himself through the words of one of his characters. This character, a priest to whom the novel’s protagonist goes for help, informs us that the idea of demons and such is merely part of the silly superstitions of the past, that they do not exist, and that, in a world “of nuclear weapons, we don’t need Hell and demons, succubi and incubi and hungry vampires on the doorstep. We need food banks…thrift shops, homeless shelters and the courage to express our faith in social action.”

Indeed, we do live in the age of science where the immaterial and spiritual is supposedly not allowed to intrude on our rigorous scientific experiments. Only physical and material evidence will be accepted as proof of the True and the Real. Which in itself is clearly the handiwork of Satan. Because even if that view means he has to work in the shadows, disallowed as the powerful and brilliant creature that he is, it also means his nemesis — The One True God — is disallowed.

Thus I should not have been surprised by the results of a survey on worldview among Christians done by The Barna Group in 2009. Barna is  one of the leading research organizations investigating trends in Christianity and religion in the United States today, and their survey revealed that “just one-quarter of adults (27%) are convinced that Satan is a real force.” 

Okay, but that includes unbelievers, who have been blinded by the very creature they’re being asked about, so that shouldn’t be too surprising. But among born-again Christians it would be a different matter, right?

Sadly, no.

Despite much clear scriptural evidence for the existence of this greatest of all creatures to come from the hand of God, this one who rebelled against Him, and took at least a third of his fellow angels into rebellion with him,  less than half of self-identified “born-again Christians” believe he is real.

 A mere 40% of them.

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  ~2 Co 4:3,4

We know that…the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.   ~I John 5;19

Demonism or the Depravity of Man?

A month and a half ago, I did a post on the Dean Koontz novel What the Night Knows in which the villain, a nightmarishly cruel, self-absorbed, power-lusting, bitter, angry, hateful, lonely, unloved and unlovely psychopath, is urged along his path of the “art” of murdering families by a demon named Ruin. (Demons, says the narrative, are sometimes named for the sins they “most  particularly advocate – names like Discord, Envy, Jealousy or like Perdition, Disease, Ruin.”)

This got me to thinking about the depravity of man, the implication here being that on his own, man could never be as bad as someone like Koontz’s villain, Alton Turner Black. Or Jack the Ripper. Or Nero. Caligula. Ted Bundy. Adolph Hitler… No, man would need the help of a demon to be that bad.

Whenever there’s a story — fiction or real life — about a really nasty psychopath, the suggestion almost always arises that he’s demon possessed. I’m guilty of falling into that thinking myself, most recently regarding the “South Beach cannibal” down in Florida.

Lately I’ve been rethinking that.

Part of the reason for that is because of teaching Ive received from a book I’ve been studying called Satan, by Lewis Sperry Chafer (written in 1919, reprinted ins 1964). It’s fantastic.

Chafer  was a prominent dispensational theologian in the early 20th century and founder of Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas. He was mentored by C.I Scofield (of  Scofield Bible fame), and was in turn a  mentor of Colonel R.B. Thieme, Jr. I was introduced to Chafer’s work immediately after my salvation, when the man who led me to the Lord and taught our college and home Bible studies used Chafer’s book Major Bible Themes as a his class outline. Additonally, my first Bible was one of those above mentioned  Scofield Bibles.

What I like about Chafer’s work is how Scripture-based it is, and how clear;  he sets the various applicable verses in comparison and draws what seem to be the obvious conclusions.

In this case, talking about Satan’s plans, he cites the passage in Isaiah 14 where Satan’s motivations are clearly stated:

 “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars (angels) of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly (of angels) in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I WILL MAKE MYSELF LIKE THE MOST HIGH.”

In other words, he wants to be like God. Not a fiend. Not a destroyer, per se. But like God. He wants authority, control and worship.  His motivation is to oppose God and exalt himself, to take God’s place, and his primary method is deception. Chafer describes it thus:

“He who was the measure of perfection, full of beauty and wisdom; he who made the earth to tremble; who shook kingdoms; has been willing to be ridiculed by the world as a being without reality, that he might , in the end, realize his own deepest desire.

“Again, his own subjects (unbelievers and ignorant believers) have strangely neglected the plain teachings of Scripture on his real power and authority.

” To them he has been an imaginary fiend, delighting only in the torment of unfortunate souls; making his home in hell, and himself the impersonation of all that is cruel and vile: when, on the contrary, he is real, and is the very embodiment of the highest ideals the unregenerate world has received; for he is the inspirer of all those ideals.

“With his own he is not at enmity, and he, like the most refined of the world, is in no sympathy with the grosser forms of their sin. He would hinder those manifestations of evil if he could. And certainly he does not prompt them; for they are the natural fruit of an unrestrained fallen nature…”

Matthew 7:21-23 confirms this last, stating:  “For from within, out of the hearts of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, amplifies this, speaking of man in his natural state: 

“As it is written, there is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.

Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace have they not known.

 There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Having read that, cannibalism seems to fit right in. Yet how many of us reading the above passage would almost instinctively attribute such traits to other people, to another society in another time? Or even, unthinkingly, to demons?

We live in an era that promotes the good of man, the universal brotherhood of man. So many of our countrymen are engaged in making the world a better place, bringing about justice for all, perhaps even believing or at the least, assuming that their good intentions and efforts will ensure them a place in heaven. Or good status in their next life, if that is the direction of their beliefs. Of at the least make their life worthwhile if they think this is all there is.

In our times, people are outraged and incensed should someone even say something bad about another (unless the “other” happens to be George W. Bush :-)) . Oddly, should they happen to eat someone or shoot a bunch of them in a public venue, there doesn’t seem to be outrage so much as hand wringing and wonderment over what could have driven that poor perpetrator to do such a thing. Was it Sarah Palin? Talk radio? Incivility in public discourse?  Western Imperialism? Poverty? Drugs? Racism? Demons?

Never is it  just the fact that people — all people — are depraved and where’s the big shock when they act like it?

And yes, I do mean all people, for even us Christians still have that depraved nature inside us – that power that is totally against God, seeks always and insidiously, every chance it gets, to exalt self, and inevitably at times gets the better of us.

“For you were called to freedom, brethren (note Paul is talking to Believers– Christians); only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

“But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. (Note that we have a choice!) For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. (ie, Godly things, like love your neighbor as yourself).

I’m not saying there is no demon possession. There is. But it’s done with a purpose, under the authority of the Prince of this world, the one who possesses all the kingdoms of the world (Lk 4:5-7) And his purpose is the same as that of our flesh: to oppose God and exalt himself. And his means of executing his purpose is almost always deception.

If he can get us to think we’re not that bad, not as depraved as the Bible says we are, well, then we won’t think we even need a Savior; or if we have believed, won’t understand what that Savior has truly done for us; won’t have the gratitude we ought to have; will think more highly of ourselves than we ought… won’t realise our need for the complete and total overhaul in our thinking and motivation that can only be effected by our daily immersion in God’s word.

Nor the ease with which we can be led astray, by others or by that deceitful power within ourselves.

A New Week, A New Month, A New Beginning

It seems that mostly in life changes don’t get made as clearly and dramatically as they do in dramas or books. Real life — people — are messier than portrayals of them. They make moves in the right direction, then back away, or veer off, then come back, start again, only to get sidetracked once more.

Especially for those who wish to go forward in the course and plan God’s designed for them. Because we have an enemy. I have a quote on my bulletin board about that — about Satan knowing how to attack mind, body and emotions; about his intent being to stop us from going forward in God’s plan for our lives.

So last week, as I was trying yet again to be regular with writing time, and things kept coming up — holidays, losing things, having things break or go wrong — and somehow I wasn’t getting in nearly as much time on the book as I’d hoped. (It didn’t help that I’m still blank headed about it for the most part.) And that quote kept coming to mind.

I wondered, though, that if it was happening now, might that not have been what was happening all along?”  I don’t think so… but  I’m still not entirely sure. I do believe there was a time I was supposed to be resting, and gradually God’s brought me now to a different place. A different “season.”

Because on that same day a few hours after I had those thoughts I tuned in for live Bible Class from Florida (Thursday, May 31) and everything became clear.

Pastor Farley’s language was so precise to my situation that there is no longer any doubt.  He’s been teaching about our race as Christians and the challenge we have to finish, as Paul did in 2 Timothy.  It’s a race or a course that involves us being conformed to the image of Christ as we’re traveling along it, our thinking more and more being aligned with His thinking. The challenge is to stay faithful to the Word of God, not only to constantly learning and retaining it, but obeying it.

The problem is, we have an enemy, one that, as Pastor Farley said, “will do anything to get us off that road to spiritual maturity. ANYthing!”

In the past I’ve taken that to mean  primarily being faithful to daily Bible class rather than the writing. But the fact is God has given me this gift to write and a contract still to fulfill. He has called me to write this book.

In the last few weeks our lessons have been about the importance of being focused on our calling (or spiritual gift, the unique way each of us has been given to serve the Body of Christ), to step out in that area, to make it a priority.  For many years I’ve complicated the issue by whining about my uncertaintly as to whether writing was really a spiritual gift. After all, “writing novels” is not on any of the lists in the Bible. I’ve never heard anyone teach that it is, except maybe for other writers at conferences… but they’re not pastors and anyway…

I doubted.

Well. I know now, without a doubt that it IS a part of my gift (which is exhortation) — and so I have no excuse. Can’t whine any more. No, it’s not like a lot of other peoples’ gifts, but so what? There are varieties of gifts, varieties within any particular category of gift, varieties of ministries with each gift and varieties of results.

So to drag my feet and let myself be distracted is basically  disobeying the calling of God on my life. If He’s called me to do this and I go do somehing else to the point that when I get around to the book I’ve run out of time and/or energy… then that’s not taking my calling seriously.

Pastor Farley gave an example, which I’m going to personalize:  You’re supposed to be heading north on I-10 to Phoenix, but it’s dark and boring, and you can’t see where you’re going and you see some lights off to the east.  That looks more fun, more interesting, so you take an exit. To cater to your frivolous desires of the moment.

Reading email, blogs, messing with cards, reading a magazine, sying yes to other things because I think it doesn’t matter, or it won’t take that much time are frivolous desires if they are intruding on my time to write.

Pastor Farley said,

“[The kingdom of darkness] will see where we’re focused to resist and won’t use that, but something else. Something we’re not ready for. Things that look good, things the world tells you are good — your kid’s seventh sport, your job, all kinds of things. [Your house?] But if ANYTHING is taking you away from the Plan of God, it is WRONG.

For Abraham it was trying to keep his son alive [When God told him to take Isaac up to Mt. Moriah and sacrifice him].  So it can be anything that creeps into your life and takes you away from the course the Lord has you on.”

God the Holy Spirit used those words to open everything up. I used to be like this. I was pretty good at turning stuff away, turning a blind eye, keeping my focus on my work. I understood that if you didn’t do it every day, each succeeding day it would be harder to get around to it. But I lost touch with that.

And now it’s been recalled to mind, and I’ve turned a corner. Oddly, an old Thieme quote that I used to believe applied to housework as the calling as opposed to writing (as the self-indulgence), has been turned around to apply to the writing:

“Arrogance  causes you to lose your sense of responsibility. You spend too much time thinking ‘What do I want?’ rather than ‘What does God want? What is right?’ Your desires become more important than your responsibilities. You’re no longer living life to please the Lord Jesus.”

I think illustration of Abraham helped so much because trying to keep Isaac alive would not always be the wrong thing for Abraham to do. We always seem to want some form of Law. Just tell me how it’s to be done and I’ll follow it every day from now on.

And then I won’t have to think about it. I can just do it and be assured of being right. But that’s not how God does things. So many things can be wrong at one time and right at the other. And the only way we can know the difference is by the guidance of God in our lives at the time…

What the Night Knows

 A couple of posts back, I mentioned coming upon a new Dean Koontz book in the grocery store and impulsively buying it, seeing as it filled a need I had decided I had that same morning — the need for a good book to read that would keep me from getting too active and exhausting myself in my “recovery” from surgery. That book was What the Night Knows.

I love the title. And the cover!

As I also mentioned, I read pretty much all that afternoon — not straight through the story, but skimming over all the “irrelevant” scenes to find the answers to questions I just couldn’t wait for.  AFter all, I wasn’t “officially” reading the book yet, just dipping my toe in the water. In this case, it was a good thing, because I was hoping something would happen that didn’t, was in fact, the opposite of what he was doing.

After that, other things, including continued bouts of tiredness, took up my time and I made minimal progress until this weekend. Starting from where I began skimming, I read it all the way through and finished it last night.

Koontz is, as multiple reviewers point out, a master at what he does. His characterizations, descriptions, pacing, humor, plot twists… are all top of the line. In this book I especially loved how he gave each of the protagonist’s three children a distinct voice when he was writing from their point of view. There was the 13-year-old wanna be Marine, Zachary; the 11-almost-12 diva, Naomi, who was in love with life — and hats — her perception cloaking almost everything in her periphery with an aura of magic and wonder; and 8-going-on-9 Minette, or Minnie, the wise beyond her years “baby” of the family who alone of all of them had the best grasp of the evil that stalked them. They are great kids — funny, individual, typically kids in the way they interact with each other, annoying, pestering, teasing… but also loyal and loving. Probably a bit more thoughtful and mature than the general run of kids, but seeing as they’ve been homeschooled, this was not too much of a stretch for me. They reminded me in a way of the Narnia kids…

The story begins with their father, Detective John Calvino, investigating the recent group-murder of an entire family that eerily echoes in numerous precise details the first of a string of family murders that occurred twenty years previously. John’s parents and sisters had been the fourth family to die in that previous string, before John himself, at age 14, shot the murderer dead in their home. Now he increasingly comes to suspect the ghost of the original murderer has somehow come back from the grave to start anew, and he fears his own family is on the list of new victims-to-be.

There was much to ponder as I read, and after I finished, as well. Koontz explores the depravity of man, demon possession, the intervention of God, guilt, sacrificial love, and redemption — this latter not, I’m sorry to say, through the agency of Christ, but rather a man’s willingness to lay down his life for his family as a sort of penance…  But regardless of whether I agree with Koontz’s position there, it still draws my thoughts to the subject and provides occasion for contemplation and clarification of my own understanding.

One of the things I was particularly interested in was the unfolding of what is in essence a spiritual battle against forces of evil, a battle our culture has managed to delegitimize. Battles against evil spirits and tales of possession, vampires, etc, might abound in movies, books and video games but mostly people don’t believe any of that is real. Granted the true battle is largely invisible and involves thoughts and words more than the physical attacks of a possessed psychopath, but even an invisible battle is difficult for many to swallow, perhaps because the physical battles as portrayed in the above mentioned outlets are so outside of anything they’ve ever seen in real life they can’t help but throw the baby out with the bath water.

Koontz played off this reluctance to believe in supernatural battles. When John is finally forced to tell his boss not only what he suspects but why (to explain why he has been breaking regulations in the things he’s been doing) his boss immediately assumes he’s having psychological problems and gives him thirty days’ leave.

When he goes to his parish priest, he is told, “We’ve come a long way in the past hundred years, and further with every passing decade. But the full flowering of the faith in our time is delayed by medieval ideas that make the Church seem hopelessly credulous. Faith isn’t superstition, John. Superstition is a stain on faith, a perversion of the religious impulse and possibly a fatal corruption of it.”

When John attempts to clarify what he takes for a misunderstanding, the man adds, “In an age of nuclear weapons, we don’t need Hell and demons, succubi and incubi and hungry vampires on the doorstep. We need food banks…thrift shops, homeless shelters and the courage to express our faith in social action.”

He then gives John the name and number of a psychiatrist who is a “good man” and will be able to help him.

John’s partner later comes to believe the threat is real, as do all the members of John’s family who have each experienced their own encounters with the evil spirit. Naturally, the reader does as well, having been present with each viewpoint as the story unfolds and in that experience willingly suspending disbelief.

Late in the tale John speaks to another priest, a defrocked former exorcist who does believe in demons and evil. The ex-priest brings up the matter of divine interventions in delivering people from demon possession, implying that is the only real hope he can offer John in the matter. He even points out the disparity that exists between believing that a demon might actually be tormenting them, but not that God might also be present and willing to deliver them.

“Is your willingness to believe so elastic,” asks the ex-priest, “that it can stretch that far?”

 “I’ve seen the demonic,”  John replies. “If it’s real, so is its opposite.”

Yay! 

Sort of.  Because the opposite reasoning can also be applied. That is, “I don’t believe in demons — I’ve never seen any actual manifestation of demon activity — and so I don’t believe in God, either. Nothing supernatural for me. All truth resides in the mind and understanding of man and must stand up to the rigors of the scientific method, must give measurable physical proof of its existence in order to qualify as truth.”

Or, slightly less antagonistic, believing  only in a God who is impersonal, remote and primarily occupied with things other than what’s going on on earth.

Oddly, in the end  Koontz seems to buy into the latter notion, for even as he writes in some detail of the personality, motivations and nature of the demon, who is extremely up close and personal with his victims, God on the other hand is portrayed as largely uninvolved, deigning to intervene only occasionally and only in the most dire circumstances — though even in those He is not consistent.  When He does intervene, He does so by means of proxies — either “innocent” children or loyal animals or both — and apparently requires some sort of worthy action on the part of at least one party among the rescued.

In fact there is much made in this story of  innocence and purity being the protection against possession, while sin and weakness and deception are the doorways for it. By this template, any adult or adolescent male child can, almost at any time, be possessed, if a demon is about. We all have weaknesses. We all sin. We are all deceived in some way or other. Only the truly saintly, of which there are almost none, says the former exorcist, can be assured of protection.

This is the God of religion, I think. The God of the natural mind, for the natural mind always wants to make things hinge on itself, on things the creature has done, rather than celebrating what the Creator has done. On the power and integrity of the creature rather than that of the Creator.

More and more God is showing me that it is the latter that is the only thing that really matters: What He has done. Who He is.

And that is not the message of this story; instead it celebrates the basic goodness of a man, the power of human love and a man’s decision to sacrifice for his family. That is what we are to applaud.

It is a common theme in Koontz’s work, and, I’m sure, one of the reasons he has become a best-selling novelist. But ultimately, man is not basically good, human love is weak and while self-sacrifice is laudable, it’s nothing compared to the sacrifice of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, particularly when you consider that it was done for those who were at the time His enemies.


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