CSFF Blog Tour, Day 3 – Themes in Vanish


Today is the final day in the CSFF Blog Tour for Tom Pawlik‘s debut novel, Vanish. Check out what the other bloggers are saying by clicking on the post links (check marks) next to the list of participants below my interview with Tom.

As far as I’m concerned, this is my most important post of my three tour-related articles. While I find a discussion of writing techniques and the enjoyment factor and the viability of Christian horror (supernatural suspense) interesting topics, and even necessary, I continue to believe that WHAT a book has to say is the most significant factor, even in fiction.

And happily, Tom has important things he wants to say, as he stated earlier this week in an interview with blog tour participant Grace Bridges:

I don’t think of myself as writing a parable, but I do want to communicate spiritual truths through the story.

    * * * * * SPOILER ALERT * * * * *

So what are the spiritual truths that Tom is communicating in Vanish? There are a number, but the ones that jumped out at me are ones I don’t hear a lot of people talking about these days.

When was the last time you heard a sermon about hell? Or judgment? Or life after death? In eras gone by, these topics were regulars from the pulpit. Today, not so much.

And yet Truth hasn’t changed. There is life after death. There will be judgment. And hell is an actual place prepared for those who turn their backs on God.

These are the themes I saw as central to Vanish, and I have to say, About time. For far too long, we Christians have sat on our hands as false teaching has seeped in our midst—the kind of teaching that says God loves his creation so much he would never do anything so opposed to love as assign anyone to eternal punishment. After all, God is not a wrathful tyrant sitting up in heaven waiting to torture as many people as he can, for surely a god who would assign people to hell would be that kind of god.

Like all false teaching, there is an element of truth in this line of thinking. God is a God of love. No, that’s actually incomplete. God is Love. He is not a tyrant. He does not delight in torturing people.

But to think of God as ONLY love is also to limit Him. He reveals Himself to be a jealous God. Jealous! Not something we normally think of in association with God. He is also just. Jesus makes it abundantly clear that there will in fact be a day of judgment in which people who rejected God will be held accountable. Such accountability includes punishment.

In a number of parables, Jesus concluded with lines like this:

Then the king said to the servants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 22:13)

So what does all this have to do with Vanish? In today’s culture, story has again asserted itself as a significant purveyor of truth. While I still believe we need good sermons about the reality of the afterlife, judgment, and hell, I also think stories like Tom’s go a long way to showing the reality.

The final question is, how faithful to Truth is this story? I’ve actually changed my mind since yesterday.

First, this story, unlike C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, is about people who are yet alive. In the imagined world of Vanish, the characters are conscious only of their spiritual existence, though they see it as if it were their physical world. As far as I know, there’s nothing in Scripture about the spiritual condition of a person in a coma. Consequently, however Tom wants to portray that state, as long as the story doesn’t fall victim to some other lie, should be admissible speculation.

From my reading, I’d conclude Tom is interested in revealing Truth, not diluting it.

Second, I thought to object to the activity of the demons. One of the false beliefs about Satan, as I pointed out in “Satan’s Favorite Lies,” is that he is the king of hell. He is not. Hell is the place God has for his eternal punishment, and not his personal fiefdom away from God’s authority.

Thinking along those lines, I questioned the demons’ pursuit of Conner, Mitch, Helen and the others. But a look at Scripture, shows that demons are all about destruction. In the New Testament they threw people into fires, caused a herd of pigs to rush to their destruction, made a man cut himself and become so violent people tried to chain him up but couldn’t. In the Old Testament, a demon enraged King Saul so he tried to kill David, and so on. Throughout the Bible, demons consistently aimed to bring destruction.

Plus we know from the Bible that Satan is the enemy of our souls. Why, then, in fiction wouldn’t demon portrayals be pursuing near-death people? Chomping at the bit, so to speak, thinking these individuals were about to seal their own fate for eternity. And, in fact, desirous of helping them on their way.

It’s a chilling picture, and dark, as a number of tour bloggers commented, but that doesn’t make it any less true. And it’s a truth we have stopped teaching very often, one our culture no longer believes. Maybe a book like Vanish or it’s sequel Valley of the Shadow will help readers come to grips with these spiritual realities.

Published in: on June 24, 2009 at 11:51 am  Comments (6)  
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