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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  1. I agree one hundred percent!


  2. The problem for me


    was that they apparently had to be conscious to be saved. If Conner hadn’t come back, he would’ve been toast. But that implies that those in a coma or vegetative state are beyond reach unless they snap out of it, and that in turn strengthens the argument for pulling the plug. I think it’s clear that God can reach such people, so that part I object to.


  3. I was glad to see a writer unafraid to handle the topic of hell, and do so without apology, but I questioned some holes in the reasoning that didn’t jive with what I know from Scripture. However, I went along for the ride — and it was quite a ride! — just to see where the story took me, and I’m glad I did. Despite the aforementioned holes, I think Mr. Pawlik presented Truth pretty faithfully.


  4. Thanks, Beth. I appreciate your response.

    Steve, I guess I missed that. I thought he was saved when he was pulled away from falling.

    And yes, Keanan, I gree with you. This is the first time I can honestly say I get Christian horror. This book was intended to be scary for a purpose, an eternal purpose, just like fire and brimstone sermons were meant to be scary. There is real punishment awaiting those who turn away from God and we do them no favor by being quiet about it. Good for Tom in pushing the subject to the forefront by writing a compelling story.



  5. Becky,

    Thanks for your thoughtful input and review. What a wonderful community of quirky, brilliant, sci-fi and fantasy-loving Christians you’ve opened me up to (pardon the prepostitional ending)! Yet christians feverishly devoted to Truth.

    Believe me, writing this story was like walking through a doctrinal mine-field. Here’s a couple thoughts:

    1. My portrayal of Christ as the boy. It was my desire specifically NOT to show Him as fearful. My intention was to show Him as intensely desiring to warn Conner not to go on the lake or go out in the yard. It was not to show Him as being afraid of the demonic creatures themselves. In as much as readers may perceive the boy as being afraid is my failure to make that clear.

    As to His disappearance, I must confess (in part) to using a cheap fiction contrivance. He disappeared because He could. He left Conner and the others on their own much as He sent the disciples on ahead in the boat alone, knowing full well a storm would arise and He would come strolling to the rescue on the water.

    Maybe He has a penchant for dramatic entrances.

    2. This book was inspired in many ways by “The Great Divorce”, but I did not wish to leave the impression that people get a second chance after death as it seemed to be depicted in that book. So, as you said, I wanted the Interworld to be a place where people are still alive. They’re only MOSTLY dead.

    3. I also did not want to give the impression that Conner–or anyone–could be saved while dying or in a coma. Scripture may be vague on the topic, but I’d rather err on the side of caution.

    Sorry to be so long-pixeled. But thanks again for the wonderful opportunity to be on this blog tour.


  6. Tom, thanks for the response. Great to have you drop by.

    1. You know, I read in one of the blog posts the criticism that the Christ figure showed fear, and I questioned that. Except, I questioned my memory more. I liked that Conner carried the boy to the boat—made me think how some claiming Christ’s name will carry it places He never goes and use it in ways He isn’t associated with.

    2. Ah, so The Great Divorce inspired you. Vanish was so different, I didn’t associate the two until my second post when I was trying to think of an example to make my point.

    3. I know this was an issue with Steve, but as I said in this post, Scripture is silent about a person’s relationship to God when in a coma. We don’t know if our spirit is conscious or not. Therefore, I think it’s fair game for speculation. If you want to say, no, Conner needs to be awake to be changed, I see no problem, but if another writer sees it the other way, I see no problem there either.

    And, hey, I thrive on long comments. 😉 I appreciate you taking the time.



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