The Value Of Monsters

MonsterI’m not a horror person. I don’t go to horror movies, and I try not to read horror literature (once in a while I’ve acquiesced and read a novel by a friend or for a blog tour). I’m not big on supernatural stories either, which usually have some type of confrontation with demons. I’ve chalked this up to the fact that I don’t like to be scared.

I figured no one liked to be scared, so I couldn’t understand why a great many people “enjoyed” horror stories. Lo and behold, when I actually took time to ask around, I discovered that a lot of people actually DO like to be scared. They get a rush of adrenaline that jolts them, and they find the experience exhilarating.

Except . . . then I discovered some people who like monster stories but not demon stories. The monsters are pretend, the explanation goes, but the demons are real. The monster stories inevitably show victory over the monsters. They help process through make-believe what we must contend with in real life. And good wins out in the end.

In the long run, I think that’s precisely the function monsters serve. We are faced with humans who act like monsters because of the corruption of sin. Sometimes we see our own monstrous tendencies. And of course there are the rulers, powers, world forces of this darkness, and the spiritual forces of wickedness–spiritual monsters–Paul says are our true enemies (see Eph. 6:12).

Fictitious monsters put limits on evil. They become more manageable when they have a defined scope and a finite appearance. Oh the other hand, I suspect one reason vampires (until Twilight) were such feared monsters was their immortality. If you can’t kill a monster, it becomes infinitely more frightening.

Some of the most famous horror stories were, in fact, centered on efforts to kill what seemed to be indestructible.

Perhaps the best and most truthful horror story would be the one that shows a monster that cannot be overcome, at least not by ordinary humans. We are, after all, without means to defeat sin and Satan. God alone can put an end to those we war against.

But I suppose most monster stories aren’t about ultimate victory as much as they are temporal overcoming. After all, stab a stake into the heart of one vampire, and another one creeps around the corner into town.

So we battle one monster at a time, and perhaps the make-believe stories help some to go forward into the fight, equipped and prepared and less afraid.

Me? I’ll just confess it up front: I’m a coward. I would much rather hide from the prowling lion, the wolf in sheep’s clothes, the dragon breathing fire. I have a Rock, a Fortress, a Deliverer, and I prefer taking refuge in Him. 😉

Published in: on October 31, 2013 at 5:26 pm  Comments (6)  
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An Attitude Shift

Locusts_feedingAll things are lawful. That’s what the Bible says, and that’s apparently the way many Christians are living their lives. The fact is, however, that the Apostle Paul who penned those words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit didn’t stop there. He went on to say that not all things are profitable or edifying.

As part of this “not all are profitable or edifying,” I was raised to believe that some things were better left alone lest they prove to be harmful or stumbling blocks.

Alcohol was one such thing. Yes, the Bible did not prohibit drinking. In fact Jesus turned water into wine, and that makes it pretty hard to make a case against drinking alcohol. And yet there were cultural considerations–how strong was the alcohol in Biblical times and what other drinks did they have available? In addition there is the knowledge we’ve gained today about the addictive quality of alcohol and the psychological propensity of some people toward addiction.

In short, we have choices people in the first century didn’t have, bad and good, and we have an awareness that we might find alcohol more than we can handle. So is it OK to drink? Presented with such a choice about any number of things–smoking, doing drugs (easier to decide because those are illegal), sex before marriage, going to movies, dancing, gambling–my church and family challenged me to error on the side of caution.

My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, I was reminded, and a temple should be cared for, not exposed to harmful substances, whether harmful physically or emotionally or spiritually.

I suspect that kind of reasoning is foreign to today’s youth.

As I look back at the particulars of the things I was taught, I can see how some churches and some individuals turned those tenets into legalistic propositions that defined spirituality. Clearly such a misuse of cautionary behavior is wrong. And today legalism has become the great sin of the church.

But it seems to me we have tossed the baby out with the bath water (that’s really a horrible image, isn’t it?) Yes, we have unshackled our youth by teaching them that the only sin connected with alcohol is drunkenness and that sex outside of marriage is wrong but if you’re going to do it, be sure it’s safe sex, and dancing isn’t outlawed in the Bible (after all, David danced before the Lord), and on and on. But where’s the caution? Where’s the “all things may not be profitable or edifying”?

From what I can see, Christian kids are too often thrown to the locust–that is, forced to make decisions that could affect their entire lives without the cautionary wisdom that they might want to protect the temple of the Holy Spirit from harm. They’re given the facts, certainly. They know about addiction and sexually transmitted diseases and designated drivers.

But they aren’t being challenged, I don’t think, to choose what is profitable and edifying. They’re being taught how to play with fire rather than the wisdom to stay away from fire.

“All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (1 Cor. 10:23).

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” 1 Cor. 6:19-20).

In the end, I chose some of the things I was taught as a young person and rejected others. What I didn’t reject was the principle that I had freedom, including freedom to choose the profitable and the edifying. I was not a slave to my lusts or to the way the world does things.

Yes, I acted like a slave at times–still do. Thank God for His mercy.

What I fear is for this generation of young people and their children who aren’t being taught that they don’t have to involve themselves with lawful things simply because they are lawful. They can choose a better way, a profitable and edifying way, that will spare them lives of heartache and missed opportunity.

God can redeem the years the locust have eaten, but I can’t help but wonder if we who should be teaching the next generation when we lie down and rise up, when we’re sitting in our houses or walking along the road are not fulfulling our responsibility. Should we not clue them in that all things may be lawful, but a whole lot of stuff isn’t profitable or edifying?

Published in: on October 30, 2013 at 7:07 pm  Comments Off on An Attitude Shift  
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Dogmatism And What Christians Don’t Know

halloween-1369053-mRecently I took the time to write a number of articles to refute the notion that spiritual things are not knowable (for starters, see “Christians Should Not Be Silent,” “What Christians Know,” “What Else Christians Know,” “Christians Also Know . . .,” and “Doubt And Uncertainty.”) Frequently those who take the “can’t know” approach accuse Christians of being know-it-alls. Because I say there are things Christians do know, I am not saying we know everything.

Sometimes I think we need to remind each other of this fact. Because we are Christians, we don’t know who will make the best President of the United States or who should be the next Supreme Court justice. We don’t know if it’s better to delay Obamacare or not. We don’t even know if we should celebrate Halloween or if we should baptize babies or move to Arizona. We don’t know if we should homeschool or send our children to Christian school or to our local public school.

Let’s face it: there are tons of issues that require an opinion, and most of them do not have a corresponding, clear statement of Scripture by which we can set our convictions. There may be principles to guide our thinking, but different people can interpret principles in different ways.

Which brings me to dogmatism. We should cut it out (she said dogmatically. 😉 ) Seriously, dogmatism, by its nature, leads to some dangerous things: legalism, self-righteousness, pride, exclusivity, prejudice, even abuse.

As soon as we cling to a belief dogmatically such that we believe our position is the only right one, we are putting ourselves in jeopardy. Please note: I’m not referring to those things that Christians know, such as God is, Jesus shows us the Father, we are saved by His grace, and so on.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. I believe the Bible clearly teaches parents are to discipline their children. Some parents believe that when Scripture refers to the “rod of correction,” this means a literal rod and the only appropriate discipline is spanking.

Other parents take issue with that view and believe there are effective means of discipline which fulfill the Scriptural principles regarding raising children that don’t include spanking.

My caution is against dogmatism and against ignoring Scripture. If one parent understands what Scripture says about discipline and decides the best way to implement the principles is by spanking, and another parent, also using Scripture, decides to use time-outs, neither should judge the other.

Scripture is to be our guide, and by prayer, trusting in the Holy Spirit to illuminate His truth, we should make reasoned, careful decisions. But once we’ve done so, we need to refrain from extrapolating from our experience to what all other Christians or Americans or humans should do.

We don’t know what God has in mind for someone else and ought not judge.

However, not judging does not mean we are to make our decision and ignore everyone else. We are in relationship with others. With peers we are to let iron sharpen iron. We are to discuss, even debate, so we and they can learn. We are to teach–older women, the younger, and older men, the younger. Pastors and teachers are to instruct. We are to live as examples for one another as Paul did for the church at Philippi.

In other words, it’s fine, even necessary, for us to share what we’ve learned and what we believe. It’s not fine to expect everyone who has heard us to reach the exact same conclusion as we have. And, more so, it is not fine to look down on those who do things differently.

We might think they are wrong. We might even be responsible for confronting them and telling them they are wrong, though we would need a lot of Biblical backing to reach that point. But unless the issue is something clearly stated in Scripture (don’t steal, for example), it’s not OK for us to be so dogmatic we leave no room for the Holy Spirit to work differently in the lives of different Christians.

Unfortunately, I think our Western culture has influenced Christians to the point that we are less inclined to be dogmatic about the things the Bible states without equivocation (for example, Jesus is the way, the truth, the life; no one comes to the Father but through Him) and more inclined to be dogmatic about our own preferences and point of view (things like, the Harry Potter books are of the devil–or not).

There’s one other thing I think we need to remember. With God there is forgiveness. Nothing any of us does or has done is beyond God’s mercy. He has made it clear that Jesus “bore our sins in His body on the cross that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” So even the things that we hold to dogmatically that align with Scripture (I’d put a stand against abortion in that category, for example), do not give us the right to hate others or malign them.

Scripture says we’re not fighting against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces. Consequently, people with opposing views are not our enemies. If this is true when it comes to the clear things of Scripture, it certainly is true when it comes to things not spelled out in the Bible.

In short, we have no business taking a dogmatic stand on things that aren’t in the Bible–I don’t think. 😉

Published in: on October 29, 2013 at 5:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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I Hate Halloween

halloween-jack-o-lanterns-650264-mHalloween has never been my favorite holiday. For one thing, it wasn’t a real holiday–I never got out of school, as a student or teacher, because of Halloween. For another, it meant disruption–going to strangers’ houses or having strangers come knocking at my door. Then, for those of us who put only a little last minute thought into a costume, there was the embarrassment of people saying, “And what are you supposed to be?”

Add to this the growing emphasis on horror and fear-inducing entertainment–things I do not like–and Halloween is less to my liking than ever.

Beyond my personal issues with the day, however, I’ve come to hate Halloween because of the attitudes of different Christians. Again this past week I heard on the radio a Christian pastor telling his listeners about his book exposing all the pagan roots of Halloween.

There’s plenty to expose, too, but of course, there are believers who argue that the true roots of the holiday lie in Christian tradition.

Others accept it for what it has become–a day to dress up, to pull spooky pranks, to have parties, to get or give candy. In other words, in the culture at large, it has no particular pagan or religious significance.

Several years ago, I did a three-day series on Halloween (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), but in the end I came to a different conclusion than what I’d intended when I started. Here’s the bulk of the final post of that series. I based much of the article on a comment asking shouldn’t we have some agreement within the body of Christ?

I think that might be the problem–we’re all coming at this hotbed topic from different points of view, and yet we’re expecting agreement.

We aren’t going to find agreement because our past experiences and our present influences–all of which differ from person to person–affect what we think.

Because of my childhood background, I thought the school I taught in, by banning all Halloween trappings and celebrations, was behaving a bit like Chicken Little crying that the sky was falling–until Charles Manson and his “family” who had gone on a killing spree shaved his head and said “I am the Devil.” Suddenly I got it. Paganism, in stark rebellion to God and His law, was in our culture.

The students I taught needed to know.

But what did they need to know? That carving a face in a pumpkin was sinful? That dressing up like a princess and going door to door for candy is sinful?

That having a party called a Harvest Festival is OK but having one and calling it a Halloween Party is sinful?

Too often I think we Christians, in our zeal for the truth, forget why we’re teaching what we teach to children, and why we believe what we believe.

Would any of us disagree that Satan is real, and he is to be resisted? I suspect evangelical Christians see eye to eye on this point.

Would any of us condone participation in Wiccan celebrations? I imagine we would uniformly say we would not.

At the core, I believe we would be united in those points because we believe in Jesus and do not want to give any quarter to the enemy of our souls.

But from that point on, our agreement splinters based on our experience. Which is why I believe grace needs to reign. Grace and our oneness in Christ.

Scripture is clear how we are to treat one another though it says nothing about carving pumpkins or bobbing for apples or, for that matter, pretending to ride a broom.

As I see it, Halloween is a great opportunity for Christians to witness to the world, not because we all should give out tracts that night but because we can stand up and say, I love my brother in Christ MORE than these other things. I will respect my brother’s decisions and not ridicule or judge or accuse. I will not insist he does things my way. And if necessary to keep from offending him, because he’s got a weakness in this area, I won’t do things my way either.

Now that‘s what I think we Christians should agree on.

CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – Martyr’s Fire by Sigmund Brouwer

Wings of an Angel coverThirty posts, twenty-three bloggers, and near unanimous enthusiasm for Martyr’s Fire, book 3 of the Merlin’s Immortals series by Sigmund Brouwer. What few people know is that these books are a reworking of a previous series, The Winds of Light, first published by Chariot Victor Publishing (a defunct imprint of David C. Cook) from 1992-1997.

I first learned of this from one of our tour participants Rebekah Loper, and she brought it up again in her tour post this week. The books in the Winds of Light series in order are

    Wings of an Angel
    Barbarians from the Isle
    Legend of Burning Water
    The Forsaken Crusade
    A City of Dreams
    Merlin’s Destiny
    The Jester’s Quest
    Dance of Darkness

orphan-king-2In an interview with author Jill Williamson, Brouwer had this to say shortly after The Orphan King, book 1 of Merlin’s Immortals, released:

[The Merlin’s Immortals series is] definitely connected to the Winds of Light series; there was much of the story that was untold — action taking place between what we as readers could see — and Shannon, my GREAT editor gave me a chance [to] explore the rest of the events and put them on the pages. I wanted to do my best for those who read the original series, so that if they liked it the first time around, they would have many aha moments, and enjoy the story from this fresh perspective.

If you missed any of the posts discussing Martyr’s Fire, you can see the entire participants’ list with links to their posts here.

Next up for the CSFF Blog Tour: The Shadow Lamp by Stephen Lawhead.

Published in: on October 25, 2013 at 5:15 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – Martyr’s Fire by Sigmund Brouwer  
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The Deception Of Power

Gideon and his three hundred men. Judges 7:9-23

Gideon and his three hundred men. Judges 7:9-23

In the book of Judges, Samson is a natural. A boy whose birth was supernaturally announced to a barren couple, set apart to God from the womb, and gifted with incredible strength.

Gideon, on the other hand, was pretty much the opposite. The youngest of his family, a member of a split tribe that wasn’t particularly influential, and questioning where the God of all the old stories was.

If I was choosing a judge, a liberator of a nation, I’d pick Samson. God picked both men, and as it turned out, Samson was the disappointment. He did more to liberate his people by his death than he had in his life. Everything he did with his strength while alive was for his own revenge.

Gideon, on the other hand, had no strength, except perhaps the power of persuasion. When he called for men to join his army, they came in the thousands. Interestingly, God didn’t use that one strength Gideon had to offer. Instead, He told His chosen leader to send most of the recruits home.

And with a small force outnumbered 1000 to 1 or more, Gideon routed the enemy. Well, God routed the enemy.

When Samson fought the Philistines and defeated them, Scripture says the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. As a man, Samson may have looked impressive, but God was the source of his strength just as He was Gideon’s.

On the flip side, the Midianites Gideon fought had chariots and huge numbers and allies. They looked invincible. But they were up against the living God, and they were no match for Him.

Because God’s ways are not our ways, He delights in using the weak and the simple and the broken and the wounded and the poor and the humble. When He does, there’s no question where the glory lies.

Samson was blind and broken when God used him most. Gideon’s army was seriously outnumbered when God used them to defeat the enemy.

Oddly, even knowing what we know because of God’s word, the majority of us, if given the choice, would align ourselves with the greater army equipped with the best weapons, positioned in the best place, in charge, on top, in control.

We understand with our heads that God is all powerful, but we’re more apt to rely on our bank account or credit rating or home security system or any of the other stuff we surround ourselves with to make us safe and secure.

When we trust in our own ways, I think it’s a bit like Samson after he broke his Nazarite vow and God’s Spirit was no longer with him–he still jumped up to take on the enemy, but that time, in his own strength. And it wasn’t enough.

Published in: on October 24, 2013 at 7:25 pm  Comments (2)  
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Martyr’s Fire by Sigmund Brouwer – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 3

Martyr's Fire coverAs usual, I’ve saved my review of the CSFF feature for the final day of our tour. Martyr’s Fire by Sigmund Brouwer is book 3 of the Merlin’s Immortals series.

The Story. Martyr’s Fire continues the intriguing story about Thomas and his quest to become king of Magnus. Except, he’s already king. In a surprising reversal, he finds himself exiled and on the run because the Priests of the Holy Grail win the hearts of his people and seek to imprison him. He must avoid capture, escape the city, and find allies to help him oust the usurpers.

But who can he trust? There’s Isabelle, the beautiful woman working covertly for the Druids who wants him to join this powerful religion, and Katherine who duped him from the beginning, though she was instrumental in his conquering Magnus. There’s also her companion, the enigmatic Hawkwood, and now the outlaw Robin Hood. Can he trust any of them or do they all wish to bend him to their will and steal what he values most?

Strengths. Sigmund Brouwer has created delightful characters. I want Thomas to succeed. I want him to trust the right people, and I want them to trust him.

The reversal in this book was handled in a believable way. What I feared would seem like a repeat of Fortress of Mist was actually an unfolding of the secrets and mysteries (some) initiated in the previous books.

As Thomas is on the run, there’s credible tension. Will he escape? Will he run to the wrong people? Will he act in the predictable ways those who are watching expect?

The writing itself is strong so that I could lose myself in the story. The theme is tied to the good vs. evil struggle central to the plot. In that respect there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of depth to the story. Thomas must learn who he can trust and how he can prove himself trustworthy.

Weaknesses. I’m enjoying the Merlin’s Immortals series, and Martyr’s Fire is no exception. My only complaints have to do with depth and length.

I feel as if there’s much more to explore about the characters, but the book moves at a brisk pace and each person has his or her secrets, even from the reader, so it’s hard to feel deeply connected.

The theme as well, while not trivial, seems fairly plain. Thomas doesn’t wrestle with doubt or despair. His course is sure and trust the main issue. It’s good, but easy. Perhaps for the young adult audience it’s aiming for, the theme is not too simplistic. Still, I’d hope for more depth.

As far as length is concerned, all the Merlin’s Immortals books are not much over 200 pages–short for any novel, but especially short for fantasy. That young adult readers were devouring the 600+ page Harry Potter novels shows the capacity of this audience. I’d rather see two 400 page novels than four 200 page ones. But that’s my preference as a fantasy reader.

Recommendation. Any Christian who has shied away from fantasy because of a fear of magic has no excuse when it comes to Sigmund Brouwer’s Merlin’s Immortals series. Like the first two, Martyr’s Fire eschews magic and explains the trickery that appears supernatural as a use of little known natural phenomena. Those who enjoy legend will particularly enjoy this series. I recommend this book especially to younger readers or those hesitant about fantasy because of magic.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Martyr’s Fire by Sigmund Brouwer – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 2

The Truth About Miracles

Martyr's Fire coverOne of the interesting things about Sigmund Brouwer’s Merlin’s Immortals series, of which Martyr’s Fire is book 3, is that there are no speculative elements in this speculative novel.

Don’t misunderstand. Merlin’s Immortals is correctly identified as part of the speculative genre since it falls into the category of legend. But where other iterations of the King Arthur legend embrace a thread of the supernatural or the miraculous, Merlin’s Immortals explains away what every day people assume to be miraculous.

In book two, for example, the hero of the story capitalizes on a well-known prophecy (which later the reader learns was actually intentionally planted among the people) by creating through “technology” the “miraculous” thing the commoners were looking for.

In Martyr’s Fire, the Priests of the Holy Grail make use of a bit of chemistry not widely known in that day to produce what they called miracles. In other words, both sides (and there is a “third side” about which the same is true) appear to have power beyond the natural, but in fact are simply making use of the natural to exploit the beliefs of the populace.

I find this to be interesting and suspect the idea of no magic or miraculous power falls comfortably inside the theology of some Christians. A segment of evangelicals believes that certain miraculous spiritual gifts have ceased (so that no one today prophesies or can heal, for instance), and it could be that this idea has expanded so that some do not believe miracles happen any longer.

In addition, some are uncomfortable with the idea that Satan and his demonic forces have power. Consequently, they would rather read stories in which evil forces have only conjuring abilities not supernatural might.

I myself am comfortable with either. I don’t need magic or miracles in the stories I read, but if they are there, I enjoy them.

This different approach to magic/miracles makes me wonder. What are miracles?

C. S. Lewis wrote a small book on the subject and he says this in his opening chapter.

Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our senses, something seen, heard, touched, smelled, or tasted. And our senses are not infallible. If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion. If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say. What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience. (Lewis, Miracles, p. 3)

He proceeds to demonstrate that experience is useless when trying to prove the existence of miracles. In the same way, history can’t be relied upon because the same “they were fooled” argument can be made.

In fact, this is the very approach Sigmund Brouwer uses in his Merlin’s Immortals novels.

Lewis claims that a belief in miracles relies upon a philosophical understanding of God. He defines miracle as “an interference with Nature by supernatural power,” so first a person must believe “there exists, in addition to Nature, something else which we may call the supernatural” (Miracles, p. 5).

I’m with Lewis on this, and identify with those he calls Supernaturalists. Some religious people, pantheists, he explains, do not fall into this category:

Speak about beauty, truth and goodness, or about a God who is simply the indwelling principle of these three, speak about a great spiritual force pervading all things, a common mind of which we are all parts, a pool of generalized spirituality to which we can all flow, and you will command friendly interest. But the temperature drops as soon as you mention a God who has purposes and performs particular actions, who does one thing and not another, a concrete, choosing, commanding, prohibiting God with a determinate character. . . .The popular “religion” excludes miracles because it excludes the “living God” of Christianity and believes instead in a kind of God who obviously would not do miracles, or indeed anything else. (Miracles, p. 81, emphasis mine)

In short, miracles are nothing more than God intervening “to produce within Nature events which the regular ‘going on’ of the whole natural system would never have produced” (Miracles, p. 55).

Does God intervene with frequency? Some say yes and others no. My thought is, He can intervene as frequently as He wishes, in small ways or in large. He can intervene by altering time or matter or space–meaning He can cause “coincidences” because people arrive simultaneously with no such intention, water can become wine, and a resurrected body can pass from one place to another in the blink of an eye.

In fiction, I’m happy to read about supernatural power, even if it’s called magic or good magic, because I believe it reflects reality. God is all powerful. What can’t He do!

On the other hand, I don’t need to read stories that show supernatural power. I’m also aware that God works within Nature just as surely as He intervenes to alter it.

Brouwer has chosen to write a speculative series sans supernatural power (at least to this point). He’s done a credible job, and it’s an interesting concept. Perhaps readers who object to fantasy because of the magic will find this series to be right up their alley.

Martyr’s Fire by Sigmund Brouwer – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 1

"The Achievement of the Grail" (1891-4) Tapestry by Edward Burne-Jones, Museum and Art Gallery of Birmingham

“The Achievement of the Grail” (1891-4) Tapestry by Edward Burne-Jones, Museum and Art Gallery of Birmingham

How gullible are people? How willing to believe a newcomer capable of working marvelous deeds? These questions are central to Martyr’s Fire, third in the Merlin’s Immortals series by Sigmund Brouwer.

Part of me would like to say, people are skeptical enough and wary enough that they wouldn’t be swayed from truth to falsehood by magic tricks. On the other hand, I’m well aware of a general desire for “signs” as proof of the truth of a thing.

For example, people in Jesus’s day were asking Him for signs that would prove He was the Messiah. And today isn’t so very different. How many news accounts have aired about people lining up for blocks to pray before a window stain in the shape of Christ or a tortilla chip in the form of the Virgin Mary?

It would seem that people are inclined to believe signs that align with their already held beliefs. Consequently, the people in Jesus’s day were looking for signs suited to an all powerful conquering king. They were looking for someone who would bring an end to Rome’s rule over Israel.

People praying to a stain or a bit of tortilla already believe in praying to images. For them, the appearance of the image in an unexpected place and time is a miracle, an evidence of God’s presence and willingness to hear and answer prayer.

The opposite also seems to be true–people without a prior inclination to believe will be hard to convince. When Moses stood before Pharaoh and first asked him to let the people of Israel go to worship their God, he performed several signs–the ones God had implemented when He told Moses he was to free Israel. Rather than responding with belief, however, Pharaoh was skeptical and hard-hearted.

In fact, he had his own magicians replicate a number of Moses’s signs. He was not quick to believe because Moses was producing signs to verify something Pharaoh did not believe. He did not believe the God of Israel was the one true God, and he did not believe his slaves should be allowed to walk free, even for a short period to worship this God.

In Martyr’s Fire, and in Book 2, Fortress of Mist, Sigmund Brouwer capitalizes on this general inclination people have of embracing signs consistent with already held beliefs. In one instance, the people embrace the hero of the story, and in the other they embrace his enemies.

When I first read that the people of Magnus, the city Thomas freed and began to rule, made an about-face and wished to imprison him, I thought it was too unbelievable. But I was forgetting how a mob might be swayed–how a crowd can shout “Hosanna,” one day and “Crucify him,” the next.

Brouwer skillfully portrays the power of expectations and belief in the miraculous to sway a people, and within pages, those who once embraced Thomas as their king now realistically are turning against him.

Upon this point, the entire story of Martyr’s Fire hangs. If this change of loyalty is not believable, the idea that Thomas must run for his life and hide and scheme is meaningless. The book would fail. Happily, in my opinion, it did not.

Here’s the critical turning point. Hugh de Gainfort, one of the Priests of the Holy Grail claiming to be a sect representing the one and only true church, is addressing a crowd in Magnus–a crowd he has ensured will be as large as possible. He holds up a statue of the Madonna. Then this:

“She blessed this statue for our own priests, thirteen centuries ago. Our own priests, who already held the sacred Holy Grail. Thus, she established us as the one true church!” [said Hugh.]

A voice from the entrance to the church interrupted Hugh. “This is not a story to be believed! This is blasphemy against the holy pope and the church of Rome!”

Hugh turned slowly to face his challenger.

The thin man at the church entrance wore a loose black robe. His face was pale with anger, his fists clenched at his sides.

“Ah!” Hugh proclaimed loudly for his large audience. “A representative of the oppressors of the people!”

This shift startled the priest. “Oppressors?”

“Oppressors!” Hugh’s voice gained in resonance, as if he were a trained actor. “You have set the rules according to a religion of convenience! A religion designed to give priests and kings control over the people!”

The priest stood on his toes in rage. “This . . . is . . . vile!” he said in a strained scream. “Someone call the Lord of Magnus!”

One of Hugh’s men slipped through the crowd and placed a hand on the priest’s shoulder and squeezed the priest into silence.

No one else moved.

Hugh’s smile did not reach his cold black eyes. “The truth shall speak for itself,” Hugh said gravely. He turned back to the people. “Shall we put truth to the test?”

“Yes!” came the shout. “Truth to the test!”

Hugh then performed his miracle, the second the Priests of the Holy Grail had shown the people, and the turning of Magnus had begun. Thomas’s good friend and counselor tries to warn him:

Gervaise shook his head and pursed his lips in a frown. “Thomas, these new priests carry powerful weapons! The weeping Madonna. The blood of St. Thomas. And the promise of the Holy Grail.”

Gervaise paused, then added. “Thomas, tell me: Should the Priests of the Holy Grail become your enemy, how would you fight them?”

Thomas opened his mouth to retort, then slowly shut it as he realized the implications.

“Yes,” Gervaise said, “pray these men do not seek your power, for they cannot be fought by sword. Every man, woman, and child within Magnus would turn against you.”

The swaying of a crowd. On the surface, such a dramatic change might seem unbelievable, but by utilizing the beliefs and expectations, the fears and frustrations already existent, a few well-placed signs and “miracles” can do the trick.

At least Sigmund Brouwer has me believing it is possible.

Others in CSFF are also interacting with Martyr’s Fire this week, so I encourage you to check out their posts. Tell them Becky sent you. 😉

I Ran A Red Light

stoplights at twilightA month ago I ran a red light. Generally running a red light is not something a person does intentionally, but in my case, and to my shame, I knew exactly what I was doing.

I’d met a group of friends for dinner, and we were carpooling to another location, following the one who knew the area best. I was the third car down the line. Our leader came to a red light at a T intersection on a stretch of road that seemed quite deserted. She stopped but, with only the slightest hesitation, proceeded to accelerate through the intersection.

What? I thought. She just ran a red light!

The driver in front of me pulled up, looked for oncoming traffic–and there still were no cars in sight apart from another stopped car in the lane next to ours. Driver number two accelerated through the intersection.

By this time, I’m beside myself. What am I supposed to do? The lead car is quickly distancing itself from me, and the driver of the vehicle behind me–also a part of our caravan–might well be growing anxious about the separation. I pretty much know the way to our destination, so does it really matter if I lose track of the lead car?

On the other hand, this light is red, and there is NO traffic, except for us suckers sitting there waiting for it to turn. What if the light is broken? That’s probably it! My friend who arrived at the light first and who knows this area probably came this way earlier and realized the light is broken. It must be broken.

And I accelerated through the intersection.

But what would the car behind me do? Would that friend run the red light too? I glanced in my rear view mirror. Sure enough, with a moment’s hesitation, she sped to catch up–just as the light turned green.

Further down the block, the first two cars in our caravan were pulled over to the right waiting for the lost half of our group. We reconvened our line and off we went

When we all reached our destination, the lead driver asked, What happened to you? We thought we lost you.

I was sitting at the red light trying to decide if I should follow or wait for it to turn green, I explained.

What red light? she asked.

What red light? the driver of the second car said.

Uh, the light you both blew through.

Neither one of them had noticed that they were at a light. Perhaps because the road was so deserted or because of the T configuration of the intersection, they reacted as if they were at a stop sign.

But I knew I was running a red light.

And suddenly I felt as Adam may have felt.

Eve was deceived and ate the fruit God had warned against. Adam ate and knew what he was doing.

In the same way, I ran the red light, not because I was deceived, but because I didn’t want to be separated from my friends. I didn’t want to lose sight of the drivers ahead of me, and I didn’t want the driver behind me to be irritated with me for not following.

How much more would Adam have determined he didn’t want to be separated from Eve? He already knew there was no other suitable partner for him. And he knew God had fashioned Eve especially for him. How could he lose her now?

I wonder what justification he gave himself? Was he already formulating the “God made her and gave her to me, so He can’t fault me for doing what I need to do to stay with her” argument?

It’s impossible to know the particulars of his thought process. But I know from my own experience I felt in a clear way, the pressure to stay with the group even if it meant running a red light. I can only imagine how much more pressure Adam felt.

I wish I could say I chose obedience instead of conformity, but I didn’t. I responded no differently than Adam did. Which puts to death the argument that it’s preposterous for all Humankind to suffer because one guy slipped up.

I have no doubt that I would have eaten if I was in that garden and some other deceived person–my own Adam perhaps, or my good friends Adam and Eve–had taken a bite and handed fruit to me.

Published in: on October 18, 2013 at 5:18 pm  Comments (4)  
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