Musings on Peretti’s This Present Darkness

My Christian Ladies’ Book Club has just finished reading and discussing This Present Darkness by Frank E. Peretti. Soon after we chose this book I learned of its contraversial nature, but I chose not to read anything about the book until I had read the book itself. It turns out, it was very easy to understand, once I read it, why the book is contraversial in the religious world.

Firstly, I will attempt a review of the book as a book instead of as a piece of Christian fiction. There’s not much I can say about it without addressing its religious implications, but I will do my best. The book itself is not Nobel Prize literature, to be sure, but it is a fast-paced page-turner. It will not bore you. The writing may not be poetic or expand your vocabulary, but the plot is dense with adventure. Ironically, the best comparison I can come up with in terms of the writing style is to the way Dan Brown wrote The DaVinci Code (also a riveting page-turner, and one I enjoyed very much, despite the inaccuracies that offended me as a history major, much less as a Christian).

But This Present Darkness is much more than a novel to be discussed in terms of plot, character, rising action, and climax. It evokes some very puzzling questions about my Faith.

One complaint raised at the book club’s monthly meeting last week was that Peretti “made it seem like every tiny thing we did was instigated by angels or demons.” I feel this is definitely a valid complaint in that ascribing all our earthly actions to spiritual motivators somehow absolves us of a bit of our guilt and challenges the idea that we have free will. For instance, when a character in This Present Darkness rapes a woman under the influence of demons, he suffers no consequences for his actions because he is a different person once the demon has been cast out. But shouldn’t we, as Christians, be responsible for wearing and maintaining “the full armor of God” to prevent such breeches? (Ephesians 6)

Nevertheless, there is something to be said for Peretti’s approach. This Present Darkness reminds us that there are angels and demons willing to use our strengths and weaknesses for their purposes in this world, and that if we face a difficult decision, we can pray for God to guide us in the right direction. It also puts in perspective just how much our little lives are ultimately a part of the Lord’s greater plan.

Another point our book club discussed was the concept of “prayer covering” and whether or not it was Biblical. None of us in our group could come up with any examples from the Bible supporting the idea that our prayer lends strength to God’s spiritual warriors, but I do remember the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18), and I know we are constantly called to prayer for ourselves, one another, and the glory of God.

In fact, if we return to Ephesians 6 – the same passage in which Paul advises us to “put on the full armor of God,” we find that prayer plays an important part in spiritual warfare, too. In order to “stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11) we must take up “the helmet of Salvation and the sword of the Spirit . . . And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” (Ephesians 6:17-18). How can we fight with the sword of the Spirit, an integral part of the armor of God, without prayer and petition for the Spirit’s help?

We discussed in our book club that we don’t really know what the effect of our prayers is. Would God save someone He might have forsaken in response to our prayers? Do angels gain influence in the lives of those we pray for? The Bible doesn’t tell us. But the Bible does tell us this: we must constantly be welcoming the Holy Spirit into our lives if we desire God’s presence there. And “If God is for us, who can stand against us?” (Romans 8:31)


Christian Friendship

I am currently in the midst of a devotional book called Who I Am In Christ by Dr. Neil T. Anderson. It’s really helping me out a lot. I feel like I never really got “Relationships with God 101” until I picked up this book. But I should mention that there are some sites out there online that take great exception to Dr. Anderson’s work, and I’ve noticed a few odd trends in what I’ve read so far as well. What I can say so far is that I don’t think you should completely discredit him based on the inclusion in his books of some of the more occult areas of faith, but I think you should (as always) read critically.

Plugging aside, I’ve recently covered the chapter in the above-mentioned book entitled “I Am Christ’s Friend.” This chapter really touched my heart, due simply to some personal things going on in my own life right now (God truly does provide exactly what we need for us, by the way), and it also got me thinking a lot about what true friendship really is.

I don’t mean to discuss only friendship between a person and her God, or the fellowship to be found among Christians, but the friendship that predominates most of our lives: friendship between a believer and another person – anyone – regardless of faith. But like all aspects of our lives, we can learn more about how to handle relationships here in the world by understanding our heavenly relationship with the Father. The more we practice these principles of the Kingdom of God in our daily lives, the more success we will have in finding joy and peace here during our earthly days.

The following verses not only illustrate that we can receive joy through submission to the will of God, but they also provide the perfect lesson on friendship.

29The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30He must become greater; I must become less.” – John 3:29-30

The context of John 3:29-30 is that John the Baptist’s followers have just approached him in a frenzy because they have heard that Jesus of Nazareth is baptizing. They are loyal to John and his ministry, and do not appreciate this newcomer’s encroaching on what they feel is John’s territory. John responds that he is unconcerned, even joyful, because he knows that now, the one in whose name he has been baptizing has arrived.

Out of context, and in our Christian lives, the verse is only a tad bit different.
Keep in mind that we are trying to learn about earthly friendship from spiritual, heavenly friendship, what is our “friendship” relationship with God? Let’s examine the verses.

Again, the verses are: 29The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30He must become greater; I must become less.” – John 3:29-30

As Christians, we are called to be both “the bride” who belongs to the bridegroom (as the Church), and “the friend who attends the bridegroom.” Because so many allusions are made to the community of God as “the Church,” and because this is a study of Christian Friendship, I’m going to ignore the responsibilities of “the bride” for now, and focus more on the responsibility of the “bridegroom’s friend.”

What makes John the Baptist Jesus’s “friend” in terms of the verses above? The two do not seem to be engaging in any type of “friendship” as we know it today; they are not sharing hobbies, or discussing ideas they have in common, or even doing the things Christian men and women tend to do in the lightest of moments – engaging in fellowship over tea or going fishing. Instead, the essence of John’s friendship to Jesus lies in the joy he finds in Jesus’s success.

Remember that John’s followers are scandalized that someone else is baptizing in the name of the Messiah. John could easily have become jealous of Jesus, or chosen to receive him as an adversary instead of a leader. But he humbled himself, and graciously made a path for Jesus’s ministry to overtake his own.

8Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” (1 Peter 3:8)

John gave Jesus the most important gift of friendship anyone can give another: precedence.

Of course, Jesus is the Lord. It was only right for Jesus to be superior to John, and for John to acknowledge His authority. And obviously, all Christians should follow that example.

But shouldn’t we also grant our friends precedence?

14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:14-15)

It is our responsibility to love one another un-selfishly, to exalt others over ourselves, and to do so humbly, without bitterness or resentment. The world will tell us that we are number one, that we should look out for ourselves; that is not Biblical. We are directed to serve each other, “28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

Therefore, go and take joy in each others’ successes. Pray for graciousness and humility, and that the Lord will soften your hearts toward others. Pray for a servant heart modelled after Christ’s own.

The best way for us as believers to learn to serve our King is to first learn to serve each other.

Hinds’ Feet on High Places Christian Study Guide

“The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.”

– Habakkuk 3:19

The book club I am in is reading Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard this month. The book is an allegory, wherein the main character, Much-Afraid, takes a journey up a rocky mountainside for which she must develop “hinds’ feet” to reach the “high places.” She is encouraged on her way by the Chief Shepherd, who comes to her aid whenever she calls, and is accompanied by the companions he chose for her, Sorrow and Suffering.

The theme of this book is crucifying your own will for that of your Lord. Every acceptance of His will is an altar of sacrifice that helps us to progress and mature in our walk with Him.

I would invite any of you who stumble across this blog to read the book and consider some of the things I’ve mentioned below. The first and longest portion of this guide is a simple summary of the book, with scriptural references for expansion on what the allegory is really attempting to say. But personally, I feel that the most important part comes in the few questions at the bottom. Asking myself these questions as I was reading was what was truly helpful to me in applying the lessons Much-Afraid learned on her journey in my own life. Remember, as the introduction states: the “High Places” are not meant to signify heaven or life after death, but the rewards God gives us during our lives here on Earth if we follow the path chosen for us.

MuchAfraid’s Journey – A Summary:

  • Part 1: Weeping May Endure for a Night (Psalm 30:5)
    1. Invitation to the High Places: The chief shepherd offers Much-Afraid salvation from the Valley of Humiliation and all of her “Fearing” relatives who plague her existence. He sows the seed of divine love in her heart so that it may grow and blossom into Perfect Love.1 He tells her to be ready at a moment’s notice to drop everything and follow Him so that he may lead her to the High Places, the Kingdom of Love.2
    2. Fearing Invasion: Much-Afraid is besieged at her home by a mob of “her terrible relatives”, who blame her for estranging her family and attempt to persuade her that her husband-to-be, Craven Fear, only needs her help to change his manner and that this is her responsibility. It is during this moment of weakness and confusion that the Chief Shepherd chooses to come for her, but she is paralyzed by her fears and unable to go with him.3
    3. Flight Into the Night: Later, with the help of Mrs. Valiant (her neighbor), Much-Afraid is able to overtake her cousin Gloomy and escape from her relatives. Even though she was not ready to follow the Chief Shepherd when he came for her, the Shepherd waited and did not leave without her.4
    4. Start for the High Places: The Shepherd uses the beautiful wildflowers to teach Much-Afraid a lesson: the flowers offer up their beauty completely and willingly even though it seems that there is no one to appreciate them.5 He tells Much-Afraid that once she has ascended to the High Places, she will have the power to take all that she is given and travel between the High Places and the Valley of Humiliation. After teaching her these valuable lessons, he discusses with her that he will leave her with two guides who will help her ascend the mountain, but that he will never be out of her reach.6 At that, he leaves her with Sorrow and Suffering.
    5. Encounter With Pride: The relatives Much-Afraid left in the Valley of Humiliation have allowed themselves to be consumed with bitterness that she has escaped and begun her journey with the Chief Shepherd. In their efforts to make her return, they send her cousin Pride up on the mountain to discourage her. In talking with Pride, Much-Afraid does begin to question the validity of the Shepherd’s statements to her, but when she remembers the covenant he made with her, she calls upon him and he comes to her aid.7
    6. Detour Through the Desert: Sorrow and Suffering begin to lead Much-Afraid down instead of up, and when she calls on the Shepherd, he tells her only that she must trust his word. This is where she builds her first altar. Once she concedes to go down into the desert with him, the Shepherd shows her the process by which grain is refined: it is beaten and bruised over and over until it is fine enough to bake the best bread.8 In the desert, she finds a flower called Acceptance-with-Joy and decides to accept her Lord’s will and work for his purposes.9
    7. On the Shores of Loneliness: Much-Afraid, left alone with Sorrow and Suffering on the shores of the Sea of Loneliness, rather enjoys her time in the desert until more of her relatives appear with the intention of retrieving her: Resentment, Bitterness, and Self-Pity. After recognizing that they are attempting to manipulate her, Much-Afraid begins to attack her assaulters. But even though she tries to resist them on her own, she is unable to defeat them without the Shepherd’s help.10
    8. On the Old Sea Wall: Much-Afraid lays down her will on a new altar as her adversaries look on. She glories in the victory the Shepherd has in her. She finds the little flower Acceptance-with-Joy growing in herself, and sacrifices her heart on an altar. The Shepherd tells her that she must be ready for something new, and that he will soon be taking her to the High Places.
    9. Great Precipice Injury: Much-Afraid, along with Sorrow and Suffering, come to a cliff blocking their path. The only way they can continue is by following the path of the deer. Much-Afriad truly believes that it is impossible for her to follow the path any longer as her cousin Craven Fear appears on the mountaintop. Sorrow and Suffering urge her to call the Shepherd, but she hesitates because she is afraid that he will send her up the cliff. She does call him in the end, and he encourages her. She lays her will, dread, and shrinking on an altar and makes the decision to ascend wherever the Shepherd would have her ascend because his desire for her life is more important to her than her own.11 She must now surmount Mount Injury bound to Sorrow and Suffering, helped along the way by the Spirit of Grace and Comfort.
    10. Ascent of the Precipice Injury: In a cave where the travelers are to pass the night, Much-Afraid finds the flower Bearing-the-Cost (Forgiveness) which has borne injury and not ceased to love. Much-Afraid builds another altar and dedicates herself to forgiveness. Later on their journey, Much-Afraid takes a fall that can only be healed by the Spirit of Grace and Comfort.12
    11. In the Forests of Danger and Tribulation: Much-Afraid and her companions weather a storm and fight against Craven Fear with strength. When the storm returns, they are safely protected in a hut provided along the way.13
    12. In the Mist: Spurred on by Resentment and Bitterness, Much-Afraid works herself into a frenzy believing that they are not ascending at all, and that they have missed the path up that they were supposed to take because of the fog surrounding them. Only when she becomes so tired of stumbling and feeling miserable that she begins to sing a song of worship does the mist lift, and the Shepherd come to her aid.14 After spending time in quiet conversation with him, she invites him even to deceive her if it be his prerogative.
    13. In the Valley of Loss: Sorrow and Suffering lead Much-Afraid, again, into a valley instead of up higher, and she honestly considers abandoning the Shepherd’s path for her own. But the idea of a world without the Shepherd’s love and guidance is so terrifying and dismal that she gives herself completely to him.15 It becomes clear to her at this moment that the only thing that matters to her is faithfulness to her Lord.
    14. The Place of Anointing: Much-Afraid learns that as much work as her journey has been, the last part is simply surrender, trusting the Shepherd to carry her all the way up – she rides a suspended chair all the way to the top. From the waterfalls of love she learns that the spirit of the citizens of the Kingdom of Love in the High Places lies in their desire to give.16 At the mountaintop, the Shepherd reveals himself to her as the King of the Kingdom of Love so that she will see the truth. Finally, she spends time there preparing herself for the last part of her journey, which she does not know is death.17
    15. The Floods: The Shepherd commands Much-Afraid to go up to the top of the great waterfall at the top of the mountain. On the way they meet Fear, Bitterness, Resentment, Pride, and Self-Pity on their way down the mountain, fleeing a storm at the top. But Much-Afraid refuses to turn back; the Shepherd has prepared a place for them to take refuge until the storm passes. Throughout the storm she is tempted to stray yet again from the path set before her, but instead examines the stones she has collected in memory of the sacrifices she has made on her altars along the way and refuses to forsake any of them.18 After the storm, she continues to ascend to the heights.
    16. Grave on the Mountains: Much-Afraid casts herself down onto an altar to sacrifice her offering. With help, she tears human love from her heart and lays her life on the altar.
  • Part 2: Joy Cometh in the Morning (Psalm 30:5)
    1. Healing Streams/Hinds Feet: Much-Afraid awakes in the High Places with Hinds’ Feet. Called by the Shepherd, Much-Afraid realizes that she is able to leap out of the canyon she is in with her new powerful hinds’ feet. The Shepherd fulfills his covenant with Much-Afraid by giving her a new name – Grace-and-Glory – and bestowing upon her the divine love that has blossomed in her heart.19 He also transforms the common stones she collected as memory of her sacrifices into jewels from which to fashion her heavenly crown. Finally, he introduces her to her new companions, the transformed Sorrow and Suffering, now called Joy and Peace.
    2. High Places/Return to the Valley: Despite the lessons Grace-and-Glroy and her companions learn in the High Places, and the trouble they took in getting there, they decide that their new responsibility is to help others reach the High Places as well.20

1 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. . .” 1 John 4:18
2 “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matt 16:24
3 “My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me.” John 10:27
4 “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my words and have not denied my name.” Revelation 3:8
5 “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love on another.” John 13:35
6 “The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:14
7 “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Ephesians 6:13
8 “For you, Oh God, tested us; you refined us like silver.” Psalm 66:10
9 “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” 1 John 2:17
10“Jesus answered, ‘It is written, “Man does not live on bread alone.”’” Matthew 4:4
11 “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:3
12“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:35
13“But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3
14“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
15“And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.” 1 Chronicles 28:9
16 “The Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Acts 3:617“Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him. . .” 2 Timothy 2:11
18“The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” Matthew 7:25
19“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:10
20“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though god were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’sbehalf: Be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20

Christian Lessons from the High Places

  • Accept with joy.
  • Bear the cost of forgiveness without bitterness.
  • God does not regard you as you are, but as you will be when you become what He wants you to be.
  • Even the most evil things can be overcome with goodness and love.

Some Questions to Consider:

  1. Where is your “Valley of Humiliation”? Have you returned there, since you received salvation, to bring the gifts God has given you to others who need them?
  2. How do you respond when God asks you to sacrifice for Him? Do you build the altar he requests of you with joy or resentment in your heart?
  3. What stones do you carry in your pocket to remind you of your personal covenant with God?
  4. What was your name before you allowed God into your heart? Where you a MuchAfraid? Bitterness? Resentment? Self-Pity? Who were/are your most persistent enemies?

I’d like to leave you with a quote from Chapter 89 of the monk Evagrius’s The Praktikos (rules for monastic life from the early Middle Ages). Of course we know that goodliness and Godliness can be measured in more ways than any man could enumerate, but here are just some of the ways in which surrendering ourselves to God’s will can manifest blessedness – signs that we are on the right road – in our lives:

“According to our master, that man of wisdom, the rational soul is composed of three parts. When virtue comes to birth in the rational part it is called prudence, understanding and wisdom. When it is developed in the concupiscible [earthly, rebellious] part it receives the names of temperance, charity and continence. Justice, however, is located in the whole of the soul. The virtue of the irascible part is termed courage and patience. Now the proper work of prudence is to war against the hostile powers and to protect the virtues, to draw up its forces against the vices, and to arrange affairs according to the requirements of the times. The province of understanding is to direct all those things which lead to our perfection in such a way that they harmoniously achieve their aim. Wisdom governs the contemplation of the meaningful structure of both corporeal and incoroporeal objects. Temperance has the function of enabling us to look upon those affairs which cause irrational phantasms, remaining the while free of passion. Charity has the role of showing itself to every image of God as being as nearly like its prototype as possible no matter how the demons ply their arts to defile them. Continence has the power of refusing with joy every pleasure of the palate. The work of courage and patience is to know no fear of enemies and eagerly to endure afflictions. Finally, justice produces a certain harmony and symphony among the various parts of the soul.”
Evagrius Chapter 8

All scripture verses are quoted from the New International Version of the Bible using The Bible Gateway – an extremely useful tool!