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)