Do Inspirational Novels Require Doctrinal Accuracy?

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

  • Mark 13:5-8

The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

  • Revelation 20:13-15

“When we pulled him from the water, he didn’t have a scratch on him. That’s the first thing I noticed. The rest of us were all gashes and bruises, but he was unmarked, with smooth almond skin and thick dark hair matted by seawater. He was bare-chested, not particularly muscular, maybe twenty years old, and his eyes were pale blue, the color you imagine the ocean to be when you dream of a tropical vacation—not the endless gray waves that surround this crowded lifeboat, waiting for us like an open grave. …
“I went last. ‘Benji,’ I said. ‘My name is Benji.’ For some reason my voice caught in my throat.
“We waited for the stranger to respond, but he just looked at us, doe—eyed. Lambert said, ‘He’s probably in shock.’ “Nevin yelled, ‘HOW LONG WERE YOU IN THE WATER?’ perhaps thinking a raised voice would snap him to his senses. “When he didn’t answer, Nina touched his shoulder and said, ‘Well, thank the Lord we found you.’
“Which is when the man finally spoke.
“ ‘I am the Lord,’ he whispered.”

  • Mitch Albom, the stranger in the lifeboat

I will try to avoid spoilers, but just in case … SPOILER ALERT.

The book jacket and reviews of the book online all deal with a question that we all have asked, even unbelievers.  If God suddenly appeared before us, what would it be like, what would we talk about, etc.?

In this case, several people have survived an “explosion” on a yacht at sea.  The boat’s owner is so impressed with his wealth and power that he “knows” they will be rescued, but instead, an extra “survivor” that has no scars from the explosion appears and they pull him into the lifeboat.  And to top it off, the “stranger” calls himself “the Lord.”  A few believe due to their desperation.  Others taunt “the Lord” demanding immediate rescue before they believed.  The one who called himself “the Lord” insisted that they all had to believe before he would rescue them.

This concept to me was different than what I believed to be an attribute of God.  We all go to God individually to be saved.  We can have a revival where many people come to the Lord, but salvation cannot been done corporately.  In that group setting they each meet Jesus individually.  As the days went on, the supplies disappeared, and everyone became ill from their wounds from the explosion or the delirium of not being rescued and the pain and suffering that their depravations created.  Survivors started dying, one at a time, for various reasons.  The one who said he was “the Lord” would whisper that their troubles are over, and they were in a better place.  But some were firmly in the camp of not believing.  And we know that some will be cast into Hell.  But to Albom’s defense, we know nothing about the gap, if there is a gap, between when we die and when we are judged.  A place without pain, even for a short time, would be better than this world, but we must face that judgment on whether we are in the Book of Life or not.  And I feel that once we are freed from time and space, that gap will be rather short.

While this story at sea was transpiring, with enough passion and detail to make you feel like you were on the boat with them, there was a police detective on an island far away with problems of his own.  And he has someone report a lifeboat that has been found.  There is a third thread of news reports.  A reporter was doing biographies of the rich and famous who had died on the boat.  As a result, you have three timelines and they each interweave, only tying together near the end.  Once you figure that out, it gets less confusing, and the ultimate end of the story was very satisfying.

Mitch Albom is a master of stories that peak behind the curtain that none have peaked behind and giving us something plausible.  The character studies of the survivors, including the one who planted the bomb, are excellent with those people staying true to their character.  In this story, however, the three threads are all in this physical world.  Other than “the Lord” stating the dead were in a better place, we see know glimpse behind that curtain.  Mitch Albom did his usual mastery of capturing human frailty and, at times, resilience.

Fairy tales do not always come true.  In this tale, there is a lot said about belief, trust, faith, and redemption.  The plot twists are masterful, making you rethink what you have been reading up to that point.  It takes a while to come to grips as the reader as to what is real.

We do not need all the theology to be correct in order to see the positives of redemption, salvation, mercy, grace, and love.

Will God suddenly appear on a lifeboat and have a conversation with us?  According to the end of Revelation, Jesus will appear in the sky, riding a white horse, ready for battle.  Every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord of All.

Thus, the concept of a personal one-on-one is probably not in the cards, but then again, the Bible says that young men will see visions and old men will dream dreams.  Who knows?  We can always … dream.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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