Book Review, “Against the Gates of Hell” by Mylow Young

Despite a promising plot, excellent arc and a dramatic climax, Against the Gates of Hell, by Mylow Young, fell short of my expectations. Flat characters, a heavy dose of “the hood” vernacular and poor editing detract from the book’s potential. 

Against the Gates of Hell, is the story of estranged twins. Herby is a cop, his brother, Kerby, used to be. Nightmares and mood swings plague Herby as he struggles to deal with the loss of his partner, Jerry, during a drug bust. In response to a separate crisis, Kerby fell apart. Now he lives off the streets, using drugs and barely maintaining his job as a security officer. The conflict ebbs and flows as the brothers struggle to reconcile; both seek to repair and strengthen their relationships with God and their families. 

My issue with the characters is best exemplified in Herby’s wife, Rene. She is nothing short of perfect. As a vocalist, musician and song writer, Rene is always worshipping, calling out, “Glory to God!” and counseling her husband using Scripture. She never utters a harsh word, has a cruel thought or disrespects her husband. Even the slightest inkling of her humanity is instantly reversed with a prayer or excused as righteous indignation. While I admire godly women, and seek to become a Titus 2 woman, a good story must expose both sides of characters, enabling the reader to empathize with them.

The language in, Against the Gates of Hell, is difficult to read. On several occasions, I had to stop and reread a sentence two or three times and sometimes simply deduce the meaning by context. No doubt it is difficult to convey the words with right inflection through script, but it gets fatiguing to read and interpret pages of dialogue such as, “Gotta make dis paper, drop dese few so I can re-up.”

Lastly, the editing lessened my appreciation for this book. Several times, beginning on the first page, Young switches verb tense. The opening line is written in present tense, but the second tag switches to past tense. These errors are not impossible to overlook, but frustrating nonetheless. 

Overall, Against the Gates of Hell, has a lot of potential. The plot is good. If one is willing to read less discriminatorily, simply for the entertainment value, it would be an enjoyable book. However, the things I mentioned here diluted that pleasure for me.

No Needs in Hell

The trouble is, they have no Needs. You get everything you want (not very good quality, of course) just by imagining it. That’s why it never costs any trouble to move to another street or build another house. In other words, there’s no proper economic basis for any community life. If the needed real shops, chaps would have to stay near where the real shops were. If they needed real houses they’d have to stay near where builders were. It’s scarcity that enables a society to exist.

I kind of stuttered over that first sentence, even having read, The Great Divorce, twice before. I had never noticed C.S. Lewis’ emphasis on the word Needs. You see, I’ve thought a lot about this before:

I only recently discovered what I believe lay at the root of my eating disorder. Needlessness. Does that sound crazy? Is anyone really needless? Anyway, what do the privilege of pain and needlessness have to do with each other?

When I peel away of my excuses and peer into my motives I discover a determination to be self-sufficient, needless. Chasing this, I fail. I fail. I fall.

Is Lewis implying that this isn’t just my personal problem? Is an agenda of Needlessness the very wormy foundation that is cracking beneath families, governments, and marriages…in fact society in general? I think so.

I learned though anorexia, that I could not be needless of food, of familial love, of rest, and stay alive. Humans were never, ever created to be needless. In fact, even in the Garden of Eden before The Fall, God gave man relationship (a spouse) because man needs companionship. God gave man food to eat in the garden, because man needs nourishment. He gave man work, to tend the garden, because man longs to have purpose.

Without the limitless space to print Lewis’ entire book here, it’s impossible to give you appropriate context for this quote. (That’s a hint, hint to read the book!) The best I can do is explain to you that the speaker is referring to Hell or a life on earth without the presence of God: “The trouble is they have [in Hell] no Needs.”

So, I pray with the Psalmist, that God would teach me my fragility, make me keenly aware of all my needs and that He is sufficient to meet them, that I might gain a heart of wisdom, and fear the Lord.

Ps. 90:12, Ps. 111:10

Welcome to Hell

Truthfully, my first read through C.S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce, was simply for enjoyment. I did hope that perhaps a little theological wisdom would seep into my mind as I read the pages for entertainment.

It wasn’t until more than halfway through the book that I even realized Lewis was struggling to depict Heaven, a reality beyond comprehensible reality. It wasn’t until this, my third reading, that I understood the mysterious place of origin.

The narrator finds himself in a dismal town, all but deserted save for a crowed of people waiting to board a train. Curious and disillusioned with the present, he wanders into the queue of people. Perhaps the destination will prove more interesting than this God-forsaken place.

Ah, and the story unfolds, for the narrator is indeed in the most God-forsaken place. They stand in Hell, but by some sheer mercy, he and anyone who will board the train, will be instantly transported to Heaven. There, they must decide whether to stay in Heaven or return to the familiar land of Hell where they began.

Seems like a no-brainer right? Given the choice, Heaven or Hell, I can hardly imagine anyone who would opt for the latter. Even the most convinced of atheists, when presented with the question (purely hypothetically, of course) would chose Heaven. But Lewis begs to differ.

As the crowd jostles for priority seating, arguments necessarily arise. The inconvenience of waiting, the need to politely step aside for others or ignore an unintentional elbow, gets everybody crotchety.

Listen:

I was now next to a very short man with a scowl who glanced at me with an expression of extreme disfavor and observed, rather unnecessarily loudly, to the man beyond him, ‘This sort of thing makes one think twice about going at all.’

‘I’m a plain man that’s what I am and I have got to have my rights same as anyone else, see?’

A moment later two young people in front of him also left us arm in arm…it was clear that each for the moment preferred the other to the chance of a place on the bus.

And it’s true, that’s a little what Heaven is like. There is only one way there, through Jesus Christ, and we have one choice, either to ride upon His righteousness and be accepted into Heaven through Him alone, or, to walk away.

Now the choice doesn’t seem so cut and dry, does it? Must we really abandon our RIGHTS! in order to go with Jesus? Must we really prefer Him over the other loves of our souls?

On Monday last week, God began pressing into me deeply, the truth that there is no god besides Him. Like pressing His thumb into a seal, He led me over and over to verses that declare His uniqueness. Finally, on Friday I strung all the the references together – a beautiful strand of wisdom. (Proverbs 1:9)

I have had so many gods besides my Lord. So very many times, I have stood at the bus stop and then been distracted by a tantalizing fragrance, an interesting conversation, a glittery bauble, a second-rate toy, my rights, my better idea, my preferred relationship. Then, for a moment at least, I left the platform and scurried to find whatever struck my fancy.

Please do not think for a second that I am suggesting you can lose your salvation. By no means. I am secure in Christ, but if I am honest, there have been many times that my heart has strayed from pure devotion to Him.

Praise the Lord, that He has never left me. Praise the Lord that He patiently waits for me to come running back when my cheap lover failed me. He is so good. But that I would never be distracted again! There is no love, no joy, no peace anywhere as there is near my Savior.

He is coming and He is not slow. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9

But there remains only one way. “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:16

And I can promise you, that there is but One God, whose glory, whose reward far surpasses all other temporary fascinations.
“How great you are, O Sovereign LORD! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. And who is like your people Israel–the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt?” 
2 Samuel 7:22-23

For additional references to God’s uniqueness and surpassing value: Micah 7:18,
Ex. 15:11, Zeph. 3:17, Ps. 113:5-6, Ps. 71:19, Ps. 86:8

Insights from a Demon

In the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedy, I almost hesitate to write this post. But maybe it’s more appropriate than ever to question, “What is evil?”

They [humans] of course, do tend to regard death as the prime evil and survival as the greatest good. But that is because we have taught them to do so. Do not let us be infected by our own propaganda. Uncle Screwtape from C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters

What causes us to revile death is the foreboding of the unknown. Let us rejoice that in Christ, even death is no mystery!

“For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Cor. 15:56-57

Another quick thought from Uncle Screwtape addresses something I hope dig into deeper later this year. This is the presence of beauty, the distinct fragrance of God’s love for us and His goodness toward all mankind, even in the most secular.

Even if we contrive to keep them ignorant of explicit religion, the incalculable winds of fantasy and music and poetry-the mere face of a girl, the song of a bird, or the sight of a horizon-are always blowing our whole structure away. They will not apply themselves steadily to worldly advancement, prudent connections, and the policy of safety first. So inveterate is their appetite for Heaven that our best method, at this stage, of attaching them to the earth is to make them believe that earth can be turned into Heaven at some future date by politics or eugenics or “science” or psychology, or what not. Real worldliness is a work of time-assisted, of course, by pride, for we teach them to describe the creeping death as good sense or Maturity or Experience.

“Let us set our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him…” Heb. 12:2

God has dripped Heaven into our atmosphere. Even on the ugliest of our days, the sun still stretches its fingers over the horizon. Even in the face of our enemy, is the astounding creativity of our Perfect Creator. Yes, Heaven is not far from us. But, let us not be willing to stay here forever either. The greatest JOY will be seeing Jesus face to face.

(Screwtape is the demon in C.S. Lewis’ book, The Screwtape Letters. The book is a collection of Screwtape’s advisory letters to his nephew, a young tempter.)

Judgement-lite

As I read about the second Counterfeit Gospel, Jeremiah 8 kept coming to mind.

They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed an abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. (v. 11-12)

All day long, in every podium (alas, often in our churches) the buzz-word, “tolerance” blares. “Don’t judge.” (The Biblical context disregarded.) “We all need to love one another.” No one wants to have to choose, let alone instruct anyone else in right or wrong. We have parents raising their children “genderless” so that they can choose whatever makes them “happy.” Parents are encouraged not to spank their children and to soften their approaches to discipline, another indication that our world can’t stomach any form of judgement.

Trevin Wax coins this dilution of the Gospel, “judgmentless.” The problems listed above are modern, plastered on the front pages of newspapers, preached from universalist pulpits, and marched in protests. But Wax examines the root of the problem.

The idea that people are basically good. This philosophy looks at the tantrum throwing two-year-old and declares that he doesn’t really mean it, certainly he was just provoked. Surely, words of hatred, white lies, divorce, infidelity – all have justifiable causes. Since God looks at our hearts, and since God is love, this gospel insists that God understands.

It makes it easier to win converts. Quite simply, it’s easier to build a mega-church if you allow everyone to have their own version of God. It’s really hard to look at your coworker and honestly tell them that if they don’t believe in Jesus Christ as the one and only Son of God who sacrificed Himself for their personal sins and rose again, they are going to hell.

Near the end of the chapter, Wax delivers a decisive blow. For all our talk about justice: we cry for justice against the evils of slavery, we want justice and equality for women in the work place, we want criminals punished, and underdog to be rescued – we don’t know what we’re asking for. If we truly want justice, we truly want a righteous Judge.

If you expect God to do something about the evil in this world, then you want God to judge. (pg 80)

Therein is the truth, the beauty and the difficulty of the true Gospel. We all deserve judgement. The real, divine righteousness that our hearts long for will condemn each one of  us. Thankfully, the mercy of our God is equal to His absolute justice. He poured out unspeakable wrath against all evil on His own son, Jesus. And Jesus rose, conquered death, condemned sin in the flesh.

[Now] We need only recognize our guilt in light of God’s holiness and then bask in [His] forgiveness in light of God’s grace. (pg. 82)

Master of My Own Destiny?

OK, I warned you this week might get deep.  forgot to mention controversial! I’m going to be sharing what Father is teaching me as I study His word. You may exercise your free will to skip this post, but I’d love to hear your opinions!

FREE WILL!

It’s probably one of the most hotly contested issues among Christians and non-believers alike. Protesting a lack of free will is often sited as a reason not to believe in Jesus. No one wants to be told what to do, given a list of 10 commandments or told that disobedience spells eternal doom.

Christians argue about who chose who. Did God elect those whom He would save, or does each one have free will do chose or deny God.

Does God’s choosing eliminate free will?

Is God unfair by choosing some and not others?

Does God’s presumed unfairness make Him less loving and less good?

Sticky stuff. Until recently, I hummed quietly in the background when these conversa

Well, I can’t hang out on the sidelines anymore. It’s time to defend the sovereignty of the God I love and know and worship. Honestly, if He is not the sovereign God I believe Him to be, if He really handed fate’s reigns over to his own creatures, then I can’t devote myself to Him heart and soul. I might as well make my own way and be my own god.

HUMANS HAVE FREE WILL. The problem is that our will is only against God and against righteousness. Always, no exception.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6:5

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Romans 3:10-12

That’s the long and the short of it. Sure, not everyone is as evil as he can possibly be. That’s not what total depravity means. Total depravity means that all of us, from our very core to our smallest appendage is bent toward evil. And if you don’t want to qualify yourself as evil, you can certainly understand that you are less that perfect. And perfect is what God requires. Short of absolute equivalency to God’s righteous standard, we are evil.

Consider: the Fahrenheit temperature required to freeze water is an indisputable 32 degrees. It doesn’t matter if your nose is frostbitten and you can’t move your lips. It doesn’t matter if schools are closed and everyone tells you, “It’s freezing outside.” Anything short of 32 degrees is not freezing. There is an absolute standard and anything, no matter how legitimately, unreasonably cold, just won’t cut it.

So, even if you choose a pro-life stance, you give generously to charities, you are kind to every stranger and never speed, and never raise your voice – you still fall short of the absolute standard of perfection set by an uncompromising God. You cannot will yourself to achieve that righteous standard. Given his own free will, every single man without exception will spend eternity in hell.

So here’s where I land. God created man in His image. He gave us free will and we proved that our free will would chose our own appetites over God’s commands. God’s justice demanded death for our insolence. God’s mercy sent Jesus to pay that debt. God did chose who would chose Him.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. Ezekiel 36:26-27

It’s a tough pill to swallow. God knowingly, willingly allows people to chose their own appetites even though He could change the rules? change their choices? change their behavior? It’s not unfair. God is fully merciful and fully just. Some receive His mercy for their sins, some receive His justice for their disobedience. Neither receives injustice.

Yes, God is Sovereign. One definition of Sovereignty is: Indisputable. We cannot argue with His truth anymore than we can argue with 32 degrees.

A very helpful resource for understanding this doctrine, an element of Reformed Theology, is R.C. Sproul’s teaching series, “What is Reformed Theology?”

A Pathetic Witness

I’ve had a lot of thoughts today about mentors and mentoring. None of them collections; they are scattered and hardly worth relaying. But perhaps they will stimulate your mind and prompt you to fill the comments with more meaty material than my post! (:

This morning I was journaling my disappointment with myself. The Bible commands Christians to always be ready to give a defense for the hope that it is  in us. I am confident that I have grown exponentially in my faith over the last 17 years and especially in the last 4-5 years. However, the courage and comprehensive thoughts that are required to present a persuasive “case for Christ” evade me. How is it that I can KNOW with all surety that Jesus is my life, that Jesus is the only reason that I am alive today, that Jesus is my hope and uncanny Joy, that Jesus is the solitary solution for every pain and question, and that everyone who does not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ is headed to hell – how can I know this – and still stutter when given the opportunity to share my faith?

A friend from work joined me at church a couple weeks ago. She loves the Lord, but is admittedly young in her faith. Two days later we were both approached at work by another friend and the conversation led this friend saying, “Oh, I never read the Bible. I think it is just too far-fetched, a story. I raised my children to be religious. I believe that god is in each of us and we need to aspire to be good.”

I love this friend. We’ve had such fun together at work, laughing and goofing off. Now, she asked me a few questions and as I told her who Jesus was and why the Bible is trustworthy – it sounded sci-fi, out there and little crazy even to me. I found  myself saying, “It’s hard to explain.” I can scarcely believe I’m admitting this. I write this blog as devotional, with a heart to serve Jesus with my talents and make Him winsome to others. And here I am telling you that I’m pathetic at sharing the gospel.

Journaling leads me down rabbit trails sometimes, but then often drops me back off where I started by the end of my ramblings. That happened today. I drew the connection between mentoring relationships and Jesus with His disciples. They chose to follow Him. They sought His advice and learned from his teachings both in word and in action. He poured His life into them. I am a disciple of Jesus, so I asked His advice.

“Jesus, Rabbi. Why can I not explain the intense value, perfection and necessity of believing in you? What if Peter had been asked why he was following you?”

“Abby,” Jesus answered me, as a faithful mentor always does. “My disciples were asked why they believed in me. I even asked them myself.

‘Who do people say that I am?’ I followed that question with, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ And Peter answered with words that the Father gave him, ‘ You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.'” (Matt 16)

Suddenly, I saw a difference in Peter’s response and my own. Peter did not respond, “This is what I personally think…” He responded with undiluted certainty, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

When the final critical question is asked, a confident answer is required. Especially in financially troubling times, days of earthquakes, extreme weather, drunken fathers, abused children, AIDS epidemics and ravaging cancer – people do not care what I think. I cannot impart the truth with a timid suggestion of a possible truth.

So declaratively, without apology: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. It is more than my belief. It simply, HE SIMPLY IS.

A Terribly Good God

The dichotomous nature of my One Christ.

I fuss to absorb Him in one small life.

To love an enemy, die to live.

But God is Love?

Who sends sinners to hell?

Saved by grace, but saved for works?

Justice and mercy so juxtaposed.

Confusion, angst, frustration grows.

King in a feed trough.

Revolutionary fishermen.

Surrender and stand firm.

Sing in suffering?

The only way this equation works,

Imbalanced as it is on any given day.

My momentary whim, or colored lense.

The only way to reconcile the polar jealous vengeance of my sweet Savior.

Subtract myself.

Excise my views and reputation,

My desires and interpretation.

Remove my notions,

Seal my questions.

It is solely Him, I am souly His.

I don’t matter. That they see Jesus –

instead of – not beside me.

I don’t wield the gavel or weigh the merit of goodness.

I don’t have in view earth’s timeline, stretched through eternity.

I don’t weigh my pain against my joy.

I don’t balance the scales of faith and works.

I am not, but that He Is…is enough.

Shared at Gooseberry Garden