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|The War in Heaven|
by Theodore Beale
Pocket Books, 2002
Recommended by: Greg Slade
I should probably say right off that, while this book poses a fair number of theological "stumbling blocks" for me, those problems rise from the kind of story Beale chose to tell, rather than being signs that Beale himself holds to "dodgy" theological positions. The problem is this: Beale (like Frank Peretti before him) is telling a story about theological warfare by giving the reader a look at the fighting which goes on unseen around us while we are praying or praising the Lord (or, all too often, while we are failing to do so.) Thus, he creates a whole cast of angels and demons, complete with flaming swords, each with different levels of fighting ability, according to the traditional hierarchy of angelology: angels, archangels, powers, princes, virtues, dominations, thrones, cherubim, and seraphim. But, since angels are immortal, there is the problem of how to create tension in telling tales of battles between beings who cannot be killed. (Note: I am not saying that spiritual warfare has no real consequences. All I am saying is that it's hard to build dramatic tension in a war story if the reader knows going in that nobody's going to die.) Thus, Beale posits a "Beyond" to which angels and demons go when they are defeated in battle. They can return from the "Beyond", but only, apparently, after a good deal of time, effort, and unpleasantness. The net effect is something like a "game misconduct" penalty in a hockey game: the defeated combatant is taken out of play for the duration of the particular battle in which they were taking part. All of this, of course, has absolutely no Biblical basis, but clearly, Beale writes in this backstory for dramatic, rather than theological purposes.
I am of two minds about this and other dramatic embellishments. On the one hand, I can see the dramatic necessity for them, but on the other, my years of training in identifying and refuting non-Biblical teachings means that these liberties are a sort of nagging itch which interferes with my enjoyment of the story. Those readers who do not have a "theologian's commentary" track running in the back of their minds while reading even something as trivial as the comics will probably find it much easier to get lost in, and enjoy, this kind of story.
Having said that, I should probably go on to point out one fallacy which Beale goes to some length to refute. One of the myths fostered by our "Hollywood" culture is the notion that good-looking people are good, and ugly-looking people are evil. I imagine that this originally came from the need for a sort of visual "shorthand" to help viewers tell the "good guys" from the "bad guys" at a glance. However, what was originally an artistic device has been used so much that it is now accepted as an axiom: a good-looking person must be good inside. Since I look the way I do, I could use this as an opportunity to whine about the raw deal that the rest of us get in life, but that's not the worst problem. The worst problem is that people have the illusion that they are better judges of character than they really are. (I read once that 97% of people consider themselves "above average" judges of character.) People get taken in by con artists, and even serial killers, who play upon their good looks, and the unconscious assumption that they can tell, at a glance, who's good and who's bad. This is perpetuated in stories of battles between good and evil where the point of view character finally figures out who the "bad guy" is by catching them with an evil expression on their face when they weren't expecting to be observed. (Because, after all, everybody knows that evil people look evil, right?) Beale studiously avoids that trap. As long as Christopher, the central character in the story, makes his decisions on the basis of how other characters appear, he is led astray. Because, after all, as II Corinthians 11:14 points out, "even Satan himself is able to take the form of an angel of light." (Bible in Basic English)
I should probably also point out that, at least in the trade paperback edition I read, the book is marred by numerous minor continuity errors of the sort which creep into a work through multiple drafts. (For example, at one point, a character puts a pair of sunglasses back on, but the passage in which he was presumably described as having taken them off in the first place did not survive into the print edition.) That is the sort of thing I would have expected the publisher to find and fix during the proofreading process.
This is the first book in the "Eternal Warriors" series. The second book is The World in Shadow. I haven't read it yet, but presumably, it makes use of the situation which Beale has gone through such lengths to set up in this book. I look forward to reading it. (January, 2004)
Note: Beale took part in an online interview on the list in February, 2004.
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