I just finished Red by Ted Dekker.
I am fascinated with his reconception of God and his people. The way he tells the story brings to light some things I have forgotten or skimmed over in the past. If you have not read the Circle (Black, Red and White) and would like to in the future, I would not recommend reading the following paragraphs, because I am going to give away part of the plot. This is not because I want to ruin the book, but because I am fascinated about what this says about our God.
Ted brings his readers to a world before sin, that is a world before humans had chosen evil over God. In this world the people engage with Elyon (God) in the Great Romance. It is pure innocence, with noone thinking only of themselves, but always celebrating each other and Elyon as Maker. This Great Romance (which sounds really cheesy and John Eldredgesque, but does a pretty good job at showing who God is) is the story of God choosing and pursuing humanity and fighting for her and winning her affection. Everything about the world revolves around Elyon's Romance. There are nightly Gatherings where the people bask in the waters of Elyon, the healing and powerful waters.
Yet there is a dark side to this world. It is in the Black Forest where Evil resides. Evil cannot come into the other side of the world unless one of the humans drinks the water from the Black Forest. On this side of the world live black bats, who rip into any human they come close to. Teeleh is king of the bats and wants more than anything to bring humanity under his power, to steal Elyon's humanity and make it his. So, he tempts the first man, Father of the rest of the residents, Tanis, and Tanis chooses to drink the water. Once he drinks the water, the evil bats wisk into the other side of the planet to reek havoc on the rest of the citizens.
Dekker has incredible and insightful details about how the world changes because of the unleashing of evil. The water that used to heal, the fruit that used to strengthen, the seeds that took away dreams, all lost their powers. The world was flipped upside down. Men and women fought against each other, no longer thinking of each other or Elyon. And worst of all, the skin of humans began to disease and grey and crack without the waters of Elyon. This disease makes their bodies stiff, their minds crazy, and their spirits more selfish.
It would seem that all is lost. But there are forests across the desert which have lakes in the center. These lakes contain the waters of Elyon. The people must bathe each day to keep their skin fresh, to keep the disease from turning their skin and tainting their minds. And so people colonize around these lakes and remember the Great Romance, even though they cannot know Elyon the way they once knew him. Elyon gives them six standards of the Romance, and they expound the standards so to be sure of obeying the Great Romance.
At the same time there are people who gather in the desert, taking the group name of the Horde. These are the diseased people, who hate the water because of the pain it causes their flesh. They hate the Forest People and make up their minds to wage war with them.
The Forest People believe that the Horde represents everything evil and against Elyon. So they make it their mission to defend the lakes and forests and defeat the Horde. Some of the Horde has come over to the Forest People and become like them by bathing in the lakes, but most have the greatest aversion to that idea. And the Forest People don't really want the Horde to come to the waters, because they believe that there won't be enough water for all.
A New Way
And into this war comes a man named Justin. He talks of a new way between the Horde and Forest People. He talks of peace.
This is not recieved well by the Forest People. How could they make peace with enemies of Elyon. But Justin constantly reminds them that Elyon did make all man, and so he loves the Horde just as much as he loves the Forest People. This enrages the Forest People. And Justin goes on to say that the bats that used to live in the trees of the Black Forest now live in some of their hearts.
Justin recieves the children with joy and talks in cryptic code. And he pisses off the Horde and the Forest People (though not all of them, because some of them, including the children, believe that what he has to say has merit) and they put him to death by drowning him in one of the lakes used to bring healing.
After the Night
But something strange happens in the night. When the Forest People wake up the next day, they find that they are covered with the grey skin, infected with the disease of the Horde. And they rush to the lake, which they find is blood red and no longer brings restoration to their skin. They also find that Justin's body is no longer there, even though it was guarded in the night.
There are a few characters who knew Justin well, and whom Justin had told, "If you die with me, you will live." And so they dive into the lake, opening their lungs to the waters, and through the pain they find that they are brought back to life without the disease.
Thse characters now begin to beckon others into the water, but the rest remain skeptical and attempt to seize the members of the new way. The new members escape to the desert where they find Justin alive without the wounds he recieved the night before.
This encounter is wonderful. Each new member trembles with sorrow before Justin, and he forgives them all. Then he talks to his father, Elyon, and thanks them for his bride. After which he draws a circle, the sign of marriage, in the sand around them. The Great Romance had been fulfilled through Justin, and now these new members were to extend that Romance to others.
I am blown away at the similarities between this story and God's story in the scriptures. The Jews had a system in place that was designed to keep them in line with God's reality and love. But they become more dedicated to that system, that they actually sold themselves to the opposite of love. And Jesus came to free them of the system, to restore the original order of things. So we no longer have to continually come before God for cleansing of the disease. We have been made clean and are beckoned to invite others into the purity.
This telling of the story shows that the gospel isn't about getting people's tickets punched so they can get to heaven. It's all about changing the way of life here. Elyon desires to change the way of life here through us, by changing us.
Here's to change...here's to the circle that binds us...