eading Jedidiah’s Paschall’s The Damned May Enter reminded me of an experience I had years ago. I was invited to a private lecture given by a novelist who, though not quite a household name, was famous throughout literary circles. She was so popular, in fact, that professors often made her works required reading in introductory English courses. I enjoyed her stories very much. She wrote lively and beautiful prose. So, as you can imagine, I was overjoyed to receive such an invitation.
The lecture must have been dull because I remember next to nothing of what she said. But what I do remember, and what has stuck with me ever since, is how she answered a question during the Q&A session. Toward the end, just before we were all about to leave, a man raised his hand and asked the most important question anyone could ever ask a novelist — “What do your stories mean?” The whole room leaned forward to hear her answer.
”Nothing,” she said, “I write whatever comes into my head.”
Now I grant (and I have always granted, and I will always grant) that inspiration can strike, the muse can speak, and images will pour down from heaven. One might call this goading experience the ‘creative spark’ which separates artist from layman. In such a moment all the artist can do is listen and work. But that work must be diligent; the spark must be fanned into a flame. To argue, as this novelist went on to explain, that great art required no forethought, no sustained rational effort, no struggle to elucidate meaning in a particular medium — that great art could be had as cheaply as sitting down and writing whatever popped into one’s head — was unsettling. To make matters worse, I had spent countless hours analyzing her stories, even written entire essays on them, all in an effort to illuminate the meaning I wrongly thought buried within her prose. My efforts were in vain. By her own admission, the stories meant “nothing”. It is a strange feeling to learn you have put more effort into the artwork than the artist has.
What I later came to realize is that this novelist was a minor artist — a talented one, no doubt, one who crafted beautiful stories with interesting plots and characters, but a minor one nevertheless. And this was because she never created with purpose. Her stories had no meaning. If one of her characters committed some vile act, it was simply a vile act that pushed the story along, not a moment to teach her readers about vileness. Unlike a major artist, her starting point was the here and now, this plane of reality, not a higher one. She did not seek to enrich our understanding of Love or Truth or Beauty (or Vileness), but to simply give us entertainment. And this was why her stories were devoid of meaning. In failing to pull the higher realities down to us through art, she failed to lift our minds up to them.
This lifting action, then, is what separates the major artist from the minor. And it is for this reason I must classify Paschall as a major artist and his novel, The Damned May Enter, as a piece of great art. It is obvious that every word, every sentence, every scene, and every page of Paschall’s novel was written to lift us to the higher realities, in particular the nature of God’s love and wrath. I want to highlight just two ways in which he does this:
First, through plot. Paschall imagines the lives of the two witnesses briefly mentioned in Revelation 11. We start with their families, then their childhoods, then the circumstances that plunge the globe into World War, and finally how these two witnesses become mediators of God’s message to the world. This plot lifts us precisely because it is anchored in Scripture. We read Paschall’s words not merely as fiction but as a possible future and are forced to take them seriously.
Second, Paschall infuses the story with theological truths. To give just one example, within the first few pages, Daniel DeVaux, a character who serves as a spiritual mentor to the two witnesses, experiences a mystical vision. In the vision, God foretells of the coming destruction and the end of the world. And strikingly, at the end of this calamitous vision, God whispers to DeVaux, “The fire and my love are one.” This is a hard truth, as hard as the truth that we must die to live, but it is true nonetheless. Scripture defines God as both Love (1 John 4:8,16) and as a ‘consuming fire’ (Hebrews 12:29). As the novel unfolds, we see the characters grapple with this and come to new a understanding of God. We are meant to do the same.
Despite these triumphs, I do have one complaint. The Damned May Enter is dense — perhaps too dense. I hesitate to make this complaint simply because I am grateful to see an author put so much effort and forethought into his work. I love the layers of meaning, the page after page of metaphysical and theological truths, but I don’t love them at the expense of the storytelling craft. There are moments, strained moments (I’m thinking of a particular scene when the two witnesses get into a metaphysics discussion at a high-school wrestling match) when the characters appear to say theological truths in order to check a box instead of advancing the story. It makes the novel feel like a glissando, hitting every note in a flurry of sound, and less like a song, hitting the right note at the right time. A story must flow naturally.
That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. If you’re on the fence, let me help you. If you love California, surfing, geopolitics, and the military, then this book is for you. If you are Reformed, especially Progressive Reformed, and you are interested in a fresh picture of God’s love and wrath combined, then this book is for you. And lastly, if you are like me and you enjoy seeing an artist merge the high with the low, the literal with the figurative, if you enjoy having your mind lifted to the higher realities of God’s love and fire, then this book is for you.
The Damned May Enter is available for purchase here.