Friday, October 7, 2011

Blessed Are the Tough, Yet God Affirms

This will be a slightly rambling post about my reading of Stephen King’s The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition. I’ll talk about an item from my reading last night, and that will spill into my commentary on my reading today. But I’ll still comment tomorrow about other items in today’s reading.

Larry Underwood has a dream about Mother Abagail, and Nadine is in it. Mother Abagail does not recoil from Nadine, as she does in the miniseries; rather, Mother Abagail tells Nadine that Larry is a good man who is trying to make something of himself, and that Nadine should cleave to Larry rather than using him. On a side note: Nadine may be in Larry’s dream, but Nadine herself is not having that dream about Mother Abagail, presumably because Nadine is destined to be the consort of Randall Flagg, the villain of the book, and only God’s “elect” (if you will) have Mother Abagail dreams.

On pages 478-479, Larry has a dream about Flagg, in which Flagg tries to make Larry feel guilty for Rita’s death and accuses him of being a taker. Mother Abagail affirms that Larry is a good man who is seeking to make something of himself, whereas Flagg wants to tear Larry down and to hold him back with guilt and low self-esteem. From this, one can preach a decent sermon about how Satan is the accuser of the brethren who puts us down, whereas God is one who encourages us—who gives us a spirit, not of fear, but rather of power, love, and a sound mind. As I have heard evangelical Christians say, Satan condemns, whereas God convicts. With God, there is hope at the end of the tunnel.

So is everyone good and undeserving of being put down in The Stand? On page 514, Mother Abagail tells Nick Andros and Ralph that Flagg is gathering together his own group of people, and they consist of shoplifters, sexfiends, and the violent, as well as those who are weak, lonely, and have left God out of their hearts. Flagg will draw people who are evil, but he will also go after the vulnerable. Later in the book, he will exploit Harold Lauder’s insecurity and resentment.

I like stories in which people become healed. In a sense, I’ve been looking to the story of Larry for that, for I have wanted to see him move from being a taker to being a giver. But my impression is that, in The Stand, the sick are not healed by God, but rather are exploited by Flagg. The people who are drawn to Mother Abagail’s side, by contrast, are tough. They may have suffered in the past, but their painful experiences have not wounded them or distorted their psyches. Stu Redman had disappointed dreams and lost his wife when she was young, but he was tough, so that experience did not cripple him. Fran lost her parents, but she moved on. Glenn Bateman was ostracized by his colleagues, but he did not care what they thought about him. Nick Andros learned to cope with being a deaf mute and made a success out of himself. Even Mother Abagail, like her father, endured racism, but that did not make her bitter. Overall, the people who are drawn to Mother Abagail’s team have their acts together.

But those who are drawn to Flagg are broken. Trashcan man burns the world because it hurt him. Lloyd resents the establishment that keeps him behind bars and has power over his life and his death. I do not know what Nadine’s story is, but she does not strike me as wounded, but rather as a compassionate schoolteacher. But perhaps I will learn something different as I go through the book. And Harold has his own inner demons: resentment, insecurity, inability to let go of his past, etc.

From this, one can perhaps preach a sermon about how Satan can exploit our weaknesses: our anger, our lust, our jealousy, etc. But I prefer a story in which God comforts and heals the broken, rather than kicking them when they’re down and going forward with a “Blessed are the tough” policy. As I’ve expressed before, I like how Randall Flagg reaches out to the marginalized and gives them a purpose in life. I’d like to think that God seeks to do the same, only God desires to use the broken for good rather than evil.

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