It’s not every day that I read a political and techno- thriller with an overarching theme of forgiveness running through it. This was my first Steven James novel and I was quite taken with it. It started a little bumpy as it took me a bit to get used to his style of writing. It also starts out slowly, but hang in there. Trust me, it’s worth it. It was a twisting plot with a surprising end. James delivered a multi-layered storytelling tour de force that not only delivers pulse-pounding suspense, but also deftly explores the rippling effects of the choices we make.
Story: While investigating a double homicide in an isolated northern Wisconsin town, FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers uncovers a high-tech conspiracy that twists through long-buried Cold War secrets and targets present-day tensions in the Middle East.
The underlying theme is two-fold: At some point in life, a person you think you know well, can do something so out of character that you wonder if you truly do know them and what is forgiveness. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a fan of Christian novels. Even though I am a Christian, I tend to find them too saccharine, clichéd, and overt. I’ve never been one who believes in bashing someone over the head with religion, of any type or in any form. Yet, Steven James is considered a Christian writer and he’s won awards from some notable Christian organizations for his novels. To be honest? I had no idea he was a Christian writer when I first picked up this book, never would have guessed it reading the book (although I wondered), and if I had known I probably wouldn’t have read it. I’m so glad I didn’t know. The brilliance of knowing a higher power and finding forgiveness was superbly woven throughout the novel. The theme was subtle, and only enriched the pulse pounding thriller.
It made me think. And that’s not a bad thing.
I was struck by the theme of forgiveness. James asks some powerful questions that left me pondering long after I put the novel down. Enough so that it compelled me to write this post. What does forgiving mean? What would be different if I forgave someone? Tessa, Patrick Bower’s stepdaughter in the novel provides an intriguing thought (pardon the lack of page references, but it’s the downside of reading on a Kindle).
I’ve always thought that when you apologize it shouldn’t be for your own benefit, but for that of the other person. I don’t think you should ask someone to forgive you just so you can get something off your chest or quiet your guilty conscience. If an apology isn’t in the other person’s best interests, it’s not serving to reconcile anything. It’s just a subtle form of selfishness.
Tessa struggles with the depth of despair and hopelessness from shooting a man in self-defense. She can’t forget and she doesn’t feel she can forgive herself for committing a crime and ultimately, for feeling good that she shot him because he was trying to kill her. She feels that’s the ultimate sin, her millstone that she must bear. Bowers brings up the point that we run from the past and it chases us; we dive into urgency, but nothing deep is ultimately healed. Tessa is doing her best to avoid facing her fear and guilt. Self-forgiveness becomes the point. Yet, what is self-forgiveness?
It’s not just marginalizing the event or simply acknowledging the pain and then doing your best to ignore it. It has to be more than that or ‘self-forgiveness,’ if there even is such a thing, would just be a caustic form of denial. Tessa defiantly tests the psychotherapist who can’t find an answer or response for her. She puts her foot up on his glass coffee table and says, “If I break this thing, you can forgive the debt I owe you if you want, or you can make me pay for it, but how can I forgive myself for the debt that I owe you?” Self-forgiveness? It seems arrogant that someone could claim to have the power to cancel the debt that they owe God or another person. When you ask someone to forgive you, you’re really asking the other person to sacrifice for the benefit of the relationship. If Tessa would’ve shattered the doctor’s end table and he forgave her, he would’ve been the one to pay for it, the one to sacrifice. But what if you wrong yourself? We’re accountable to someone else besides ourselves. To God. Is it really an act of arrogance to be haunted by guilt? Or is it an act of humility, admitting that you weren’t living up to the standards you set for yourself?
It is possible to spend your entire life blaming yourself for this and that, feeling guilty because you did something and living in fear of the consequences of it. This way of living has you immobilized because you are dwelling in the past (the guilt and blame for what has been) and you cannot enjoy your future (for fear of the consequences of what has been). When you forgive yourself you let go of a part of yourself, the part that wants to keep you trapped inside a circle of blame, shame, guilt and fear. This part of you, which essentially is part of your ego, does not want you to be free of it because ego does not want to relinquish control. This viscous pattern of behavior has the ability to murder your spirit.
In the novel, Tessa shares with Amber a story she read in a Bible she stole from a hotel. Jesus is at a party eating supper when a woman, who is a prostitute and everyone thought was a terrible sinner, is weeping on his feet, pouring expensive perfume over them, and drying them with her hair. Jesus starts talking about how those who’ve been forgiven much love much. But those who haven’t been forgiven much – or don’t realize that they have – don’t end up expressing much love. Jesus says that the woman was forgiven because she loved much. You cannot freely give to the world that which you do not give to yourself. Just as you cannot truly love someone without first loving yourself, you cannot forgive someone without forgiving yourself. When you learn to forgive yourself then and only then will you be able to forgive others. Paradoxically though, when you learn to forgive yourself you will in turn find that you have nothing to forgive others for. But given the context, it should’ve been the other way around – that she loved much because she’d been forgiven much, because that’s what he just explained. So which comes first, forgiveness or love?
Neither. Both love and forgiveness follow something else – a confession of your sins and an acceptance of blood-bought grace. Jesus told the woman washing his feet, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.” If you have to do penance or make amends, then it means the forgiveness wasn’t complete, right? If it was, there would be no need for them. If you can make up for the past, why would you need to be forgiven for it? Apart from forgiveness, can you think of any way of dealing with your past that doesn’t involve some form of denial or negotiation? “Mental compartmentalization, rationalization, justification, repression…all forms of denial or just different genres of excuses.” If you don’t find forgiveness, you’ll never end up with peace, just get lost in a maze of comforting excuses.
I think Steven James is on to something.
To learn more about Steven James and his books, visit his website.
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Published by Revell, 2011
Source: Bought Copy (see my Review Policy)