About a month ago, my little family of three set out on a week-long beach vacation on Galveston Island. Unlike every other vacation we've ever taken as a family unit, we decided this one would be totally laid back with zero scheduled outings. We slept in every day, watched a little television (which was met with quite a lot of excitement by the Pooh Bear, since we cancelled our cable subscription at the beginning of the year...he'd missed Sponge Bob), dropped more than a few quarters at the hotel's arcade, splashed in the hotel pool, ordered room service, waded in the waves on the beach...you get the idea. Basically, if we couldn't walk there from our hotel room, we didn't go. And it was divine.
In that week, I managed to read a book a day. I'm already jealous of my vacation self. The first book I read was this very thought-provoking novel, Eli. The premise is honestly quite simple, and because I know my bible, the story was fairly predictable, yet I must say that its effect on my heart was quite profound. The story follows a man named Conrad Davis, who is critically injured within the opening pages of the novel. As his body lay in a coma, his soul is transported into a parallel realm in which every single detail of his life is the same as it had been before his accident. With one major difference: Jesus Christ had only been born about thirty years prior, rather than over two-thousand years ago. There is no New Testament in any bible that exists. Believers in God still seek salvation in works and travel to temples for redemption and blessing. The world is awaiting its Savior.
Because Conrad works for the media, he is catapulted into circumstances that allow him to closely a man named Eli, who's words of truth and hope are attracting quite a following. While all of the logistics and minute details are substantially changed in a more modern setting, Eli's words, mission, and miracless coincide exactly with that of the Christ of the bible that Conrad had heard of from his pre-crash existence. Conrad recognizes Whom he is following, and over time, walks away from the life he knows to follow Eli.
Like me, if you know the gospel, you'll feel the stories of Eli's ministry unfolding with a comfortable familiarity, and get a giggle at some of the modern day tweaks. I especially loved the miracle of loaves and fishes, which ended up being Big Macs and french fries. But like me, you might also feel a pang of shame when you read of the state of the souls of this world, especially when you get to the chapter which describes the mega-church temple where believers gather to worship.
The most poignant thing I took from this book was a keen realization that the people whose stories we've read over and over in the bible were just like us. They were real people. They desperately needed a savior. And they got so caught up in man-made religion that the majority of them completely missed Him when He stood right in front of them. His ways and His words were radical. He spoke the truth, He loved unconditionally, and He expected His followers to lay down their lives to follow Him.
With two thousand years of hindsight, it's easy to question how the people were able to just hand Him over to be crucified. It's easy to misunderstand how they didn't recognize Him for who He was. But, what if, as in this book, He were walking among us now? And His words went directly against everything you've been taught your entire life? And if He were labeled as a lunatic cult leader? And following Him may cost you everything you hold dear on this earth? Would you believe Him? Would you admit to loving Him? Would you risk it all to follow Him?