A Devil’s Gospel: Released!

eBook cover for "A Devil's Gospel"

A Devil’s Gospel is now available for instant purchase at the following retailers in ebook format:

And the paperback is available for purchase from Amazon (check with your local bookstore for special ordering if you prefer. The ISBN is 978-1-988798-00-4).

You can also read the first chapter for free on this website.

Links to Blog Posts

During Lent 2017, I’ve been posting updates on A Devil’s Gospel every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Now that the series is complete, below are the links to all the posts, in the order they were published:

Hope everyone has a blessed Easter celebration and year ahead!

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A Devil’s Gospel: What Surprised Me Most About The Bible (Spoilers Ahead)

eBook cover for "A Devil's Gospel"In my post on March 10, I promised to share with you what I thought was the most surprising thing about the Bible through a lengthy excerpt from A Devil’s Gospel. Throughout my life I’ve read the Bible many times over, often starting at Genesis and reading straight through to Revelation (because I’m a bit OCD that way), sometimes reading different books as the mood struck me. But it was only in reading the Bible through very carefully, trying to keep the entire narrative in mind while writing this novel, that I realized how amazingly well the story fits together, like a glorious puzzle put together one piece at a time over thousands of years by hundreds of different hands.

In the post from last month, I talked about how Christ’s shadow falls on almost every page of the Old Testament; in the excerpt below from near the end of the novel, the protagonist begins to see some of those surprising connections. It would’ve been tedious in a novel to list all the pre-figurements, but it really is incredible to read the Old Testament books in the light of Christ,  and realize how those stories, written thousands of years before, so beautifully prefigure His life, death, and resurrection.

As with my post this past Wednesday, this post comes with the warning that it contains heavy spoilers for the novel. So I’ll repeat that if you’re planning to read the book and would like to preserve the experience untainted, you may want to bookmark this page and return to it later. Now, without further delay, here is the excerpt:

 

Before King David conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital, I thought, as I watched Jesus drag His cross through its dusty streets, a man was called by God and given a promise and then a test. He was told to travel to this place and to sacrifice his beloved child, his son of promise.

Almost two thousand years earlier, I’d watched that son walk up the mountain in obedience to his father, carrying himself the wood on which he would be sacrificed. Abraham had told his son what at the time I took to be a lie, that God Himself would provide a lamb. And yet here is that Lamb, I thought, bruised and bleeding, the wood of Its sacrifice weighing It down.

“Behold the Lamb of God,” the Baptist had said, “who takes away the sins of the world.”

Why hadn’t those words meant anything to me before? Why hadn’t I connected them to the words of Isaiah, written hundreds of years earlier, about the Lamb who would be led to the slaughter, the Man who would take on Himself humanity’s sins, the Righteous One whose bruises would heal the world?

Satan and Cain couldn’t understand what Abel was doing, I remembered, when he offered to God the life of an innocent lamb. To be truthful, none of us understood the point of all the sacrifices, why the blood of countless animals was poured out on the altar and enough grain to feed the populations of the world a hundred times over burned up. The point was to point to You, wasn’t it? I thought, looking at Him. Nor could we understand why God’s people had to give up the best of what they had, but that answer now seemed as obvious as the first.

The Lamb of God, I went on thinking, who said more than once, “My body is truly food and My blood is truly drink.” The Passover Lamb slaughtered so that the people of God could eat His flesh and place His blood on their lips, the doors of their bodies.

Before Aaron was priest, Melchizedek was priest; and before Saul was king, Melchizedek was king. A thousand years before Jesus was born, another king, David, wrote down these words of the Lord: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” And two thousand years before Christ, Melchizedek the Priest-King offered to God a sacrifice of bread and wine.

More passages and scenes from scripture returned to me, and I saw them in a new light, the light of Christ, and I finally understood them.

What was once lost through disobedience in the Garden of Eden was regained through obedience in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Out of one tree humanity through Adam had plucked the fruit of sin and corruption; out of the tree of the cross, I was certain, humanity through Christ would pluck the fruit of redemption and restoration. The first was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which brought death, but the second was the Tree of Life, which would bring everlasting life to anyone who ate of its fruit, as Jesus Himself had said.

Isaac rode a donkey for three days, not knowing that he was supposed to be sacrificed when he reached his destination. Jesus rode a donkey to the same place, but He knew exactly what awaited Him in Jerusalem. “For three days you’ve been dead, Isaac,” Abraham told his son, “but today the Lord has brought you back to life.” Jesus is going to die, I thought; but He isn’t going to stay dead.

Joseph was sold for silver by his own brothers; Jesus was sold for silver by one of His Twelve. Joseph was handed over to foreigners and bound and led away, and so had Jesus been, only the night before.

But that wasn’t the end of the story, of course, and even as I watched Jesus cough blood and almost collapse, I knew it wasn’t the end of His story either. “From the depths of the dungeons I was lifted up to the right hand of the king,” Joseph once told me, “and people all over the world are saved from starvation because I was sold into slavery.”

Before then, though, Joseph interpreted the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners, Pharaoh’s baker and his butler. The first dreamt of bread, the other of wine; the first meant death, the other meant a release from imprisonment and a restoration in as many days—in three days. The Son of Man, Jesus had said, will be handed over to be killed, but He will rise again on the third day.

The chief priests, the elders, the Pharisees, and the scribes thought they were being clever: if they stoned Jesus to death, He might be remembered and revered as a martyr, and might have been just as problematic for them in death as He had been in life. But who would continue to honor the name of a Man who’d been executed by Roman crucifixion? The shame would force even His greatest supporters to distance themselves from Him. Isn’t their thinking reasonable? I thought. Isn’t their strategy wise? Hadn’t Peter—Peter, mighty Apostle; Peter, who had told Jesus he’d follow Him anywhere, even unto death—on the very night he made that promise, even before Jesus was handed over to the Romans, hadn’t Peter denied so much as knowing his Master?

Their thinking was reasonable and their strategy was wise indeed. But they should have remembered the words of Isaiah on what God does to the wisdom of the wise and those who take council in secret and work in the dark.

Because it was in death by crucifixion that Jesus would carry the wood of His sacrifice up the mountain, as Isaac had done. It was in crucifixion that He would be lifted up and all who looked at him would have to look up at Him, as if in worship. It was in crucifixion that His arms would be stretched out to either end of the cross beam so that even as He died He would hold His arms open in welcome to the whole world.

It was with outstretched arms that He could clear the way to salvation, just as Moses had stretched out his hands to part the Red Sea; and it was with outstretched arms that He could conquer, just as his army had conquered because Moses stretched out his arms.

Words and images from scripture continued to flash in my mind like shooting stars lighting up the night sky. Here was the meaning of the rock Moses had struck with his staff, from which water had flowed to quench the thirst of the Israelites; here the meaning of the bitter water made sweet when Moses dipped a tree into it; and here was the copper snake placed on a stick, so that whoever was bitten and looked up at it would survive, as Jesus Himself had said.

And, of course, I thought of the words that had terrified Satan since the beginning. For who else was the seed of the woman except the One born of a Virgin Mother? Delight in His crucifixion while you can, Satan, I thought. You’ve bruised His heel, but He will crush your head. Because Jesus was indeed the Passover Lamb, but the story didn’t end there. After the Passover came the Exodus, when the people of God were led to freedom from the tyrant’s rule.

While I had these thoughts, Satan didn’t cease from jeering and laughing. Sometimes he’d scream in Jesus’ ears and sometimes in mine, alternating between us when he saw he wasn’t getting anywhere with either one.

“Do you see, Enoch?” he said at one point, when Jesus fell on His way to Golgotha. “This so-called Son of God isn’t strong enough to carry His cross by Himself, but needs the help of another!”

Lost in thoughts that delighted me as much as Jesus’ suffering delighted Satan, I hardly heard what he was saying.

Did God have this planned all along? That was the question that had tortured me since the beginning, but now I could answer it at last: Yes! Most gloriously: Yes!

And with that I end my Lenten series of blog posts for A Devil’s Gospel. Thanks to everyone who joined along for the ride!

The novel officially releases this Palm Sunday (April 9). You can also pre-order it anytime before then.

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A Devil’s Gospel: Why I Wrote This Novel (Spoilers Ahead)

eBook cover for "A Devil's Gospel"In last Friday‘s post, I mentioned that many years ago there was a publisher who was seriously considering buying the rights to A Devil’s Gospel. A member of their selection committee wasn’t comfortable with one of the themes of the novel, so I wrote an “afterword” to explain why I structured the novel the way I did. Today I’d like to share with you an edited version of that afterword, with the warning that it contains heavy spoilers for the novel. If you’re planning to read the book and would like to preserve the experience untainted, you may want to bookmark this page and return to it later.


Why I Wrote A Devil’s Gospel

Although A Devil’s Gospel is a work of fiction, it is a work of theological fiction and I’ve endeavored throughout not to deviate from the view of salvation as it is understood in traditional Christianity. In fact, one of my purposes in writing the novel was to demonstrate in a short, hopefully entertaining narrative, specifically that traditional view of salvation history and of God.

At the core of the work, though, is a piece of theology some Christians might find objectionable: the protagonist is an angel who rebels against God but is then redeemed by Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection.

It isn’t that most churches teach that devils can’t be saved. The traditional position on this question is rather that we should concern ourselves with our own salvation and that of our fellow human beings, about which we’ve been told everything sufficient, rather than the salvation of devils, about which we don’t know very much definitively, and which really isn’t our business.

So why do I mind the business of the devils in this novel?

Because I believe it is the corrective measure that is required today. In much of the modern world, Christians and non-Christians alike have a view of God that has been shaped by a very particular understanding of salvation. Under this view, the Lord is a wrathful, angry God of punishment, who will send tornadoes to wipe away entire cities of the unrighteous and earthquakes to topple down the houses of His enemies. Fire and brimstone preaching has lead too many Christians to create an idol in their minds, a fire and brimstone deity who will consign their own mother to Hell if she doesn’t belong to their small community, or if her understanding of God is slightly different than their own. Those with a sense of compassion eventually grow disillusioned with this idol, as well they should; those with intellectual honesty can’t countenance such a god, whose pettiness and temperament equals that of Zeus, as well they shouldn’t.

What Christians and non-Christians need now is a reminder of the true God, the One revealed in the Old and New Testaments, the One whose mercy and love is so radical that many “religious” people ignore it or apply it only to themselves and never to those they consider their enemies. Do I believe that Satan and his devils can be redeemed?  I don’t know, but I do believe that nothing is beyond God’s power. And, perhaps most importantly, I don’t doubt the answer to the question of whether God desires the devils to repent.

This is the Good News that modern Christians need to hear. Even a devil can be restored through the power of Christ’s love. Far from a damning God foaming at the mouth to condemn as many as He can, the Biblical understanding is rather of a loving Father who will do anything in His power (which is limited by the gift of free will He granted to His creatures) to save as many as He can.

On first glance, though, it may seem dangerous and maybe even blasphemous to feel sympathy for Satan and his devils, since they are the enemies of God and of humankind. This position, however, still misses the radical love at the center of being a follower of Christ. St. Isaac the Syrian says that as Christians our hearts should burn with love “for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists.”

“Love your enemies,” Jesus said, “and pray for those who persecute you.” Who is a greater enemy to humanity than Satan?  Who is a greater persecutor?

It is true that we have more pressing concerns than the salvation of the devils. But reflecting on such a possibility is worth doing if it serves as a reminder of the true nature of the loving Creator. And, if we’re blessed, such reflection may even nudge us toward having more love for all of His creation, including the devils who are our chief enemies, which will re-shape our hearts to that of the great saints of the Christianity and, and ultimately, to that of Christ Himself.

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A Devil’s Gospel: Rublev’s Trinity Icon

Old cover for A Devil's GospelOn March 17, I shared the cover I did for the draft of A Devil’s Gospel. The cover image is of Rublev’s trinity icon, which I felt perfectly encapsulated one of the themes of my novel. The “surface” depiction is of the story told in Genesis 18: Abraham is sitting in the door of his tent when the Lord appears to him. Abraham looks up and sees three men; he runs to them and bows in front of them. Then Abraham addresses one of them as “My Lord” and invites them to stay and rest. It turns out that one of the men is indeed the Lord (and He tells Sarah, who is very old and barren, that they’ll have a son) and the other two are angels.

For Christians, it’s clear that the man who is called Lord (Yahweh) in this passage is the pre-incarnate Christ. And very quickly, Christians saw this story of Abraham and Sarah extending hospitality to the three heavenly beings as a foreshadowing of the revelation that God is triune.

Rublev’s icon is a masterpiece for many reasons (how brilliant of him that the faces of each figure is exactly the same, for example), but exploring or contemplating the beautiful icon is beyond the scope of this post.

For my purposes, I loved how well it encapsulated the idea of Christ’s shadow (which I posted about on March 10): this strange story of three men, one of whom is the Lord, suddenly gaining deeper levels of significance in the light of Christ’s incarnation and His revelation of the triune nature of the Godhead.

eBook cover for "A Devil's Gospel"So why didn’t I use it for the final cover? There were two reasons. One (and based on advice from my wife), I wanted something more accessible to a wider audience; I think Rublev’s icon, beautiful as it is, might be intimating or off-putting to the reader who wants to pick up a fast-paced thriller that happens to retell the story of Christianity. Two, something that Father Thomas Hopko said in a recorded lecture has stuck with me ever since I heard it. Father Tom, who used to be Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, said that he’d tried very hard to get St. Vladimir’s Press to stop using icons on the covers of their books. He wasn’t successful, and I believe I understand the reasons why (for the right book, using an icon as the cover image is irresistible—and of course, Orthodox churches use icons as the covers of their bulletins). But his argument sticks with me—icons are holy objects of veneration; they shouldn’t be printed on paper that might end up in the trash, or trampled on, or in a stack under a bunch of other books.

I haven’t always followed his advice (the covers for the Father John books, for example, use details of an icon called the Ladder of Divine Ascent), but the force of his argument is enough to make me pause and be sure there isn’t a better alternative. In this case, I felt there was.

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A Devil’s Gospel: The (Long) Path to Publication

On March 17, I shared the “throwback” cover of A Devil’s Gospel and promised to talk about the path to publication for this novel.

First, I’ll say that the book took me a very long time to write, in part because I was working through the relevant portions of the Bible and several commentaries as I was writing each chapter. In the summer of 2010, I finally felt the manuscript was ready to shop around. I did seriously consider independently publishing the novel (which is in part why I designed the throwback cover and bound together a proof copy to give to my girlfriend at the time, now my wife), but I thought only in terms of print books and hadn’t heard of print-on-demand publishing. The costs were prohibitive. I wasn’t interested in ebooks or aware of how big they were becoming.

The way (I thought) traditional publishing worked, one had try to land an agent first. So over the next year I submitted queries and sample chapters. I’m no stranger to following submission guidelines—I’ve been submitting my short stories to magazines since 1998—and I know that different editors have quirks and ways they want to see manuscripts presented. But submitting to agents was a whole other kettle of slush. Many wanted a one-page synopsis; others wanted it in three pages, and some in five. Some wanted a marketing plan. Others wanted you to fill out a questionnaire with very specific questions. Some wanted cash for an “expedited review.” (I find it relatively easy to avoid scam magazines, but in novel-length publishing, it was a lot harder to tell legitimate agents and publishers from scammers).

I dutifully wrote, and trimmed, and expanded to match each guideline, and sent off query after query. Often I never heard back (so I guess I’ve been waiting for an answer for almost seven years now on several queries!)

In the meantime, I’d discovered that, in fact, many writers advised getting an agent once you’ve landed a publishing deal. I remember one piece of advice (I forget from who) went something like: “When the publisher calls with an offer, say you’ll have your agent contact them. Then go get yourself an agent.”

I decided to forget about agents for a while and try a prominent Christian publisher that I felt was perfect for my novel. I sent them a query, and within a week they requested the full manuscript. Once the selection committee had had a chance to review the full manuscript, the acquisitions editor (who was a delight to deal with and kept me informed throughout the process) told me I had reason for cautious optimism, though there was one dissenter on the committee who wasn’t sure about the subject matter. (I quickly wrote an afterword explaining the rationale for the perspective the book takes and sent it to the editor). The decision on the book was deferred from one acquisitions meeting to the next until, finally, it was decided that the publisher would get out of fiction and focus on nonfiction.

The whole process had taken almost 40 months, but with the exception of the result, it was positive throughout and made me feel good about my book’s chances. I spent the next four years submitting to several different Christian publishers. On two occasions I never heard back on the query and, after a year of waiting, gave up and moved on to the next publisher.

But the world had moved on too. Self-publishing was becoming a real, viable thing. Print-on-demand technology meant one could have one’s books printed, bound, and shipped off to customers with zero direct cost on each transaction. What’s more, ebooks had exploded and it seemed like everyone was reading on their phones, tablets, and the new breed of super-slick dedicated e-readers like the Kindle. That completely leveled the playing field—on an ebook store, a professionally produced self-published (or indie-published) ebook looks no different than a traditionally produced one.

I dipped my toes into self-publishing waters with Ooter’s Place and Other Stories of Fear, Faith, and Love and The Lost Stories: A Series of Cosmic Adventures (both collections of previously published short fiction). My wife (then still my girlfriend), coming from an academic perspective, had deep reservations about me self-publishing my previously unpublished novel-length work. So I made a deal with myself: I’d keep A Devil’s Gospel out on submissions but would indie publish the new novel I was working on, Father John VS the Zombies. I finished writing that book in the summer of 2012 and saw it in print before the end of the year. That same summer, I’d submitted A Devil’s Gospel to what I thought was a traditional publisher, which turned out not to be (I posted about that).

The experience with Father John was dangerous for my traditional-publishing aspirations. The path to publication for Father John took months and was fun. The path to publication for A Devil’s Gospel…well, two years later (at the time), it still hadn’t been published and I’d spent precious writing time working on variations of query letters and synopses that I suspected the intended recipients had never actually read in some cases. And I’d unwittingly walked into a vanity publishing trap.

Still, a deal was a deal and I was committed to keep trying the traditional publishing route with A Devil’s Gospel. On to the next query.

In the summer of 2013, my wife and I took a trip to Greece and I was inspired to start working on the sequel of Father John, which became Bishop John VS the Antichrist. I finished writing that book in the summer of 2014 (don’t ask me why it seems summer is my productive novel-writing season) and saw it in print by spring of the following year.

A Devil’s Gospel was still out with a publisher so I waited…and waited…and waited. By the end of 2016, though, I knew that I didn’t want to pursue a traditional publishing deal. There were too many well-publicized horror stories of publishers behaving badly: their contracts grabbing rights with both hands, rights that they had no intention of exploiting; insisting on non-compete clauses; giving the writer a pittance for ebook royalties; and maintaining poor record-keeping practices, which meant that many writers couldn’t believe their royalty statements (even if they thought their publisher was acting in good faith, which wasn’t always the case).

Although my indie published fiction hasn’t been overly successful in financial terms (I make more selling a short story to a professional magazine than I currently get from a year’s worth of sales of my indie-published books), it’s been successful in a way that’s much more important to me.

In 2017, when I realized that this Easter would be the last one East and West would celebrate together for another 17 years, I decided that was the kick in the pants I needed to start the process of publishing A Devil’s Gospel myself. It pleased me to say that it would be released on Palm Sunday, and not have to specify which one.

I’m excited to have the story out in the world. And to put it out into the world, I don’t have to jump through any query or synopsis hoops, don’t have to wait for anyone’s permission, don’t have to contort my story to meet someone else’s guidelines or biases.

This the story I want to tell, in the way I want to tell it.

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A Devil’s Gospel: Pre-order!

I’m very pleased to announce that the ebook of A Devil’s Gospel is now available for pre-order at the following fine retailers:

The ebook pre-order price is 50% off regular price, so get it while it’s cheap! After you place your order, it’ll be auto-delivered to your device on Palm Sunday (April 9).

And if you’re in the US or the UK, you can also order the paperback version from Amazon (more stores, and more countries, coming soon). If you order it now, you should have it in your hands by Palm Sunday too!

If you need some convincing, you can read the first chapter for free.

So choose your flavor, paperback or ebook!

The author holding paperback and ebook copies of A Devil's Gospel

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A Devil’s Gospel: Dedication

A Devil’s Gospel is dedicated as follows:

To my dad, the priest of our “little church”

It was important for me to dedicate this novel to my father because he was critical in the development of my faith, though in subtle ways. I have very clear memories, for example, of my dad reading the Bible every night in bed (he often read out loud so my mom could hear). While I was growing up, every Sunday morning he would go downstairs to our icon corner and pray, then bless the house with his censer. Every Sunday, he and my mom would go to the Divine Liturgy (we, his children, refused to go for a long time, and though they tried to insist at first, they eventually stopped). He fasted every Lent and throughout the year (he never forced us to do that with him either). He turned to God when faced with adversity and, a rarer quality, turned to Him with gratitude when things were going well. He forgave freely, reaching out in love (sometimes again and again) to those who hurt him or even despised him.

As a teenager, I often argued with my dad over matters of faith (I think usually just to provoke him). But he was never provoked; he’d calmly state what he believed and was content to let me think things through on my own and in my own time. For a teenager who thought there was nothing more important in a debate than proving your position was the right one, that kind of quiet self-assurance about his faith spoke louder than any arguments could have.

This idea of making one’s home a little church comes from the great St. John Chrysostom, and both my dad and my mom took his advice to heart. In addition to the things I’ve already mentioned, their house was always open to our friends and they were constantly hosting people for dinner. They also filled their home with beautiful icons and crosses in every room.

And now that their kids are grown up and have kids of their own, that example of hospitality, of adoring God, of turning to Him in good times and bad, of participating in a community of faith, of placing prayer at the center of one’s day, of loving forgiveness, is being passed on to a whole new generation.

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A Devil’s Gospel: Chapter 1 (3/3)

And now the third and final part of Chapter 1 of A Devil’s Gospel. (Check out Monday’s and Wednesday’s posts for the first two parts).


One day Satan found me walking along the shores of the fiery lake.
eBook cover for "A Devil's Gospel"
“It doesn’t end,” I said. “I’ve shifted up and down the shore, every day going a little bit further before coming back. It just keeps going.”

“You’re not like the others, are you, Enoch? You still remember what it was like before.”

I nodded.

“Many of them have mostly forgotten; the rest are forgetting more and more as time goes on. That’s good—if they remembered what they were like before…” He let the unfinished sentence hang in the air. “They’re better than when we first got here, don’t you think?”

“I guess so, yes,” I said, anxious for him to get to his point because I felt so uncomfortable speaking to Satan, especially alone.

“People trust you, Enoch. I need you to find out what they’re saying about me.”

“I can tell you right now,” I said. “They’re not happy. They’re bored.”

Satan kneeled over the lake and stared into it, as if it were a mystery he wanted to solve.

“Some of them still remember the war,” I continued. “They say that we lost, despite your assertions to the contrary. You led us in an uprising against God—against the Enemy—and He is still in His High Country and we are in…this place.”

Satan turned his head to look at me, his eyes burning. “Do you think I lost the war, Enoch?”

For a moment, I thought of lying. But I knew that eventually word would get back to Satan; I’d been the most vocal person reminding anyone foolish enough to repeat Satan’s words that in fact we’d been defeated in a spectacular way, and that when the fearsome Lucifer-Dragon fell like a bolt of lightning, Michael was left standing. “Yes, we lost,” I said.

“Don’t look so scared, Enoch. Of course we lost—but that was only the first war.”

“It was the only war,” I said.

“So far.” Satan stood and faced me. “Our brothers have forgotten the way things were, but they’ve also forgotten the way they themselves were. They’ve become impatient, restless, selfish. But I have a plan that will solve all of our problems.”

“A plan for a second war?” I said.

Satan nodded.

I spoke my next words carefully. “A war against the Enemy?”

“Not exactly.”

“Then who?”

“His new creatures.”

“Oh,” I said.

He motioned for me to follow him back to the castle. “Enoch, I may be gone for a while. Some of our brothers may be tempted to do something foolish in my absence. You understand of course how that would be bad for all of us?”

“What do you want from me?”

Satan stopped in mid-shift and put a hand on my shoulder. “You’ve spent a lot of time talking about how I’ve lost the first war,” he said. “Now you will spend time explaining to our brothers that a new war is beginning.”

I tried not to look into Satan’s eyes. “God—the Enemy—will know you’re coming.”

“So much the better!” He stopped himself, then continued in a calmer voice, “But I’m not asking you to worry about the Enemy’s plans, am I? I’m asking you to share with your brothers your excitement about the opportunities this new war will provide for all of us. Can I count on you to do that, Enoch?”

No longer able to avoid his eyes, I saw in them a vision of myself bound and thrown into the lake of fire, yelling from pain and shame as the dark angels stood on the shore and cackled with mirth. “Yes, I can do that.”

The terrifying image cleared from Satan’s eyes. “Good. Now follow me.”

I followed his shift to the throne room. Satan called for his angels to gather; I don’t think it was lost on him that they assembled more slowly than the last time he’d called them together, or that more of them were moaning with every step and that a few were even crawling again.

“Brethren,” he said, “I am not blind to your suffering or deaf to your cries. Am I doing nothing, as some of you say? Do I sit on my throne all day, while you are in misery? Lies! Attend to my words. For your sake, I am leaving the safety of this palace. I am going on a mission, to visit these new creatures the Enemy has created. I go for you, to bring you relief from pain and respite from boredom.”

With that, and without waiting for a response, he disappeared.

Some energy seemed to have flowed back into the assembly. The dark angels bombarded each other with questions and theories and suspicions. I was closed off to some of the conversations—as much as Satan believed that his angels trusted me, most of them also sensed that there was something different about me, which led to a certain degree of suspicion. I did my best with the conversations that were open to me, jumping in when the focus shifted to the first war and its failures, reminding my brothers that this was a new war and that it seemed to me Satan knew what he was doing. I have no idea how confident I sounded. The talk went on for a long time, but before any of the conversations had wound down, I became aware that Satan had reappeared, and was sitting on his throne, watching and listening.

He looked different; taller and fuller, but also darker than before. The little light that had still existed in him seemed to have been completely swallowed up. If he’d been fearsome before, he was terrifying now.

A few other dark angels became aware of his presence, then many more, then everyone and the silence was complete.

“Brethren,” he said, “some of you had faith in my mission, whereas others are still questioning my leadership. I thank those of you who trusted in me; as for the others, I ask only that you listen to my next words and tell me if there is room for doubt left in your minds. Today I have made the Enemy burn with fury.”

A moment of shock elapsed, and then we shouted, together as if we were a single, deafening voice, “What happened?”

A now-familiar smile spread across Satan’s face; a smile fueled not by humor or joy but by anger and lust; a smile whose only pleasure is the suffering of others.

“Brethren, I will be very pleased to tell you what happened.” He leaned forward and waited for us to draw closer. “It all starts with a man and a woman.”


That’s it, the first chapter of A Devil’s Gospel.

Tune in on Monday for a glimpse into who this novel is dedicated to!

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A Devil’s Gospel: Chapter 1 (2/3)

Chapter 1 of A Devil’s Gospel continues below (see Monday’s post for the first part if you haven’t read it yet).


The angels cheered once more. There were yells for Lucifer to waste no time in speaking to God and asking for a dimension of our own.

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Lucifer put up his arms to silence them; his glow was angry, though he tried to restrain it.

“Brethren,” he said, voice soft and gentle and betraying none of his annoyance, “do any of you know God better than I do? Is any one of you closer to Him than I am?” He paused to look around the room; the angels seemed suddenly subdued and their excited glows had dimmed. “And do I think that God will hand over the reins to a new kingdom for us to rule together just because we ask? He respects strength, force, and action; not cowardice and humility and pleading. If you want to continue being servants—go your way. But if you want to rule, as God rules—if you feel you deserve to exercise your powers and your will without interference—you need to demand it with force and not just with words!”

“Use force against God?” someone said. “We’ll be destroyed!”

“He won’t destroy you,” Lucifer said, shimmering red so brightly that no one could have missed it. His glow was back to normal in the next moment. “God will give us what we want, if we give Him no other choice.”

Looking around, it seemed to me that there were fewer angels now than when Lucifer had first welcomed us.

“You’re either with me or you’re against me,” Lucifer said, and his appearance began to change. He grew, taller and taller, towering over us several-fold by the time he stopped. Of course now we would recognize it as the dragon, scaly and metallic and breathing fire, that has haunted the fantasies of the fallen, but at the time none of us had seen anything like it, and we were mesmerized.

“Enoch,” the dragon said with Lucifer’s voice, “sing us weapons.”

I did it, of course, tearing apart the hall that I’d built and reshaping the broken pieces into one sword after another. I worked in a daze, so quickly that I didn’t know how many weapons I’d already made and how many were left to make. At one point I noticed that most of the armed angels had been led away by the dragon. The remaining angels followed one at a time, leaving as soon as I handed them a sword. Much later, when the hall lay in ruins around me, and only a handful of angels were left, Moloch shifted in, looking haggard and pulsing a dull, pained glow.

“Come quick, all of you,” he said. “Forget about weapons, just come! We are being laid to waste!”

Moloch was already starting to shift but I called out after him. “By God?”

“By Michael,” Moloch said. “He’s assembled his own army. We tried to take them by surprise, but they knew. They knew we were coming and they were ready for us. Now move!”

We followed Moloch, the handful of us who hadn’t yet picked up a sword and probably weren’t too keen on getting one anytime soon. We arrived in a higher dimension of Heaven to a scene of pure chaos. Sparks of lightning flew from swords as they crashed against each other; angels grappled and struck at other angels, causing bursts of fire to erupt when their fists made contact. Towering above all was the Lucifer-Dragon, swiping his tail and breathing fire in a mad, angry attempt to damage someone or something. Mesmerized, I watched Michael dodge the dragon’s attacks. Beelzebub rushed at him, but one of Michael’s troops—Gabriel, maybe, but it’s so hard to remember now—dove between them and knocked Beelzebub to the ground, landing on top of him.

“Enoch, don’t just stand there!”

I didn’t know who spoke or even if it was one of Michael’s angels or one of Lucifer’s.

Beelzebub threw Gabriel off of him, then picked up his sword from the ground and swung. Gabriel stepped into the attack, grabbed his arm, and snapped it. In one motion, he grabbed the falling sword and plunged it into Beelzebub. His scream at that moment was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Squealing, desperate, pathetic, he yelled in pain and agony, then burst into flames. The sight and sound was horrible, and soon I saw and heard it repeated throughout the battlefield as more of Lucifer’s angels were overthrown by Michael’s soldiers.

Suddenly a sword was pressed into my hands. “Come on!”

It was Abaddon, and he was already charging at Michael. I ran after him to pull him off course—what was the point of this madness? We’d already lost, I knew; it was time to lay down weapons and suffer the consequences.

Abaddon cut down an angel on his way to Michael, but another appeared in his way. I was so focused on Abaddon that I didn’t realize someone was standing in my way too; in my panic I struck with my sword, connected. Jegudiel fell back, but reached forward almost immediately and wrenched the sword from my hand. Before I could move, he plunged it into my chest.

The pain was so powerful that for a moment I didn’t make a sound. Then I felt my entire body turn to fire and, unconscious of anything but the anguish and the terrifying feeling that my very existence was being consumed, I screamed. Slowly, although the pain didn’t subside, I became conscious of something else: I was sinking, falling, as if the fire had burned away my substance and I was no longer solid enough to stand. Before I could have another thought, an explosion like lightning blinded my vision, but I didn’t need to see to know what had happened; Lucifer was overcome, struck down by Michael’s fiery sword.

I felt myself slipping further and tried to scramble to keep my footing. But it was impossible, and I fell through the dimensions, screaming in agony and convinced that I was being annihilated.

“Have mercy, Lord!” I cried, but I knew it was too late. It will infuriate Lucifer to learn that even in those first few moments of defeat, I begged for God’s mercy, but I don’t care. What more can he do to me now?

 

No one realizes, or at least no one remarks on how we have gradually come to use the words of the fallen to understand ourselves, even to understand and describe half-remembered events that occurred before the fallen were created. We’ve lived among them for so long now that their very concepts and images have become our own. I suppose we thought—certainly Lucifer thought—that influence and persuasion could flow in a line with a single direction from us to them. But can any of you listen to yourself speak for a moment and deny that they have influenced us just as much as we’ve tried to influence them?

I remember nothing of what happened next, nothing until I awoke some time later, feeling dazed and groggy, to borrow three more concepts from the fallen. I wasn’t sure where I was, not because I couldn’t see but because I saw everything as if through a fog. I stumbled to my feet. Shadows passed over me.

“Hello?” I said, and suddenly I became aware of the sound of wailing coming from all around.

I tripped over something and fell to the ground. The fog started to clear, or I grew accustomed to it. A creature crawled on the ground next to me.

“The pain,” Beelzebub said, in a voice as different from his old voice as his appearance, dark and glob-like, was from his previous form and radiance. “Make it stop. The pain…the burning.”

I kneeled beside him, not sure if touching him would provide comfort or agony, and especially not sure which sensation it would cause in me. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what I can—”

There was no point in continuing to speak. Beelzebub had forgotten about my presence and returned to wailing and crawling, half-blind, searching like the others for something that would quench their agony and ignoring everything else, including one another.

Before us stretched plains of dark, craggy rock. As my vision cleared, I saw a lake on fire and walked toward it. The lake burned and bubbled, and as I stood on its shore, something reached out and grabbed my ankle, burning me with its excruciating touch.

“No!” I yelled, and struggled against the slithering fire that crept up my leg. “Let go!”

But suddenly a head emerged from the fire. The once-luminous angel of God used my body to pull himself out of the lake. Finally he stood before me, charred and ugly, not equal to the shadow of the creature he used to be—not that the creature he used to be had ever cast a shadow.

“Lucifer, I—”

“Don’t call me that anymore,” he said, his voice soft and distant and choked by pain. He looked past me, over my shoulder to the pathetic sight of the crying, crawling remains of his army.

“Silence!” he yelled suddenly. “Silence all of you!” They quieted down, probably as a reflexive response to his voice, which still carried the memory of the power and glory of the one he once commanded. “Gather around me.”

The dark angels pulled themselves together and, one by one, walked or crawled toward Lucifer, who stood backlit by the small explosions of the fiery lake.

“You’re scared,” he said, spreading out his arms as if he wanted to embrace us all and make the fear disappear. “You’re terrified because you think we’ve lost the war.” His voice suddenly dropped in intensity, as if he were about to whisper a secret. “We haven’t lost. We’ve won!” He spun his arms around. “What did we fight for? Independence, no? A home of our own, far from the Enemy? Look around, brethren!”

They looked around, and saw what Lucifer wanted them to see. In a loud and happy voice, he told us that the pain we currently felt was the Enemy’s one parting shot; he told us to think about the agony He must be in to have lost his greatest angels; and when finally he said “We won, brethren! We won!” a great cheer went up, although it sounded more like screaming than cheering.

He turned to me. “Enoch, sing us a palace.”

“A palace?”

Lucifer nodded, eyes burning with lust. “Make it the same as the Enemy’s.”

I sang, but nothing happened. I sang again, more insistently, then more desperately, but still the rocks didn’t respond.

The fire in Lucifer’s eyes flickered for only a moment. “Brethren, it is as I suspected. This is the price of freedom! It is not a cost I hesitate to pay. Mammon, pick up that stone you’re sitting on. Moloch, Agares, Sytri—knock down that cliff. Enoch, don’t just stand there—show them what to do!”

I did my best, directing the dark angels like a colony of ants. Some pieces could be used as they were brought to me; others needed to be smoothed out in the fiery lake; still others could be combined by smashing them into one another. Soon I had everyone separated into groups of gatherers and smoothers and smashers. We worked in a frenzy while Lucifer watched with thinly veiled impatience. When construction was complete, we had a structure that looked nothing like the Enemy’s palace, consisting entirely of a throne room that was barely worthy of the name.

“Behold your castle, brethren!” The brethren screamed their cheers. “Is it not wonderful?” Lucifer led everyone inside. “Is it not more glorious than anything you’ve ever seen?” He sat down on the rocky, jagged-topped throne. “We must elect a leader, brethren. Someone who will—”

“Lucifer!” Beelzebub yelled and the cry was taken up by others. “Lucifer!”

He held out his hands to quiet them. “I accept,” he said, leaning forward. “I ask only one thing—call me Lucifer no longer. I am Satan, and I will oppose the Enemy and bring destruction on everyone He favors.”

As the dark angels chanted the new name of their new leader, Satan sank back into the chair, looking comfortable and pleased with his throne and his castle.

Through thousands of years, we’ve rebuilt that chair, and the room, and the palace. We’ve added levels above and below, and rooms all around. And when Satan asked me to design and build a dungeon far beneath everything else, I carried out his order and had no idea that he was making me build the place where he planned to imprison me.


Tune in on Friday for the third and final part of this chapter!

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A Devil’s Gospel: Chapter 1 (1/3)

Without further ado, this week I’m sharing with you the first chapter of A Devil’s Gospel, starting with the first part in 3…2…1…


Book One Shadows

Chapter 1: The First War

It all started with a man and a woman.
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Did we think He-Who-Rules could do it, even after he’d failed so spectacularly? We all did, each of us for our own reasons: because we wanted the relief that his success brought, or because it was so much fun to torment them, or even because some of us came to really believe the lie he told us, that we could be victorious against Him after all.

Did the Enemy have this planned all along? That question tortures me above all else, tears me apart from one end of my being to the other, and is worse to me than anything He-Who-Rules can do. Did we ever have a chance? It’s a silly question, isn’t it? Some of the fallen ask this other silly question: can the Enemy create a stone so heavy that even He can’t lift it? Before the First War, He-Who-Rules asked us something similar, and at the time it didn’t seem silly but very serious.

We met in a hall I’d sung myself. I think that bit was on purpose, though I never thought of asking then or since, and now it’s too late.

Few of us remember those days, but I’ve never been able to forget. I’d been reshaping an old castle I’d built long ago, singing it into a more rounded style that I thought was different and would please my friends, when suddenly I became aware that I was being watched.

“Lucifer sends me,” Moloch said.

“God would like—?”

“I said Lucifer sent me,” Moloch interrupted, smiling, “not God.” He whispered a location in one of the lower dimensions, but it wasn’t until I shifted there that I realized we stood in one of my old songs.

“Welcome, brethren.” Lucifer shimmered the lightest blue, his glow more radiant than any angel I’d ever known, and yet duller than usual. To look at Lucifer was always an experience, but even then I noticed a difference—as if he stood behind a thin wall of smoke. The Transformation had already begun, I just didn’t know it yet.

His voice was as strong and commanding as ever, and it projected across the entire hall.

“I’ve called you together, brethren, to tell you a sad truth. We’ve been had, tricked by God Himself. We watched as He created a new dimensional space and like fools we cheered. We sang together and shouted for joy. We thought he was creating shiny stars and pretty planets. We didn’t realize what he was actually making.”

I didn’t understand what was happening, or why we were meeting in secret, in a dimension I’d used to practice my songs. I didn’t understand, but I didn’t like the way it made me feel.

“Do you know what He was actually making, Enoch?”

I looked up, startled. The room was empty except for Lucifer and I; it was a trick he had and still has, to make you feel that he’s speaking to you alone in a room full of people.

His eyes, green and luminous, bored into me. In those eyes I’d always read judgment and criticism, or perhaps I equated how intimidated Lucifer made me feel to the inadequacy that always accompanied it.

“What?” I said.

“He was making a home.”

“So? He’s made all sorts of things.”

“This is different. It’s a home for a new kind of creature, a creature also possessed of an intellect and will, but a creature not like us.”

“How do you know all of this?”

“I’ve been offered dominion over their home.”

“To rule over them?” I said, surprised.

Lucifer’s eyes flashed a deep, fiery red. “To help them,” he said, speaking slowly. “To guide them. In other words, to serve them.”

I took a step back. “I don’t know that we should be talking like this.”

“Is that what you want, Enoch? To spend eternity in servitude?”

“We were created to serve.”

“To serve God!” Lucifer’s voice seemed to have turned to flame, and his words burned as they washed over me. “To serve the Ancient of Days, not his new pets. Not these new creatures with two natures.”

“Two natures?”

He shrugged, his eyes glimmering green again. “I don’t know that I understand it; I do know that I don’t understand why he’s chosen to create these beings. Are we insufficient? Do you feel insufficient, Enoch?”

I did, but kept the thought to myself.

Suddenly the room was full again, packed with the other angels I’d seen before, angels whose eyes were fixed on Lucifer.

“Can God create a creature so powerful that even He can’t stop him?”

I didn’t know what he meant, but presumably the others did because they cheered.

“If we claim our right to be self-ruled, who will stop us? If we demand a dimension of our own, away from God and these new pet creatures, free to form it as we wish, free to rule it as we wish—who will stop us?”

As he spoke, the angels cried out their support and excitement.

“You’re not with me, Enoch?”

Again I felt that we were alone and that the distance between us had collapsed. Lucifer stood so close that I could feel the sense of disappointment radiating from him.

“It’s not that,” I said. “It’s just…I like it here.”

“Because you get to make trifles?” Lucifer must have sensed my annoyance, because the tone of his voice suddenly changed, from a condescending to an appeasing one. “I’ve never known a better builder, Enoch. But what are you really doing, after all? You’re taking pre-existing material and reshaping it, suggesting new forms and functions to things that already have a form and a function. Wouldn’t you like to truly create something? To create it from nothing?”

“But that’s not possible.” I paused. “Is it?”

Lucifer smiled. “If you follow me, you won’t ever feel the need to ask that question again.”


Tune in on Wednesday for the second part of this chapter!

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