Last night, I read Chapters 38-39 of Stephen King’s The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition. I have three items for today:
1. Chapter 38 was about people who survived the superflu, yet they went on to die of other causes—such as accidents, or a heart attack, etc. On page 354, a character named George McDougall, who lost his many children to the superflu, thinks as he is jogging: “[George] could not commit suicide because as a practicing Catholic he knew that suicide was a mortal sin and God must be saving him for something, so he jogged.” But he died soon thereafter of a “massive coronary thrombosis”, and he was glad to do so. So much for God preserving him for something important!
When I saw the television miniseries for The Stand, I thought that the people who survived the superflu were preserved by God (or the powers of evil) for some reason. Now, I’m not so sure. Granted, there were people who were assigned tasks: Lloyd in Chapter 39, for example, is made the right-hand man of Randall Flagg, the villain of the book. Flagg acknowledges that Lloyd was not the brightest bulb in the box, but he felt that Lloyd could be loyal to him. But weren’t there other not-so-bright, loyal people in the world who died of the superflu? Why was Lloyd preserved, but not them? Maybe there was no reason, and it was by random selection that a few people were made immune to the disease. And, even then, being made immune did not mean that one was touched by God and invulnerable to all of the life-threatening vicissitudes of life. It just meant that a person was made immune to the superflu.
But the book may wrestle with this issue. I will have to see. Something that is interesting is that the characters of Chapter 38 were not said to have had dreams—you know, the Mother Abigail dreams that drew some survivors to Boulder, or the Flagg dreams for the more evil survivors. So was a spiritual force not guiding them? But, come to think of it, the whole “dreams” thing is not entirely working out in the book as it does in the miniseries. I am in the middle 300’s in terms of pages, and no one has had a Mother Abigail dream! We have not even been introduced to Mother Abigail, yet! The dreams—by Nick, or by Stu, or by Fran—have mostly related to Flagg, or to a corn field, but there’s nothing yet about Mother Abigail and Boulder.
(UPDATE: On page 372, Nick Andros has the first Mother Abigail dream in the book.)
2. One of the characters in Chapter 38 who survives the flu and then dies of something else is young Judy, a seventeen year old cheerleader. She becomes pregnant by an engineering student named Waldo Horton, and her parents pressure her to marry Waldo, even though she does not want to do so and has her own hopes and dreams. While married to Waldo, she worked in fast-food restaurants and motels while Waldo went to school, and she wanted Waldo to quit school and get a job. But her parents told her that things would be better once Waldo got a good job, and that she would feel better if she went to church more often. Judy resented the interference by her parents and her in-laws.
That kind of resentment occurs often. And there are cases in which parents and in-laws interfere for little good reason, and that can be annoying, or so I’ve read and heard. But I do agree with Judy’s parents that Judy should have let her husband continue his schooling so he could become an engineer, for an engineering job is reliable and high-paying. There is a time and a place to be open to the experience and wisdom of others, and to sacrifice one’s own immediate desires and happiness for a long-term goal that is better for everyone in the long-run.
3. In Chapter 39, Randall Flagg frees Lloyd from jail. And, on page 367, Flagg quotes the Bible. Flagg knows that Lloyd resents the powers-that-be, which have authority over Lloyd’s life (i.e., how long he stays in jail, how safe he will be in jail, whether or not he will be executed, etc.), and Flagg states: “You know what the Bible says about people like that?…It says the exalted shall be abased and the mighty shall be brought low and the stiffnecked shall be broken. And you know what it says about people like you, Lloyd? It says blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. And it says blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God.”
Technically-speaking, Flagg’s application of those passages is off-base. Lloyd was not meek, for he was a killer. And society had an obligation to punish his murder of people. As Romans 13:3 says (in the NIV): “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.”
But Lloyd’s feelings of powerlessness and victimhood before people who were on a power-trip are understandable. And there are plenty of people who have not committed crimes, yet they feel that they are victims of authority. I think of the poor, the vulnerable, etc. The biblical passages that Flagg cites speak to that issue. I’d like to think that God cares for them, but also for those who have found themselves on the wrong path and committing crimes, since, in my opinion, the Bible and the religions built on it are about redemption and a second chance.
Flagg quotes the Bible. That may look surprising. I remember watching the movie The Devil’s Advocate, in which Al Pacino plays the devil, and I was surprised that the devil and his demons were not afraid when a lady read the Bible aloud, that the devil went to church and knew his Bible well, etc. I guess I had a notion that the devil and demons would be running scared from the Bible, which was why I looked to the Bible for refuge. Actually, they may not be afraid of it. The devil quotes Scripture when he tempts Jesus in Matthew 4 and Luke 4. But what causes the devil to flee is that Jesus, on the basis of his own understanding of the Bible, refuses to obey or listen to the devil, so the devil decides not to beat a dead horse.
Of course, I can’t exactly castigate Lloyd for accepting Flagg’s misinterpretation of Scripture, for Flagg was telling Lloyd what he wanted to hear, in light of Lloyd’s self-pity, resentment, etc. But where Lloyd fell short was that he refused to take responsibility for his own actions—to identify where he was at fault. I think that it’s good for me to accept interpretations of Scripture that build me up rather than tearing me down, but there should also be an important place for moral inventory.