I’ve spent most of my adult life in ministry where I often dealt with the most difficult aspects of life—sickness, tragedy, conflict, and death. When I took time to read, I often chose what I generally refer to as “escapist fiction.” I work in the real world, and I prefer to relax in worlds far away. Science fiction, fantasy, mystery, adventure, thrillers, and an occasional horror novel. I read good Christian authors when I can find them, but that’s never been a requirement.
T. L. Hines writes “noir bizarre stories,” not a category I’d ever heard of before and not one I’d have picked up, on my own. However, I find that I like this unique kind of fiction. Faces in the Fire ties the lives of four people together with a number and the image of a catfish, telling the story in reverse order, and showing how each character discovers the key to their personal deliverance and healing. Do these folk experience some kind of benevolent magic or the hand of God? That is for the reader to determine, although I’m not sure it matters. Indeed, it is equally uncertain whether redemption comes from an external source or from the riving of the good inside each one.
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One of Hines’ characters refers to herself as a “bottom feeder.” We often call them “down and out.” When I was younger, I spoke regularly at the city rescue mission in Cleveland, Ohio, and I remember seeing many such people. Drunk and addicts who have often lost everything and everyone to live just for the next fix. Such people live at the lowest levels of society, incapable of regular work, scrounging for the money the need to pay for drugs or alcohol and virtually neglecting everything.
How do people end up in such circumstances? It’s easy for those living comfortable lives far removed from where “bottom feeders” live to make assumptions, often invalid assumptions. Many once lived in those comfortable lives, at least appeared to do so. Nice clothes and pleasant neighborhoods readily conceal dark secrets and private pain. Nobody starts out as a bottom feeder; mistakes–their own or those of others–drive them to the bottom. Hurt, broken, and hopeless–these are the people Christ came to save. In the end, bottom feeders are nothing more or less than sinners in need of the Savior.
Sadly, some, far too many, are already his. Salvation alone may not keep a person from hitting rock bottom. An often used term is “back-slider,” but the direction isn’t just backward but downward. Sometimes an early decision for Christ brings joy and enthusiasm, followed by seemingly unbearable pain, sorrow, and grief. Neither labels nor theological disagreements must prevent a person from hearing that Jesus still delivers, heals, and gives hope, if we will receive it.