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Authors: Andrew Klavan

The Great Good Thing

BOOK: The Great Good Thing
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P
RAISE FOR
T
HE
G
REAT
G
OOD
T
HING
AND FOR
A
NDREW
K
LAVAN

“Andrew Klavan's superb new book deserves to become a classic of its kind. Klavan's immense talents as a writer are on full view in what must certainly rank as his most important book to date.
Tolle lege
.”

—Eric Metaxas, #1
New York Times
bestselling author of
Bonhoeffer
and
If You Can Keep It

“The most original American novelist of crime and suspense since Cornell Woolrich.”

—Stephen King

“A master storyteller”

—Clive Cussler

“Klavan does tough-guy heroes and sexual tension better than anyone writing today.”

—Janet Evanovich

“Klavan, who has a perfect sense of timing, delivers all the cliff-hangers and hairpin turns that you want from a beat-the-clock suspense thriller.”

—
The New York Times Book Review

“Klavan's writing is masterful and his characters superbly drawn.”

—
Forbes

“A major talent . . . Klavan's understanding of the human heart and how it can be torn or salved by eros is uncanny.”

—
Publishers Weekly

O
THER
B
OOKS BY
A
NDREW
K
LAVAN

F
OR
A
DULTS

Werewolf Cop

A Killer in the Wind

The Identity Man

Damnation Street

Shotgun Alley

Dynamite Road

Man and Wife

Hunting Down Amanda

The Uncanny

True Crime

Corruption

The Animal Hour

Don't Say A Word

F
OR
Y
OUNG
A
DULTS

T
HE
M
INDWAR
T
RILOGY

MindWar

Hostage Run

Game Over

Nightmare City

If We Survive

Crazy Dangerous

T
HE
H
OMELANDERS
S
ERIES

The Last Thing I Remember

The Long Way Home

The Truth of the Matter

The Final Hour

© 2016 by Amalgamated Metaphor

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, scanning, or other—except for brief quotations in critical reviews or articles, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Published in Nashville, Tennessee, by Nelson Books, an imprint of Thomas Nelson. Nelson Books and Thomas Nelson are registered trademarks of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc.

Published in association with Trident Media Group, LLC, 41 Madison Avenue, 36th floor, New York, New York 10010.

Thomas Nelson titles may be purchased in bulk for educational, business, fund-raising, or sales promotional use. For information, please e-mail [email protected].

ISBN 978-0-7180-1736-1 (eBook)

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Klavan, Andrew, author.

Title: The great good thing : a secular Jew comes to faith in Christ / Andrew Klavan.

Description: Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 2016.

Identifiers: LCCN 2015048997 | ISBN 9780718017347

Subjects: LCSH: Klavan, Andrew. | Jews--Conversion to Christianity.

Classification: LCC BV2623.K538 A3 2016 | DDC 248.2/466092--dc23 LC
record available at http://lccn.loc.gov/2015048997

16 17 18 19 20 RRD 6 5 4 3 2 1

This book is for Peter Henry Moore: “Remarkable boy . . . delightful boy!”

“FIRE. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars. Certitude, heartfelt joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ . . . My God and your God. . . . Joy, Joy, Joy, tears of joy . . .”

—M
ATHEMATICIAN AND PHILOSOPHER
B
LAISE
P
ASCAL
,
FROM HIS NOTE TO HIMSELF AFTER HIS CONVERSION
. H
E KEPT IT SEWN IN HIS COAT
,
WHERE IT WAS FOUND AFTER HIS DEATH
.

I
NTRODUCTION

T
he Church of the Incarnation stands on the corner of 35th Street and Madison Avenue in Manhattan. Like any fine old church in so massive and so contemporary a metropolis, it seems out of place, out of time. The nineteenth-century brownstone spire is dwarfed by the featureless wall of the modern building slapped up beside it, a narrow flat-faced slab of an apartment tower that looks like it might keel over sideways at any moment and squash the house of worship flat. Likewise, the noise of the traffic on the frantic avenue at its doorstep makes a joke of the church's promise of tranquility. With the homicidal screech-and-careen of yellow taxis and the workaday flatulence of uptown buses and the angry honk of horns and even the machine-gun footsteps of the pedestrians as they go racing past—with all that tumult, all that noise—the present business of the city seems to drown out any whisper of eternity.

But then, you step through the church's doors and all that is gone. It's quiet inside, the cool, hollow, uncanny quiet of
old churches everywhere. Beyond the brighter narthex—the lobby to you and me—the nave is vast and dark. The solemn shadows are touched here and there with blue and golden ghost-light, will-o'-the-wisps created by the indirect sun on the stained-glass windows. The windows—by such master-shops as Tiffany, William Morris, and Clayton and Bell—are the pride of the place. Jesus summoning Lazarus from the tomb. Moses bringing the law from the mountain. Paul preaching to the Athenians on Mars Hill. A dozen windows like that—more—arrayed along the walls, above the stolid oaken pews, between the reedy Corinthian columns, down to the marble altar and rising, finally, over the altar's Caen stone screen. The four evangelists, fitted with wings, are sculpted on the screen amid elaborate tracery. Three cherubs carry a banner that reads:
And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

The baptismal font is below the altar, down on pew level, off to the left. It's almost hidden away there in the dim spaces beneath the carved oaken pulpit. Which is a shame. It's a beautiful thing. There's a mosaic bowl and, above that, a graceful bronze statue of the boy John the Baptist, a youth clothed in camel hair, his left hand holding a reed, his right hand raised in benediction.

Ten years ago—almost exactly ten years as I'm writing—I came to this building on an early evening in May—came through the traffic to this church, came through the narthex to this nave, came down the aisle beneath the ghost-lit windows and approached the bronze Baptist in the altar shadows. There were four people waiting for me. Doug Ousley, one
of my oldest friends and the church rector, was dressed for business in his gray priest get-up with the turnaround collar. Mary, Doug's wife, whom I dearly loved, was slumped in her wheelchair, wrapped in a scarf against the cold of the surrounding stones: an irrepressibly vivacious woman once, worn down now by decades of wasting disease. Their sons, John and Andrew, were a couple of strapping blond and heroically handsome lads, both like nephews to me. Doug had agreed to open his church after hours to indulge my desire for privacy, so these were all the witnesses I had.

It was the day after my father's memorial. He had died about a month before. My wife and son and daughter had already flown back home to California, but I had stayed on alone for a few days. For this.

I was forty-nine years old and about to be baptized a Christian.

No one could have been more surprised than I was. I never thought I was the type. I had been born and raised a Jew and lived most of my life as an agnostic. I believed in the fullest freedom of thought into the widest reaches of fact and philosophy. I believed in science and analysis and reasonable explanations. I had no time for magical thinking of any kind. I couldn't bear solemn piety. I despised even the ordinary varieties of willful blindness to the tragic shambles of life on earth. And as for what the philosopher Schopenhauer once called the Christian's “banal optimism”—that forced, praise-singing cheer in the face of pain and disappointment and inescapable death—oh God, how I hated it; it set my teeth on edge.

I was—I am—a worldling by nature. I was delighted by the world, by which I don't mean just the sunshine, trees, and twittering bluebirds but also sex, money, gossip, a good single malt, the crooked hilarity of politics, and the bizarre little lies and betrayals that make up our relationships, especially our relationships with ourselves. This was the stuff of the novels I wrote and the novels I read, of the plays and movies I went to and the television I watched, not to mention the news stories and histories that made me shake my head and laugh at the everlasting circus of human corruption. This was the stuff of drama and vitality to me, character writ in action good and bad. I'd met Christians from time to time who said they couldn't wait to die and go to heaven. Not me. I liked it here. I found it amusing. If I had any idea of paradise at all, it was as some celestial home theater in which I got to kick back forever with a Scotch and some cashew nuts and channel-surf the mad spectacle of existence to see how it all turned out in the end.

And if my realism and worldliness didn't keep me from baptism, there was the even greater obstacle of who I was—my cultural identity, let's call it. I belonged to what the British refer to as the chattering classes. I thought and wrote and created stories for a living. I was one of the men of the coasts and cities, at home among the snarks and cynics of these postmodern times. By rights, my attitude toward religion should have been the same as theirs: at its harshest, a disdain for the irrational survival of a primitive superstition; or in milder and more tolerant moods, a wistful regret over the demise of
a comforting delusion and pass the Chardonnay. I do enjoy a good Chardonnay.

To kneel instead before this marble font, beneath the upraised hand of this bronze boy John, to declare in this church that Jesus Christ was Lord and to accept the uniquely salvific truth of his life and preaching, death and resurrection—this, it seemed to me even in the moment, was to renounce my natural place in the age, to turn against my upbringing and my kind. It felt, so help me, as if I were flinging myself off the deck of a holiday cruise ship, falling away from its lighted ballrooms and casinos, from the parties and the music and the sparkling wine of Fashionable Ideas, to go plunging down and down and did I mention down into a wave-tossed theological solitude.

When it first came to me that I should be baptized—that I had to be, really, in the name of integrity, if nothing else—I entered a five-month-long agony of self-examination. How could I be certain in my faith? What did I believe, in fact, and why? In a world of science and technology, where a physical cause could be found for every spiritual phenomenon, where even our thoughts and emotions could be reduced to electrochemical reactions in the brain, what had led me to embrace a two-thousand-year-old religion of sin and souls and miracles and heavenly redemption? Had I stumbled on the hallelujah truth, or just gone mad—or, that is, had I gone mad again? I'd been through that maze of mirrors once before. That was a central part of my story.

These were hard questions to answer, maybe impossible.
Because if there's one thing every good novelist understands, it's that our inner world is unreliable and yet there's no getting beyond it. Every sense is subject to deception, including the moral sense. What seems at first like the hard surface of spiritual reality is really fathomless when you dive down into it. There is no bottom. We never know anything for sure.

This was one of the central subjects of the thrillers I wrote, one of their recurring themes. My heroes were always desperately on the run, desperately trying to get at a truth that baffled their assumptions and philosophies. In
Don't Say a Word
, a psychiatrist expertly analyzes the paranoid delusions of a beautiful schizophrenic only to discover that her delusions are more trustworthy than his analysis. In
Animal Hour
, a woman finds that her everyday life is a hallucination while her hallucinations are her only clues to reality. In
True Crime
, a Christian prisoner awaiting execution faces the meaningless emptiness of death while an atheist reporter blurts out an instinctive prayer that leads the way to a miracle. In all my books, my characters raced against time to explain the world while the world eluded them. Some deadly reality was always closing in around them as they chased after the illusion up ahead.

In telling these stories, it turned out, of course, that I wasn't just exploring the problem as a writer; I was also wrestling with it as a man. What was truth? How could you know it? How could you think, live, and make choices and judgments day by day if you didn't know?

Slowly, over the years, as I wrote and as I read, and as I did
think and live and make choices and judgments day by day, it began to seem to me that this philosophical dilemma—the dilemma that caused and defined many of the political and cultural battles of the postmodern era—had been implanted in the conscience of the West by one book of our essential literature:
The Gospel According to St. John
. The oldest fragment of New Testament papyrus we have preserves the question of the sophisticated Roman official Pontius Pilate as he sits in judgment over the backwoods Jewish preacher Jesus of Nazareth: “What is truth?” The Gospel's weird answer has already been spoken by Jesus elsewhere in the narrative. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” he says.

I am the truth.
What does that even mean? Here was another thing that always annoyed me about religion. Believers would make these proclamations—
Jesus is the Truth! Jesus is the Way!
—and their eyes would glow bright and their throats would get all swollen with ecstasy, and I would be thinking,
Huh? What? Jesus is the truth? How? In what sense? What on earth are you talking about?
I could never make heads or tails of it.

And yet, here I was, nearing fifty, and I had been seized by the startling conviction that I should be baptized. There had been no flash of light on the road to Damascus, no
tolle lege
under the fig tree. Jesus had not appeared to me as I lay drunk in the gutter—not that I remembered anyway. There had only been a slow dawning of awareness that had solidified into the certainty that I was a Christian. But why? Did I now believe that Jesus was, in fact, the answer to the question, what
is Truth? What did I mean by that? And how had I reached that conclusion?

About five years before, after a lifetime of agnosticism, I had come to believe in God. It started as a tentative experiment in prayer. Soon I was praying every day and the experience was undeniably powerful and transformative. I could see that praying had improved my life in any number of ways and so I was committed to it. But there was no system of thought attached to the practice, no church, no documents of any authority—nothing even particularly supernatural, if you except the presence of God himself. I had to admit there had been some amazingly immediate and practical responses to my prayers at times, but those could have easily been dismissed as coincidences rather than miracles. Really, the whole prayer endeavor might have been explained away as a sort of self-improvement system of meditation-out-loud. For me personally, yes, it sure seemed as if there were a God on the other end of the prayer-line. I had come to believe there was. But, when you came right down to it, what difference did it make? Prayer worked, so I prayed. I wasn't going to argue the mechanics of it with anyone.

To take my beliefs to the level of baptism, though—that was different. That implied an entire range of concepts and conclusions I wasn't sure about at all. Just how specific, how biblical, was I planning to get here? Had I come to accept the fall of man? Was I ready to proclaim the Incarnation? Did I seriously believe that a carpenter had risen from the dead on Easter? I'd never even seen one go to work on Sunday!

I was living with my wife and children in a town called Montecito then. It's a famously beautiful place, a well-to-do Southern California suburb of the city of Santa Barbara, about eighty miles north of LA. My office was in Santa Barbara proper, in the middle of town. I drove there every morning, avoiding the freeway, keeping to the back roads. It took about ten to fifteen minutes, depending on my route. I did a lot of my praying as I drove along.

Now, as the idea of baptism took hold within me, as I began to question myself, as I began to question God about what was happening to me, I started to take longer and longer detours to give myself more time for prayer and reflection. I steered my car up into the hills, along narrow, winding switchbacks through coyote country, hillside rising to my right while to my left the brown earth sloped away into a green and brilliant panorama of one of the most spectacular cityscapes in the country—in the world. Forest flecked with colonnaded mansions, boulevards lined with stately buildings of bright-white stone, red Spanish tiles on rooftops everywhere, the curling coastline and the glittering bay and the sea and the sea mist and the islands in the misty distance . . .

But I drove without looking. Or that is, I was looking inward only, asking myself again and again: What did I believe and why and how had I come to it and was I sure, could I ever be sure? Was I just deifying my own neuroses somehow? Was I turning to Christ as some sort of late-in-life rebellion against my father? Or was I looking to heaven for the fatherly acceptance I never had on earth? Was I running away
from my Jewish identity, trying to escape bigotry and cultural clichés through religious assimilation? Or was this some sort of horrifying relapse, after two happy decades, into the craziness of my youth when, for a brief period, I had embraced a loony-tune piety before cracking up completely?

I had become like a character in one of my own stories, desperately trying to unknit the fabric of fact and perception, to separate the warp of psychology from the weft of objective truth, before time ran out. My commute to work became twenty minutes long, then thirty, forty-five minutes, then an hour, sometimes more, as I harrowed my soul with interrogations.

BOOK: The Great Good Thing
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