I’m not much of a fiction reader, but when I saw Leonard Sweet’s name on the cover of this book, I decided to give it a spin*. Co-written with Lori Wagner, The Seraph Seal
(Thomas Nelson, 2011) is a genre-blurring book the authors have dubbed “engaged fiction”. The meat of the book is an apocalyptic journey through the end of days that borrows in structure from barn-burners like the DaVinci code, book-ended with Sweet’s trademark provocative, prophetic decoding of the often-disparate clues embedded all around us. “(I pay) attention to the signs of the times and (follow) the traces and trails that lead to places of intersection, especially where our story meets God’s story,” he explains. To that end, Wagner’s fiction grabs signposts from all sorts of places: ancient Christian traditions and writings, Kaballah, Mayan prophecies, global warming theories, political realignments, social trends, advances in the tech world and more.
The book’s 560 pages (!) follow one Peter Binder, University of Virginia history professor, as he pieces together the clues in a race against time to bring together the chosen “horsemen of the apocalypse” mentioned in Revelation before an anti-Christ figure (who happens to be the President of USAmerica) can arrive in Israel’s Upper Galilee with his own anti-horsemen at 9:00 PM on December 21, 2048. There are multiple characters and plotlines, skipping all over the globe. Wagner is a capable writer, pulling Sweet’s understanding of semiotics into a readable page-turner of a book. Though the first 20% of this lengthy volume was slow going for me, though eventually the mysteries and connections hooked me into the story.
The good news about this story is that it is not another Left Behind (dispensational) vision of the end times, which is not an eschatological system I embrace. Instead, Sweet and Wagner offer a vision of the last days that has many elements that feel far more faithful to Scripture than does Jenkins and LaHaye’s – with a giant “but” tacked onto the end of the sentence: While The Seraph Seal leads the reader to a new heaven and a new earth at the end of the book, it is these human horsemen and the sacrificial death of their very human companion that brings us there. I understood the symbolism, but I experienced a disconnect between that symbolism and the real, recognizable world these characters inhabited so fully throughout the book. My own “through a glass darkly” reading of Revelation has Jesus at the center of these events in a more literal manner, one that matches the literal destruction of the world imagined by Sweet and Wagner.
One of Sweet’s appendices at the end of the book describes and categorizes some of the signs of the times to which the book refers (ranging from Abaddon to Zero Point Energy). This reading adds value and understanding to the story told by Wagner, and left me with some haunting food for thought as I try to do what Christ has asked each one of us to do: Pay attention to the signs of the times. The Seraph Seal, a work of fiction, offers readers a reminder that God has equipped them to do just that, if only they’ll see and hear.
*I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.