Sunday, October 25, 2009

Frank Schaeffer's Marine Corps Novel: Baby Jack--God's Behavior

My previous post gave an overview of Frank Schaeffer's novel about the United States Marine Corps--Baby Jack. This post will discuss the way God behaves in Baby Jack.

In Part IV of Baby Jack, Todd--overcome with grief at Jack's death in Iraq--visits the Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island. And in Part IV, the novel takes on a new dimension in that two worlds merge--the everyday world and the supernatural world. Or we might say that Frank Schaeffer draws aside the veil that separates the spirit world from the physical world and allows us, the readers, to see more of reality, the part of reality that is usually invisible to us. Thus, Part IV is narrated by Jack in his non-physical post-death form. We become aware of the presence of other "dead" Marines, and God interacts with Jack and with Todd.

How does God behave in Baby Jack? We learn immediately that God does not behave as we might expect.

First, God doesn't pay attention to human suffering. God pays no attention to Todd's grief, pays no attention to a Marine who died a slow death while praying for his son, never lifts a finger for any of the Drill Instructors although God loves them, refuses to help Jessica in her grief over Jack. When Todd visits a barracks, puts his arm around a sleeping recruit, closes his eyes, and wills it to be Jack when he opens his eyes--God only laughs. Jack says of God that "most of the time he doesn't seem to care about what he calls the 'minor annoying shit.' To give you an idea, these 'minor annoyances' God refuses to do anything about include sick and dying children and old people begging for forgiveness" (page 227).

Not only does God ignore human suffering, but God also enjoys drama. Therefore, God admires people like Hitler, Stalin, and Caligula because they create drama, tension, and excitement on a large scale. God even says, "A million martyrs' voices rising up crying 'Lord Have Mercy!' Talk about an off-stage chorus giving me chills!" (page 211). God also says that, in the long run, there is a happy ending, but God then explains, "Not 'happy' in the way you Americans think of it, rather happy the way Shakespeare understands things, dramatically satisfying if somewhat dark" (page 228). This causes Jack to exclaim, "Does anyone know or care that a wannabe theatre director is in charge of the universe?" (page 228).

The kind of person God loves most is a person with a pure heart. In fact, the person God loves the most on earth is USMC First Sergeant Stan O'Malley, who trains the Drill Instructors who will then train recruits to be Marines. O'Malley "believes in the mission of the Corps" (page 208). O'Malley's "faith is pure" (page 208). O'Malley is "without guile" (page 208). Whenever O'Malley killed men during war, O'Malley did it quickly with a clean head shot, and O'Malley "never gloated or took pleasure in their deaths" (page 209). God often comes to listen when O'Malley speaks, as do many dead Marines in their non-physical form.

God has a sense of humor (as does Frank Schaeffer!), and God uses strong language. When religious fundamentalists die, they are often shocked to find themselves in the company of infidels and to find that God is very different from their imaginings. For example, when a certain Southern Baptist minister dies and is confronted with God's profanity, the minister tells God that God himself needs to repent and invite Jesus Christ into God's heart, to which God replies, "What are you talking about? . . . I'm an atheist for Christ's sake!" (page 209). God has a low opinion of so-called religious places: God has "called Jerusalem 'the stupidest place on earth' and then muttered, 'three great mono-theistic religions my ass!'" (page 209). Of the Second Coming of Jesus, God says, "'Second Coming' my ass, not after how it went down the first time around. You try and talk him into it!" (page 211).

Near the end of the novel, there is the scene in which God speaks to Todd through Senior Drill Instructor Isaac Jackson, Jack's Senior Drill Instructor during Jack's three months in boot camp. Through SDI Jackson's voice and body, God insults Todd, puts him in a choke-hold until he passes out, and breaks three of his ribs. Then God, through SDI Jackson, becomes gentle with Todd and hands Todd the letter from Jack that SDI Jackson had been withholding. (Jack had written a letter to his father and entrusted it to SDI Jackson, asking SDI Jackson to pass it on to Todd if Jack should be killed in action. When SDI Jackson heard of Todd's disrespectful behavior at Jack's funeral--shouting insults at the Marines and spitting on the United States flag--SDI Jackson had resolved never to give Jack's letter to his father.)

And here is the beautiful thing. Jack's letter is a means of grace and reconciliation. In the letter, Jack explains to his father why he joined the Marine Corps, asks his father to be kind to Jessica, and encourages Jessica to live her life and seek another man to love. This brings about reconciliation among Todd, Jack, Jessica, and Baby Jack.

So we have a God who doesn't seem to care about human suffering, who loves drama, who loves the pure in heart, who has a sense of humor about religion, who uses strong language, who injures Todd, and who provides Todd with the means of grace and reconciliation.

In my next post, I will discuss what Frank Schaeffer may be trying to say about God through the character of God in Baby Jack.

No comments:

Post a Comment