The long awaited sequel to Michael O’Brien’s Father Elijah is finally here! O’Brien’s prose is akin to Tolkien, his characters akin to Dickens, and his story telling is some of the greatest of our times. As an avid novel reader and O’Brien fan, I was very excited to hear that we would be publishing this soon. At a mere 315 pages, this is one of O’Brien’s shorter books (compare to Voyage to Alpha Centauri at 587 pages or Island of the World at 850 pages), and to be honest, I wanted it to be a bit longer simply so I could enjoy it more!
You are not required to read Father Elijah before you read the sequel, but it definitely makes it more enjoyable if you do. In all fairness, if you have not read Father Elijah the following summary may have some spoilers. Paralleling Revelation and other sources of Scripture Elijah in Jerusalem picks up where the apocalyptic story of Father Elijah left off: Father Elijah and Brother Enoch are on a journey to Jerusalem to deliver a message to the world’s President, who they now know is a servant of Satan. However, Father Elijah is a fugitive, wanted for a murder he did not commit, so the two religious must travel cautiously. Jerusalem is to be host to the President over the course of a week as he meets with world leaders and religious officials to make several momentous decisions for his presidency. As Father Elijah and Brother Enoch attempt to call the President to repentance while avoiding capture, they touch the lives of many along the way.
As in many of his novels, O’Brien, has several stories woven within the larger story—examples of how Providence is always present. While Father Elijah’s mission (or possibly missions?) may not be the one he expects, God’s hand is always working through him. Father Elijah is a humble old man at this point in his life, but the reader watches as he still struggles with his own pride and grief stricken past as he encounters obstacle after obstacle and suffering after suffering. There are moments of awe, suspense, adventure, sadness, cruelty, and great joy.
O’Brien is not only a mystic, but a realist. These are the qualities that make his writing so beautiful. His characters emphasize that suffering is very real, but God is also real and present in every single second of our lives. O’Brien’s miracles are not always flashy, but often quiet, or the reader may never even see the end result. Isn’t this so often the case in our own lives? God works so subtly that we often forget to stop and notice. And when we do notice, how great is our wonder!
Elijah in Jerusalem’s ending was not entirely unexpected for me, and I will not spoil it for the readers. It was a great read and I would recommend it, even if you have never read O’Brien before. I believe that O’Brien’s novel comes at a pinnacle time in our own history. As O’Brien says in the prologue to this book:
“To presume that we have received in advance a precise decryption of the symbolic prophecies in the book of Revelation—a route map or survivalist manual, as it were—is to weaken our faculty of discernment and our openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the angels. This weakness can lead us to the tyranny of unholy fears on one hand or to self-reliance on the other, and both reactions will bring about increased vulnerability to the adversary’s deceptions.”
With various Christian and non-Christian sects alike claiming to know the exact time of the end of the world, we must be aware of the Evil One’s deceit. Many avid O’Brien fans find his works to be prophetic, and in a metaphorical sense, I might agree with them. O’Brien does seem to have deep spiritual and mystical gifts. However, he reminds us that fiction is fiction, and Revelation is Revelation. We are indeed living in the end times, but only God can know how long these ‘times’ will last. I think that O’Brien is asking us to read his apocalyptic novels not as a prophecy of doom, but as an illustration that God’s plan is perfect and good will always triumph over evil no matter how bleak the future may seem. There are difficult and often disturbing parts to read in O’Brien’s novel, but hope always shines, even if dimly, in the background.