Reviewed by Jennie Hansen
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There’s something about the physical objects surrounding Christ’s crucifixion that seem to fire the imagination of writers and artists. The same can be said for the people who in this greatest drama of all time were the bit players. Guy Morgan Galli utilizes several of these in LIFTED UP, an imaginative version of the story behind the man who was pressed into service to carry the cross up the hill called Golgotha for the soon-to-be-crucified Savior.
Galli’s Simon is a young man, a chosen temple scholar, with a promising career in the leadership of the Jews in Jerusalem. He is also husband to Deborah and the proud father of a long-awaited son. Little Joshua is just learning to walk and is the light of his young parents’ lives. On the night the little family has cause to celebrate Simon’s advancement and little Joshua’s first steps, tragedy strikes. Herod orders the murders of all baby boys and Joshua is snatched at sword point from his father’s arms.
Simon can’t let his son go and fights for his child’s life. Though he severely wounds one of the soldiers, his efforts are in vain. For his resistance Simon is sentenced to slavery in another country. Though she doesn’t have to, his wife goes with him and in the years to come they have more children, but he never loses the pain and bitterness brought about by the loss of his firstborn.
In time his years of slavery come to an end, but his bitterness leads him to become a leader the in Zealot movement, his wife leaves him, and his sons profess to hate him. A bold strike against the Romans necessitates flight and he makes his way back to Jerusalem. Escape is not his only reason for returning to his homeland. He learns his daughter is about to give birth and she desires his return.
Simon doesn’t know why Roman soldiers came for his first son or why the infants were killed that fateful night until years later when he hears rumors of a Messiah. Even if the rumors should prove true, he doesn’t understand why God warned that Child’s parents in time to save Him, but his own child was attacked and killed without warning. Now Simon’s faith in God is gone and he lives solely to exact revenge on the Romans.
Readers Relate in a Personal Way
Readers can understand and relate to Simon’s anger and pain in a personal way because Brother Galli introduces the child in a way that makes him real before the tragic events unfold. He does an excellent job with each of his characters in creating sympathy for that character’s point-of-view and in allowing the reader to emphasize with the negative emotions then make the shift to more positive feelings along with the character. Simon’s journey from bitterness and hate to understanding and forgiveness is fascinating and filled with danger every step of the way.
Stories dealing with biblical events always run the risk of using excessive creative license and this book does have events which never really happened, after all it is fiction, but the author obviously researched the customs of the time and place well. Events that may appear to be historical events, but which are not, deal primarily with actions taken by the rebels and are events which possibly could have happened though there are no such incidents recorded in historical or biblical records. Events surrounding the Savior are actual events and are well-documented.
This is one of those books which can be appreciated on two levels. Those who prefer light reading will enjoy the story which, though exciting, is fairly simple. Those who want something to think about will appreciate Galli’s insight into the concepts of forgiveness and repentance. Simon isn’t a wicked man; he isn’t even a man who strays into a derelict lifestyle. Instead he is a good man without extravagant dreams or desires who is deeply hurt. He wants to do good. He loves his family and desires to serve God. In fact he does nothing to deserve the horrible events that shatter his life. Even his bitterness and cynicism are understandable and many will feel he is justified in lashing out at the Romans, and then both ache for him and cheer for him as he begins to see beyond his pain.
Lifted Up is a well-written, thought-provoking book. Its greatest flaw is the too-convenient ending. The spiritual aspects of the ending are powerful and leave the reader satisfied, but the Simon story ending left this reader slightly disappointed. I like happy endings, but in this case the ending seems to negate the validity of Simon’s hard-won faith and lessen what he has learned about forgiveness. Even though some aspects of the ending are not to my liking, I still recommend the book highly and assure readers they will feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth when they read it.
I suppose that the very briefness of the New Testament reference to the man who was pressed into service to carry the cross is what stirs the imagination of writers to want to tell this man’s story. There’s something about the event that leaves one feeling it is an unfinished story. Surely providing that service at such an epic moment could not have left the man untouched. Brother Galli has provided one possibility that will not be quickly forgotten