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The God Portal, a Review

Discussion in 'Books & Publications Forum' started by InTheLight, Sep 19, 2017.

  1. InTheLight

    InTheLight Well-Known Member
    Site Supporter

    Dec 17, 2010
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    The God Portal
    by Tim Ferguson

    If you could travel back in time to first century Palestine and meet Jesus Christ would you do it? What if you traveled back in time to that era for a different reason but a couple days journey on foot would possibly get you in a position to meet the Son of God? Would you do it? Would you be excited to meet him or would you have reservations wondering if you would meet with his approval? What if you were an atheist? Would you want to meet the man that changed history? Boldly try to confirm your suspicions that Christianity was based on a fraud, or would you be afraid to meet him for fear your beliefs were completely in error, ripping your world view apart?

    This is the premise of Tim Ferguson's novel, "The God Portal".

    Warren Wagner and Frank Erlanger work for the defense contracting giant Forsythe-Hammond. They are physicists working on a top secret particle accelerator in Nevada. Through serendipity the project team has discovered a new subatomic particle which they dubbed Omicron-14. Exploiting the properties of this new particle makes time travel possible. Warren is dying of cancer. He's decided to "borrow" one of the time travel capsules after work hours and go back to 31 AD, seek out Jesus and ask him to heal him. Frank will stay back in mission control and run the (mostly) automated equipment. Warren and Frank pull off their personal time travel experiment. The management at Forsythe-Hammond are furious and decide to mount a rescue mission to bring Warren back.

    This is the setup of "The God Portal".

    The people sent back to get Warren are Lyle Bumgardner, another physicist who is an atheist; Jim Wagner, Warren's brother who runs an auto repair shop and is a Sunday school teacher; and Lawrence Macklin, devout Christian and Biblical scholar. Lyle will be the pilot and technical advisor, Jim, who forced his way onto the team will be the jack-of-all trades, and Lawrence, knowing Greek and Hebrew, will be the interpreter and historian. These people are interesting, believable, and relatable.

    The story is kind of slowly paced for the first hundred pages or so, pulling the strands of the plot together and introducing characters. In fact, I was losing patience with the story as the author built up the characters in a plodding fashion. Jim Wagner's family sets out on a vacation from Pennsylvania en route to the Grand Canyon and will stop off to visit Warren in Las Vegas. Several chapters are devoted to the trip out west, which was unnecessary, IMO. However, once the timenauts travel back to Biblical times the story really picks up. They find Warren and decide to seek out Jesus. Lawrence, the scholar, has a plan. Based on the upcoming Feast of the Tabernacles and based on the account in the book of John, he can fairly predict when Jesus will make his appearance at the pool of Bethesda, down to the day.

    The author does a fairly good job describing what life might have been like in 31 AD. The daily routine. The food, the housing situation, the religious sects. One thing that was a recurring plot point (too recurring IMO) was the difficulty for twenty-first century humans to go to the toilet using the first century (lack of) facilities. I mean, yeah, I understand why it would be addressed, but address it four or five times?

    Overall, the writing is fairly unsophisticated. I would guess it's at a ninth grade level or so. This is a plot driven story with good characterizations. It's not big on flowery descriptions of sunrises or intricate details of the setting. Actually, the book could have used a bit more descriptive writing, but I was so caught up in the premise and wondering what was going to happen next I scarcely noticed. There was one sentence that really stood out when describing Lyle's experience meeting Jesus--he was "reeling with existential vertigo, his view of the world having imploded in the presence of Jesus." More of that, please.

    Time travel paradoxes aren't really mentioned. Time travel was just a means to get to the setting of the story and not its own plot element. This was somewhat refreshing as time travel stories typically get bogged down in "the rules" for time travel. Don't leave anything behind that is anachronistic. Don't betray knowledge of the future. Don't mention advances in technology, you just might unwittingly be the reason behind an invention--a sort of boot strap paradox or time loop paradox that is common in time travel stories. On the contrary, the author seemed to flaunt breaking these rules as the travelers, having no money, brought knick-knacks to barter with the natives. Things like sunglasses, skin lotion, pocketknives would be traded for renting a mule, for example, or for overnight lodging. Fairly innocuous things to us that would be impressive to first century humans. They went equipped with colorful pup tents, canteens, flashlights, water filters, hiking boots, etc. A journal and a ballpoint pen was an amazing thing to people of the first century. They did have authentic period clothing with them and wore it most of the time. Yes, they brought toilet paper, but not enough rolls.

    Many characters are introduced including Ulam, a handicapped wealthy Jewish businessman who takes in the travelers, his sons Bukkiah, a Pharasitical rabbi who clashes with Lawrence, Shehiah, a believer in Jesus the Messiah (much to the chagrin of his brother Bukkiah.) Note: Ulam took them into his house but as unclean Gentiles they did not have the best accommodations. Zabud, a Jew who had entertained Jesus at his house, knew what he looked like and so acted as a guide when they went to Jerusalem, Emmor, aka "Dogface", an evil highwayman robber, and so many more. The characterizations are the strength of the book.

    With a lot of time spent traveling on foot there are plenty of opportunities for Lyle, the atheist, to get into discussions with Jim, Warren, and Lawrence about theology. The author, a pastor, does a good job of apologetics and presents good arguments that I would think to be convincing to atheists (and other unbelievers.) Now, I didn't mind these segments but I suppose non-Christians would tire of it and call it "preachy." Oh well...

    Traveling through Galilee, the men visit Capernaum, Magdala, Bethany, and go to Jerusalem. In their travels they meet the person that owned the house that followers of Jesus had cut through the roof and lowered a lame person in to be healed. In Capernaum they meet Zebedee, father of two of the disciples, James and John. They meet several people that Jesus has healed. During these events Lawrence is awestruck at Biblical history literally coming to life, Jim is similarly captivated by being in the same time and area as Jesus, but Lyle is nervous and distraught. He's meeting people whose lives were directly changed by Jesus, some of them Jews that were convinced Jesus is Messiah, some of them cripples that can now walk, blind people who can now see. Lyle is afraid to meet Jesus.

    OK, so do the time travelers meet Jesus? Yes, of course. But I give the author credit for keeping the build-up suspenseful and unpredictable. He had me thinking--what would I do if I met Jesus face to face? The words of the Mercy Me song "I Can Only Imagine", leapt to mind. Will I dance for you Jesus, Or in awe of You be still? Will I stand in your presence, Or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing hallelujah, Will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine... Each night I put my Kindle down I really thought about this. What would I do? Would He ignore me? Have kind words? Rebuke me? Would I dare ask Him questions? If so, which ones?

    When Jesus appears in the book it really became an emotional time for me. Again, the author did an excellent job to put us in the same room as Jesus. I was alternatively awed, shamed, happy, and on the verge of tears. It got emotional. Jesus has piercing insight into each man's personal situations and speaks in generalities that were open to individual interpretation, usually not favorably received, though it didn't need to be that way. I guess being in Jesus' presence has a way to make you infuriatingly introspective (to vastly understate the obvious!)

    No, I'm not going to tell you what happens to Warren and his quest for a cure for his cancer. Nor will I tell you what Lyle decides about who Jesus really was. I'm not even going to tell you if they make it back to their own time safely. There were plenty of twists and turns.

    I will tell you I give this book 4 1/2 stars out of 5 stars. (I don't think I've ever given a book 5 out of 5 stars.) It probably should only be a 4 star review, but it gets a 1/2 star boost because of the emotional impact it had on me. It just missed out on 5 of 5 for having somewhat simplistic writing at times. In any event, definitely recommended reading.
  2. LaurenC

    LaurenC New Member

    Sep 20, 2017
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    Sounds quite interesting!

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