Study Guide

Where Things Come Back Religion

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It was on their first excursion to the west that Benton had a vision of God in a dream. The vision went like this: Benton stood alone on the shore of a vast, menacing ocean. […] He said then, with great volume and force, "Benton, you have been called to bring change to the world. You have found favor in God's eyes." (2.11) 

Benton is so homesick, out of his element, and completely lost when he arrives in Ethiopia that he desperately needs to know that he's on the right track. That's why it's so important to him that he receives a message from God in his dreams.  

"No. I doubt that I am helping God in any way other than providing food and water. I feel as if we are doing nothing more than reading a few scriptures and then moving on." (4.8) 

Benton embarked on his journey as a missionary with the idea that he'd be converting people left and right, but that's not exactly what happens. In reality, he's doing more humanitarian work, and less religious work… and he doesn't know if he's okay with that. 

"Benton, you have somehow lost sight of your mission as a Christian. I'm sorry, but we will not be sending you anywhere else." (6.14) 

Uh-oh… looks like Benton has fallen short in both his mission as a son <em>and</em> a Christian. This isn't going to look too good on his resume. Maybe it's time to go back to college, huh? 

"Sarah, Ms. Kline is a spiritual guide," my father began.

"Oh please," my mother butted in.

"Mom," I whispered, nudging her arm.

"Ms. Kline has agreed to help us, so let's all be supportive of her while she asks us a few things, okay?" My dad's voice remained calm and steadfast. (11.36-39) 

It's not like Cullen's family was ever super into religion, but they're willing to try anything now that Gabriel is missing. They'll take any help they can get if it means that they can reach him. 

"Just think. If Gabriel hadn't stopped them, humans could be so much smarter now. We'd know how to stop wars, how to cure diseases and all that s***." Cabot flipped through the Bible resting on his chest as he lay in bed. (12.21) 

Cabot's really taken the Book of Enoch to heart. In it, he finds a lot of ideas that resonate with him, especially as he navigates his loneliness and confusion after his roommate's suicide. 

This had not been the first time Cabot had blamed God for the loss of his child. In fact, he had begun to write down lists of all the world's evils, as if he were building up an army of words to fight some heavenly battle. (16.8) 

If Cabot was a religious fanatic before he married Alma, then he became even more serious about it after her miscarriage and their subsequent divorce. After all, who else does he have to blame? He's certainly not going to blame himself. 

He was, in a sense, seeking to prove that the very creator of mankind was also its greatest oppressor. It all gave Alma a headache, and as his religious ramblings began to grow more frequent and nonsensical, Alma began to fear her once charming, seemingly normal husband. (16.9) 

In Cabot's mind, God isn't necessarily a force for good. He's an undeniable force, but he's one who is cruel to human beings. He's not there to help you—he's there to make sure that you suffer. 

"Cullen, people can't give up on other people yet. We all get a second chance, you know? We get to start over like Noah after the flood. No matter how evil man gets, he always gets a second chance one way or another." (17.134) 

Even in Cullen's darkest, most hopeless moments, he has the memory of his brother's optimism to get him through things. Cullen may not be religious, but Gabriel truly believed in the goodness of the universe, and the goodness of people. 

In response to his endless questions as to why she'd left him, Alma hung up the phone. This was the same day that Cabot fell asleep and saw what he called a heavenly vision. (18.3) 

Maybe having a "heavenly vision" is the only way that Cabot can cope with the fact that his whole life is falling to pieces around him. If this is all just a big message from God, then he doesn't have to deal with the pain of being left behind. 

He thought about the boy's name. Gabriel, the Left Hand of God. Pulling out of the parking garage, Cabot Searcy began to piece together the drawn out puzzle that the last four years of his life had been. (18.133) 

As always, Cabot uses God as an excuse for his mistakes. He didn't totally mess up and take the wrong Witter brother… This is all actually a sign from God. That makes sense, right? It certainly is a bit easier to stomach.

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