Copyright 2007 by Gary L. Pullman
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both the soul and body in hell. -- Matthew 10:28
Some say that the most frightening character in Stephen King’s Desperation is not the demon Tak or any of his human hosts but God.The God of Desperation is not the Sunday school God, and he’s inscrutable and alien, unknowable and mysterious. He’s also omniscient and omnipotent. Everyone, it seems, underestimates him, including his servant, the pre-teen David, whom, because God’s power is evident in the boy, Tak fears and loathes.
When one of the characters is hesitant to follow the plan God, through David, lays out, saying that doing so could cost all of them their lives, David replies that God doesn’t care whether any of them lives or dies; all he wants is to stop Tak, and he’s prepared to do whatever he must to accomplish his purpose.
By the end of the story, most of the townspeople are dead, as are David’s family--both parents and his younger sister--and David concludes, “God is cruel.” The reader has seen that Tak rejoices in cruelty as well as death and destruction. What might have happened had the demon escaped from the Nevada desert town? Stopping him, even at so great a cost as the lives of those who resisted the demon, might have been worth it.
Years before, having been released early from school, David had nailed his pass to a tree outside his tree house, hundreds of miles from Desperation. At the end of the story, another character finds the same pass in his pocket and gives it to David. On the pass the words “God is love” appear. Which God seems, cruel or loving, is a matter of perspective, it seems, and perspective, in this world, is always finite.
Tak learns that, far from there being no God in Desperation, as he’d supposed, it was God who, from the beginning, had ordered all the events that transpired since--and maybe even before--the demon escaped from his imprisonment in the collapsed copper mine outside the town. Tak was defeated before he began his campaign of terror. For the demon, God seems to rule by virtue of his might. The God of Desperation is like the elephant in the parable of the blind men. Whatever part of the animal one happens to touch suggests the nature of the animal, but it is none of the things the men imagine it to be; it is more, and other.
By bringing God to Desperation to battle a demon never heard of before, rather than a familiar spirit such as Satan, King renews the mystery and the majesty of God. The God of Desperation is, again, transcendent and unknowable--mighty, cruel, loving, all of these things and much, much more. In Desperation, it is a terrible thing, once again, to fall into the hands of the living God.