Discussion Guide



NOTE: If you discover ways this guide can be improved (Add questions? Take out questions? etc) please do email with your suggestions.)



WEEK 1: (Chapters 1 - 2)



In Chapter 1: Do you agree with Martha’s statement that men and women judge others by their appearance? Any personal experience with this?


Adultery is a sensitive subject to discuss. But we are all sinners, and some succumb to the temptation. How would you have handled Mary’s confession to Martha in chapter 2?


In Chapter 2, Martha asks Mary if she’s certain of her salvation. Have you ever asked that question of any one?


What should Christians think of the congregational meeting regarding the discussion of what church members wanted in a new preacher? Should the selection of a new minister be left to the pulpit committee?


Is Martha correct in saying that “men don’t want to block another man’s means of escape (alcohol, for example) even if the path they’re on is leading to destruction?” Are women enablers, too?


Assuming your group has read the entire story, discuss the similarity of the key figures (Martha, Mary, JJ, Cain/Sartain, and Father Davidson) to their personalities in the Bible.



WEEK 2: (Chapters 3 - 5)


What do you think of schools that have mascot names like Blue Devils, Red Devils, etc? Is this a trifle issue that doesn’t really matter? Or, is it making it easy for our youth to think of Satan as a fictitious character? (See Michael’s blog on this subject.


Take a guess at Satan’s IQ. Do you think it’s between 100 and 110? 110 and 125? 125 and 150? Higher? Why? DISCUSS.


Have you ever encountered someone you thought might be one of Satan’s minions? (Please, don’t name names; just describe in general terms why you thought this person was possessed by a demon.)


Is there a spiritual war going on around us that we can’t see? Are Satan’s minions all around us? Does he have special “captains placed in certain regions of the world? What about angels?


Father Cain preached a prosperity gospel. Does God answer our prayers? Do we get what we pray for? DISCUSS.


Is it a sin to criticize a pastor’s sermons? What about critiquing his sermons? (Read 1 Samuel 26:9; 1 Corinthians 14:40)


If you saw an older divorced friend dating someone you didn’t trust, would you talk with your friend about it?


Like Martha did, would you have steamed open Oneeda’s note to Father Cain so you could read it?



WEEK 3: (Chapters 6 - 12)


Should JJ have left the church because of Father Cain’s prosperity teaching? Discuss how you feel about ‘prosperity preaching.’


In Chapter 7, the author makes reference to “Holy Spirit,” instead of “the Holy Spirit.” If Holy Spirit is a person of the Trinity, do we always need to refer to Him as “the Holy Spirit?” While this is not a matter that should be discussed with any contention whatsoever, you might read what Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Th.D., says in his book, Praying With Your Eyes Open, about this subject.


Was Martha right to be concerned about Mary’s past being revealed in a murder trial?

What does the Bible say about calling someone a “fool?”


How would you characterize the similarities between JJ and John the Baptist? (Give 3 examples)


Halfway through Chapter 9, Freddie tells Cain that suicide is a mortal sin, leading to an eternity in hell. Is he right?


Find and DISCUSS scripture that speaks about the danger of being in God’s presence, seeing him face-to-face. Why do you think God’s presence is something he keeps from us?


In Chapter 11, Oneeda falsely claims that she was with Martha the night of Father Cain’s death. Would you have done the same for a friend?


WEEK 4: (Chapters 13 - 16)


What you think it means to be a soul, and happen to have a body?

How would this affect/change your relationship with others? How does it make you feel about yourself? DISCUSS


Where in the novel does Martha McRae most remind you of Martha from the New Testament?(For an insightful article about Martha in the Bible, go to this blog post.


Father Davidson persuaded Mary to have the baby, instead of an abortion, even though she’d been raped. Do you agree with Father Davidson? If so, why? If not, why?


What does it mean to “take the Lord’s name in vain?” Is saying “Lord have mercy!” taking the LORD’s name in vain? What about “Lordy mercy”? (Chapter 13)


In Chapter 15, Father Davidson preached many sermons on “Salvation through faith alone.” DISCUSS why we can’t save ourselves? DISCUSS how we attain faith.


Father Davidson evidently did a lot of praying. If God is completely sovereign, and in charge of all the cosmos, why pray? Hasn’t he foreordained all that’s going to happen anyway? (Why should we pray?)


In Chapter 16, Father Davidson, Martha, and Oneeda are on their way to Parchman. The preacher says, “The cookies are for the prisoners. Feed them something special and they’re more apt to listen.” How is this like Jesus?

Why is it important to show hospitality before witnessing? What are some ways to show hospitality to people who we might not know so well?  



WEEK 5: (Chapters 17- 21)



Why do you think Father Davidson still held out hope for Sartain’s salvation? Is it possible for one of Satan’s minions to be saved? (See 2 Peter, 3:9). What other event in the Bible tells us that a sinner can be saved at the last minute?


Have you ever been deceived by someone you thought was a Godly person, only to find out they continued to “hide” in their sins? DESCRIBE your feelings when you discovered the person’s true heart. (No names, please.)


‘Given’ names are important. Have you ever researched the meaning of yours? What does your name mean? (Maybe come back next week with the answer …)


In Chapter 19, Sartain insists that Mary and Michael visit him in prison. But Martha refuses to take them. Would you have taken the photograph instead of them?


Why do people gossip? Why is gossip so destructive?


When we’ve been hurt, our old nature naturally wants revenge. Can revenge be justified in certain situations?


In Chapter 20, Rector Davidson explains Jesus’ first miracle to Annie. He gives two insights that we may never have thought about. What were they? What do you think about them?


In Chapter 21, Martha gives Annie some sherry to loosen her up, so she’ll talk. What do you think about this idea of Martha’s?


Then Martha lied about not having any more sherry when Annie asked for more. Was she wrong to lie? *


* (Marilyn vos Savant says it’s not lying when it’s necessary to put on an act—like a spy who has to lie to the enemy. But we’re not spies, and it would be unlikely we’d need an excuse like this to lie; or would it?) DISCUSS



WEEK 6: (Chapters 22 - 34)


In Chapters 26 and 33, Father Davidson explains where evil comes from. Where do you believe evil comes from? And, why is there evil in the world? (Hint: Romans 8 & 9 are big helps here.)


In Chapter 28, during the trial, it is said that We are known by the company we keep. Is that true? If yes … what about Jesus? He was often seen in the company of prostitutes, and all sorts of sinners. DISCUSS.


Throughout the novel, there are many instances where Pastor Davidson is Christ-like. Find three examples.  


C.S. Lewis wrote: “When a man (or woman) is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good; a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right.” DISCUSS what you think Lewis meant by this.


Sonny Sartain was executed. Do you believe in capital punishment? Why? Is there scriptural evidence to know it’s allowed? DISCUSS.


In Chapter 33, Pastor Davidson, on his hospital bed, refers to the one who will replace him. He refers to him in two ways: as comforter, and as advocate. DISCUSS the meaning of the difference in his two distinctions.


This question is for fun: In Chapter 22, JJ tells Big and Bitty that local honey, not honey from long distances, can help with allergies. Is this an ‘old wives tale’? Or true?


Bonus Question: Martha’s anonymous note to Annie … was it wrong to do that?



Key allegorical CHARACTERS:


Martha McRae:  Martha

Mary Magden Grater:  Mary Magdalene

Johnny “JJ” Johnson: John the Baptist

Thomas Cain/Sonny Sartain: Satan

Adam Davidson: Jesus


Authors note: Look for the sequel in 2016, The Actress.