L.B.: The Holy Hand

Left Behind, pp. 393-395

Here, just after he finished typing Chapter 21 and just before he began churning out the first and only draft of Chapter 22, here is where I think Jerry Jenkins paused briefly to skim over the previous 392 pages.

In doing so it seems he noticed a few — but only a few — mistakes. He seems to have reconsidered the impact of the whole Babel Fish incident — the explicitly divine harmless destruction of thousands of incoming nuclear warheads high above Israel. And he seems to have realized, after repeated proselytization scenes and one full-blown conversion, that he hasn’t provided even a hint of what his evangelists and evangelizees were discussing (we’ll get to that next week).

Most writers, realizing such problems in their initial draft, would have gone back to those earlier pages and rewritten those scenes. That is, actually, what “writer” means. But Jenkins doesn’t work like that. He doesn’t do rewrites. Instead, he just begins typing Chapter 22, proceeding with the next scene — Buck’s Brief Dark Night of the Soul — while trying to squeeze in as many retroactive corrections as he can manage. This works about as well as when someone who only partially recalls the joke they are trying to tell keeps doubling back to correct the set-up or to insert something they’d left out.

The chapter begins with Buck in his apartment, unable to sleep. What the writers tell us, actually, is that he “did not sleep well.” They also tell us that he is pacing in his living room. I, for one, have usually found it difficult to sleep well while pacing in my living room.

Partly he was excited about his morning surprise. He could only hope Chloe would be happy about it. The larger part of his mind reeled with wonder. If this was true, all that Rayford Steele had postulated — and Buck knew instinctively that if any of it was true, all of it was true — why had it taken Buck a lifetime to come to it? Could he have been searching for this all the time, hardly knowing he was looking?

I don’t follow the logic, or even the “instinct,” of the idea that “if any of it was true, all of it was true.” It seems perfectly reasonable to say, for example, that Jesus’ prediction in his mini-apocalypse of “wars and rumors of wars” and of “famines and earthquakes in many places” has proven quite accurate without having to therefore embrace all the nuttery in Tim LaHaye’s or Hal Lindsay’s prophecy cult.

“If any of it was true, all of it was true” seems to be simply another version of the fundamentalist insistence that if any of it is not true, then none of it is true. This is the house-of-cards implication fundies draw from their notion of biblical “inerrancy” which, again, has very little to do with the supposed inerrancy of what the Bible actually says and everything to do with their own alleged inerrancy as its interpreters. This is what makes fundies so vehement over things that have no biblical basis — from the chronologies of LaHaye and Bishop Usher, to the insistence that David never danced, Jesus never drank or that the Book of Isaiah had a single author. Question any of that and they will respond as though you were denying the divinity of Christ or the very existence of God. All of that makes fundamentalism a very fragile construct, which is why it has to be guarded so fiercely. “If any .. then all” may just be the flip-side of that construct.

Alternatively, it could just be an expression of LaHaye’s conspiratorial side. He was once a lecturer for the John Birch Society and still advocates many of their convoluted notions about how the world “really” works. “If any of it is true, all of it is true,” sounds like the sort of thing someone would say to you just before they tell you about Groom Lake or Rose Cheramie or the Trilateral Commission.

The rest of this, Buck’s literal restlessness and his lifelong search, seems to be shooting for something like St. Augustine’s “our hearts are restless until they rest in God.” That gets a bit confused here — and even more so in the pages to come — due to Buck having been simultaneously touched by the Holy Spirit and stricken with Cupid’s arrow. Yet for all of his initial infatuation with Chloe, she’s not the Steele he can’t stop raving about:

Yet even Captain Steele — an organized, analytical airline pilot — had missed it …

Oh Captain! my Captain! I have all due respect for airline pilots. They have a difficult job with little margin for error. But this recurring motif — that airline pilots should be regarded with reverence and awe — is just getting silly. I can’t figure out why pilots should be considered particularly “analytical.” Nor do I understand why being organized and analytical would qualify one as a spiritual guru. (Tell me, O Certified Public Accountant, what is the summum bonum?)

Abruptly, Buck begins a two-page meditative flashback on his experience at ground zero during the divinely thwarted Russo-Ethiopian attack on Israel. (Buck was there to interview Chaim Rosenzweig, who had won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry despite not being an airline pilot.)

The Holy Land attack had been a watershed even in his life. He had stared his own mortality in the face …

This is, again, why Buck’s epiphanies ring so hollow. He crosses the watershed and the water is still flowing in the same direction. His life didn’t change. The experience was not a watershed; it wasn’t even a water closet. Back in the original description of Buck’s experience we read that:

Buck admitted, if only to himself, that he became a believer in God that day. … Christian friends wanted Buck to take the next step and believe in Christ, now that he was so clearly spiritually attuned. He wasn’t prepared to go that far, but he was certainly a different person and a different journalist from then on. To him, nothing was beyond belief.

Aside from these two assertions, 379 pages apart, Buck never seems particularly “spiritually attuned.” And in the more recent instance of his “staring his own mortality in the face,” his response was less spiritual and more pragmatic — he cut a deal with Carpathia to bury a story in exchange for his own life. (Also, what “Christian friends”? Lucinda and who else?)

Back to the current, revised and updated flashback:

He had stared his own mortality in the face and had to acknowledge that something otherworldly — yes, supernatural, something directly from God almighty — had been thrust upon those dusty hills in the form of a fire in the sky. And he had known beyond a doubt for the first time in his life that unexplainable things out there could not be dissected and evaluated scientifically from a detached Ivy League perspective.

Wait, which was it? Upon those dusty hills? Or in the sky? Never mind. What’s more confusing here is the same-page flip-flop from that little anti-intellectual shot to this, just one paragraph later:

Everyone in the world, at least those intellectually honest with themselves, had to admit there was a* God after that night.

So being all Ivy-League intellectual is Bad, but being intellectually honest is Good. And if you don’t believe in this particular concept of God, then you’re not intellectually honest and therefore an intellectual. Or something.

We get several more paragraphs here about how incredibly amazingly incredible and amazing this explicit miracle was and about how it left observers with no choice but to accept it as proof of the existence of God. Nice of you to catch up with your readers, Mr. Jenkins, we’ve pretty much realized that since back on page 12. We figured it out when, the night after personally swatting aside all of those missiles and planes, God appeared on a special two-hour Larry King Live to talk about it.

Mixed in with all of this miracle flashback is Buck’s rumination on something else he finds awe-inspiring — his own talent as the Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time:

Buck had always prided himself on standing apart from the pack, for including the human, the everyday, the everyman element in his stories when others resisted such vulnerability. This skill allowed readers to identify with him, to taste and feel and smell those things most important to them. But he had still been able, even after his closest brush with death, to let the reader live it without revealing Buck’s own deep angst about the very existence of God.

So he “became a believer in God that day,” yet he has some “deep angst” about it. And after that event “everyone in the world … had to admit that there was a God,” but Buck left that out of his story. Like Marty DiBergi, Buck was more interested in making sure that readers could “smell those things most important to them.” We’re told that Buck captured those smells so vividly that he was awarded the Hemingway Prize for his report of the Holy Hand over the Holy Land, yet we readers are only allowed a single glimpse at the words Buck set down with such apart-from-the-pack skill:

To say the Israelis were caught off guard, Cameron Williams had written, was like saying the Great Wall of China was long.

This gives us a glimpse into Buck’s apparently collaborative process as a writer:

BUCK: The Israeli’s were sooo caught off guard.

STEVE: …

BUCK: I said, the Israeli’s were soooo caught off guard …

STEVE: Oh, sorry. Right. How caught off guard were they?

After witnessing Explicit Divine Intervention No. 1 in Israel, Buck then — along with the rest of the world — witnessed EDI No. 2, the Event itself:

Not that many months later came the great disappearance of millions around the world. Dozens had vanished from the plane in which he was a passenger. What more did he need? It already seemed as if he were living in a science fiction thriller.** Without question he had lived through the most cataclysmic event in history.

Odd that Buck seems to think that living through “the most cataclysmic event in history” somehow separates him from everyone else — the other 4+ billion people who lived through it too. Yet despite all the ret-conned “deep angst” in this section, neither of the global-scale EDI’s really seemed to impress him terribly deeply or to force him to change his agenda. (“The most cataclysmic event in history? Yeah, I’ll look into it, but first I gotta go check on my friend Dirk …”) Neither of those was really, for Buck, a “watershed event in his life.”

But Rayford’s description of the Two Witnesses and the Trip ‘n’ Die Guys — that rendered him sweaty and speechless.

Buck realized he’d not had a second to think in the last two weeks. …

Amidst all the retroactive revisionism of this section I’ve decided to read this as Jenkins’ own apology, or at least his excuse, for not integrating any of this into the preceding 390 pages.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* Why just one? The freaky hail-and-meteor storm and the mystic, protective fire across the sky was clearly the work of a god (or perhaps of Dr. Stephen Strange — it was certainly more his style), but how could you be sure which one? Yes, the protection of Israel in particular would seem to point toward their God (or to a certain Miss Rosenberg), but it could also have been the handiwork of some angry Chechnyan and Somali deities who just really hated the Russians and their Ethiopian allies. Or maybe it wasn’t supernatural at all, merely a gesture of gratitude by some technologically advanced alien race who had used Dr. R’s miracle formula to revitalize their once-dying planet.

** I’ve been trying to classify that according to the TV Tropes categories. Buck seems to think he’s being genre savvy, which he’s not, but he’s not quite genre blind either, having read the back of the book along with everyone else. I want to describe this as something like “misplaced genre savvy,” maybe The Man Who Knew Too Little?

  • Tonio

    God is that in which we ultimately find peace and flourishing, and in that sense can be called ‘good’, but the goodness in this case is something that emerges from the relation between what’s good for humans and the presence of the divine, rather than being dependent on anything that the divine does
    That suggests that you are defining God as something other than an actual being. Is that correct? How are you defining “presence of the divine”? Do you mean some tangible sign of an actual god-being, or simply a transcendental emotional experience? What confuses me is how philosophers who claim the existence of an actual god-being derive their conclusions as to the nature of that god. I tried looking up “process theism” but couldn’t follow the definition.

  • hapax

    However, it should be pointed out that where the romance genre is concerned, my understanding is that, at most publishing houses, you won’t find same-sex and mixed-sex romances in the same publishing line.
    Popping up from my drug-induced haze again to point out, mmm, not so much anymore. Heckopete, I can think of at least one NYT bestselling romance author who mixes same-sex and mixed-sex romances in the same novels. (No, two. Nope, three…)
    Not playing with the abstract theology tonight, for obvious cognitive reasons, although I bet I could give Tonio some good tips on “how philosophers who claim the existence of an actual god-being derive their conclusions as to the nature of that god…”

  • Tonio

    I can think of at least one NYT bestselling romance author who mixes same-sex and mixed-sex romances in the same novels. (No, two. Nope, three…)
    While I’ve only read a couple of romance novels, I was always a fan of unrequited love stories, such as Charlie Brown and the little red-haired girl, and Ross and Rachel on “Friends.” Is it possible in our cultural framework to tell a same-sex unrequited love story? I suppose it would have to involve the lovelorn person being unsure if the object of his/her affection was straight or gay.

  • hapax

    Is it possible in our cultural framework to tell a same-sex unrequited love story? I suppose it would have to involve the lovelorn person being unsure if the object of his/her affection was straight or gay.
    Well, if you put in the caveat that the love is eventually requited, that’s pretty much the plot of most shonen-ai manga.
    If you want the tragic ending, that’s pretty much every single young adult novel which addresses The Very Special Topic of Teen Homosexuality — at least, until Kerr’s blessed DELIVER US FROM EVIE.

  • Tonio

    God is that in which we ultimately find peace and flourishing, and in that sense can be called ‘good’, but the goodness in this case is something that emerges from the relation between what’s good for humans and the presence of the divine, rather than being dependent on anything that the divine does.
    I’ve always heard it differently – that any action taken by God is by definition good. I’m not sure if this means that God would never take a bad action, or that one should accept all God’s actions as good and one’s own opinion about the action is wrong or irrelevant.

  • Tonio

    Well, if you put in the caveat that the love is eventually requited, that’s pretty much the plot of most shonen-ai manga.
    I wasn’t aware of that particular genre. While that’s a valid point, I was thinking of the Western trope of the lovelorn man longing for the seemingly unattainable princess. It’s often used as the premise for other types of love stories, like John Hughes’ “Some Kind of Wonderful.” The reverse situation follows a different template – the lovelorn woman longing to rescue the brooding loner, hoping to mend the broken heart beneath the tough exterior. I couldn’t imagine the same stories being told with same-sex relationships unless the purpose was to satirize those tropes. Maybe that’s because I’m a straight man.
    (My view of “Brokeback Mountain” is probably quite different from most other viewers, both straight and gay. I didn’t have much sympathy for Heath Ledger’s character when he lied and connived to hide his affair from his family. Despite his community’s attitude toward homosexuality at the time, he seemed no different from a straight adulterer.)

  • Tonio

    Proof that I live under a rock – when I wrote my 9:44 a.m. post, I was unaware of Ledger’s death. But more than that, without IMDB I couldn’t have named the actor who played Ennis in “Brokeback,” and without this morning’s newspaper I couldn’t have named any of Ledger’s other movies. I’ve never see “The Patriot” or “10 Things I Hate About You.”

  • Jeff

    I’ve never see “The Patriot”
    It’s worth watching the first few minutes of the “The Patriot” just so you understand what passes for “patriotism” in the film-maker’s (Gibson’s?) mind: Injury to family.
    Who cares that the British taxes are crippling American families, or that they’re stationing their goons in whoever’s house they please? Not Gibson, until HIS son is attacked (and possibly killed, it’s been a while) by a British soldier.
    Blech!

  • jamoche

    Despite his community’s attitude toward homosexuality at the time, he seemed no different from a straight adulterer.
    One of the anecdotes about Ledger that turned up on my LJ list yesterday was a time when he and Gyllenhal were on Oprah and she was really pushing them to say that it was worse that the characters had cheated with members of their own sex. Ledger said something along the lines of the above: it’s cheating – why should gender matter?

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    Well, since Ennis del Mar would much rather have married Jack Twist and lived with him faithfully and happily for the rest of their lives together, if that option had been available to him, I tend to think his adultery with Jack is more forgivable than it would have been with a woman. (Forgiveable from a wider perspective: obviously del Mar’s wife had a right to be pissed at him for marrying her in the first place.)

  • jamoche

    Yes. I have a friend whose sister was about a week away from her wedding when her fiance revealed that not only was he gay, he was only getting married to make his mom happy. Naturally she called it off; either one of those reasons would have doomed it.

  • Tonio

    Ledger said something along the lines of the above: it’s cheating – why should gender matter?
    A wise man.
    Well, since Ennis del Mar would much rather have married Jack Twist and lived with him faithfully and happily for the rest of their lives together, if that option had been available to him, I tend to think his adultery with Jack is more forgivable than it would have been with a woman.
    While you have a valid point about options, Ennis still harmed his family through his betrayal and deception. The wrongness of that harm would have been the same no matter what the sexual orientation. His actions may have been more forgivable if he had divorced his wife right away instead of stringing her along for years.

  • Raj

    Holy HAND, Batman!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://d-84.livejournal.com cjmr’s husband

    Congratulations! We have gone one (1) week without using the word “grenade”! Everybody wins an internet. Python jokes to commence in 1… 2… 5…

  • Ursula L

    Vermic wrote at Jan 18, 2008 at 02:57 PM:
    I think LB’s pilot-worship must be a Tim LaHaye contribution. Wasn’t there a time, some 40 years ago, when the job of airline pilot carried a prestige akin to rock stars and astronauts? (That’s at least the impression I get from films like “Catch Me If You Can” and “View from the Top”.) It makes sense that LaHaye would push to give his alter ego as cool an occupation as his stuck-in-the-early-’60s mind could imagine.
    I don’t mean, of course, to disrespect actual airline pilots or the job they perform. But — due I’m sure to the more everyday nature of air travel nowadays — the days of pilots as demigods are long over, gone the way of the “coffee, tea or me” stewardess (as well as the term “stewardess”).

    I suspect that the concept of “pilot as hero” that LaHaye has goes back earlier than that. If he is old enough to have fought in WWII, he’s old enough to remember aviation from the 1920s and 1930s.
    Those were “pilots as heroes” of the LB model. Think Charles Lindbergh. Not just famous as a pilot, but a celebrity. He had political clout, such as being prominent in the US isolationist movement. His family tragedies were national news, in the same way that everyone fusses over Rayford’s losses in LB.

  • Ursula L

    Italics begone!

  • http://angelika.gnomehack.com/blog/ Angelika

    Tonio My version of the Bambi argument is this – the only way an omnibenevolent god could be reconciled with that grossly evil death for Bambi is to claim that Bambi deserved it.
    Somehow I find it weird argument that the world and it’s creator can’t be good, because one is eventually forced to leave the world. Heck, if the world weren’t good then leaving it would be nice, even if it costs some pain.

  • Jenny Islander

    Necroposting @Jeff: I thought The Patriot was a very sad movie because it’s about the one guy who doesn’t want to get caught up in the American Revolution, not for political or business reasons, but because he’s had a bellyful of war and wants no more of it. ISTR scenes in which people are speaking for and against declaring independence and so forth in ringing round periods that recall watering the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots, etc., and then the camera cuts away to Gibson’s character, who just looks ill. It also seemed obvious to me that the title character was Gyllenhaal’s and the movie was about the ripples spreading out from his decision to fight for his patriotic principles (as well as a tour of colonial America with some cinematic liberties), but I understand that a lot of people think Gibson’s character was supposed to be the star, Rambo with a musket. I don’t see it.

  • Jenny Islander

    *was also about. I should’ve previewed.

  • Jenny Islander

    Ledger’s character. LEDGER’s character. I kin reed gud.

  • Johnny Bombast

    Tv Tropes calls that “Wrong Genre Savvy.”

    Hope that helps. 

  • s_noe

    “thrust upon those dusty hills…”
    They shouldn’t have been “dusty” what with all the agriculture going on, thanks to Dr. R’s Miracle Formula!
    Also, this phrase is weirdly semi-erotic sounding, although “dusky hills” would’ve been better.


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