NRA: Walking in the spirit

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 175, 183-189

Buck didn’t know what he thought about this new level of what Bruce had referred to as “walking in the spirit.”

That comes a bit later in this scene, but it’s a good introduction to this little mini-adventure starring Buck Williams. Buck, you’ll recall, is in Jerusalem, trying to track down former Rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah, who is in hiding after Jewish assassins killed his family just like they killed Christ because he converted to Christianity and has begun preaching from the footnotes of the Scofield New Testament.

Buck’s first idea seemed like a good one — go talk to the Two Witnesses and see if they can help him. They’ve been appearing with Tsion on his evangelistic tour, speaking to the crowds at the huge stadium rallies that Tsion has somehow been permitted to organize throughout the Antichrist’s one-world dictatorship. (Billy Graham called his big evangelistic meetings in stadiums “crusades,” which always seemed unfortunate. In this case, though — considering the convert-to Christianity-or-die message of Tsion’s brand of messianic religion — “crusade” would seem perfectly apt.)

But Moishe and Eli — the impenetrable code names that prevent everyone from realizing they’re really Moses and Elijah — don’t turn out to be much help. They recite a bunch of Bible verses, apparently taken from the concordance entry for “Galilee.” That’s too vague to be useful information — roughly like saying, “I’ll tell you exactly where he is. He’s down the shore.”

And it proves even less useful since Buck doesn’t seem to understand that they’re giving him an essage-May about ion-Tsay. He tells them he’ll come back later and heads back to his hotel for a nap.

It’s there, at the hotel, that Buck begins his new level of “walking in the spirit.” Or, at least, of sleeping in the spirit, since the first thing that happens is he has a dream.

Buck had dreamed that he was Joseph, Mary’s husband. He had heard an angel of the Lord saying, “Arise, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word.”

Buck was confused. He had never been communicated to in a dream, by God or anyone else. He had always considered dreams just aberrations based on daily life.

I’m not sure just what word it was that Jerry Jenkins was reaching for when he settled, instead, on the word “aberrations,” there. I’m guessing it was a word that made more sense in this context than that word does.

Buck’s dream-within-a-dream is kind of trippy and Inception-like, but it’s not as dizzying as the endless recursion of literalism and inerrancy fueling the authors’ logic here. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins regard themselves as literal readers of an inerrant, authoritative Bible. For them, the Bible read literally, and only the Bible read literally, is the Word of God. Thus even when their story requires God to speak — whether its sending Buck a warning in a dream or speaking through the Two Witnesses to tell him where Tsion is — the message from God almost always comes in the form of direct quotations from the Bible.

So in this story, when God wants to warn Buck to flee his hotel, God sends that message by having Buck relive the dream Joseph had in Matthew’s Gospel, warning him to flee Bethlehem. God speaks to Buck through the literal words of God’s inerrant word. But those very words, the words from the Bible that the authors quote there in Buck’s dream-of-a-dream, reveal that this is not how God communicates. The angel who appeared to Joseph in a dream did not present him with a cryptic message cobbled together from the words of scripture. Joseph received a specific warning in a dream. He wasn’t given a dream that he was someone else, having their dream and receiving their warning.

No wonder, then, that Buck is puzzled by what to make of this dream about a dream about a warning:

Was God trying to tell him that he would find Tsion Ben-Judah in Egypt, rather than wherever it seemed the witnesses were sending him? They always spoke so circumspectly. He would have to simply ask them.

The word Jenkins was reaching for there sounds a bit like “circumspectly,” but it’s actually a very different word. This sort of mistake would be easier to forgive if it were an, um, aberration.

The Two Witnesses’ circumlocutions are a product of the same self-destructing literalism that required Buck to have a dream of a dream about someone else’s warning.

The authors’ commitment to the authority of an inerrant Bible, read literally, compels them to have Moishe and Eli speak almost exclusively in direct quotations from that Bible. Any other approach would risk undermining the authority of the inerrant Word of God by introducing words from God — even here, in a work of fiction — that were not themselves taken directly from the Bible. But that means having Moses and Elijah behave differently here than either figure does in the Bible itself. If you read the Bible, literally or otherwise, you won’t find Moses and Elijah walking around speaking only in Bible verses. And you certainly won’t find them quoting large chunks of the New Testament.

So the authors’ ideology of the Bible requires them to respect the Bible by having biblical characters behave in ways that are incompatible with the way those characters behaved in the Bible. Trippy and Inception-like. Dreams within dreams within dreams.

This whole “walking in the spirit” business is tricky for LaHaye and Jenkins. And that makes this part of the story, in which Buck receives direct messages from God, particularly awkward.

Direct messages from God are a bit too much like Pentecostal/charismatic Christianity for LaHaye. The “dispensationalism” part of his premillennial dispensational theology teaches that the charismatic “spiritual gifts” of prophecy and tongues are not a part of the “dispensation” of this present age. And the Pentecostal/charismatic belief in continuing direct revelation from God, in his view, undermines the authority of the Bible — the “Word of God” — by suggesting it is insufficient and could be or needs to be supplemented with other “words” from God. So when an Assemblies of God pastor stands in the pulpit and tells his congregation that he has received a “prophetic word from the Lord,” LaHaye is more than just skeptical — he’s theologically opposed to the possibility.

But on the other hand, Pentecostal and charismatic churches are large and growing. Before the Left Behind series, the biggest blockbuster in Christian-brand fiction had been Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness series, which presented a very charismatic understanding of “spiritual warfare.” LaHaye and Jenkins were surely aware of the massive size of this potential audience for their books, and likely did not want to alienate so many potential readers and their money.

Here in America, though, even adamantly anti-charismatic fundamentalist preachers tend to be steeped in an evangelical spirituality that emphasizes God’s explicit guidance of our daily actions. So much so that we’ll recite Proverbs 3:5-6 prayerfully, trusting in the Lord with all our hearts and leaning not on our own understanding, in all our ways acknowledging him, and praying for him to direct our paths to a good parking space.

In practice, this divine guidance tends to involve gut feelings, emotions and hunches — something reflected later in this chapter, when Chloe calls Buck to warn him of a “premonition” she’s had that he should stay away from his hotel. It’s difficult to say how such a “premonition” really differs from the kind of direct revelation a Pentecostal Christian might describe as a “word of prophecy,” but I suppose that as long as it was just a vague gut feeling and not an explicit “word” received while praying in tongues, it can pass muster with LaHaye’s anti-charismatic dispensationalism.

I’m not part of the Pentecostal/charismatic stream of Christianity, but I wouldn’t say I’m anti-charismatic either. I am, however, very skeptical of premonitions and of “gut feelings” of divine guidance. As with all hunches, such impulses might be proper conclusions reached by subconscious, but rational, calculation of evidence we hadn’t noticed ourselves noticing. Or they might be illegitimate conclusions based on subconscious fears or prejudices.

Any time we have a premonition, or a gut feeling, or a hunch, or a “sense of God’s leading,” it’s our duty to unpack it to figure out which it is. Before figuring out where any hunch or intuition can lead us, we have to figure out what led us to having it in the first place.

Depending on your point of view, you could call that the discipline of spiritual discernment or you could call that a borderline-neurotic tendency for second-guessing. Both are probably accurate.

Anyway, following his dream of Joseph’s dream — but before hearing from Chloe about her premonition — Buck has a hunch that he should check out of his hotel:

Buck followed a strong urge to take his bag when he left the King David that night. In it was his small dictation machine, his sub-notebook computer (which would soon be replaced by the mother of all computers), his camera, that great cell phone, his toiletries, and two changes of clothing.

Thus just as Joseph took Mary and the baby Jesus and fled to Egypt, protecting the Christ-child from Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, so too does Buck flee his hotel, carrying with him “that great cell phone” — a treasure more precious than gold, frankincense or myrrh.

Seems appropriate to close with this, from James Taylor:

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  • You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

  • Does he actually ever use his “mother of all computers” ever in these things which have the appearance of books but clearly cannot be books.

  • Yeah, but the Romans were clearly patsies for those evil Jews.

  • Catt

    That’s… epic.

  • Catt

    Thank you, that was bugging me.

  • die Geisthander

    So wait.

    If the Bible is the Word of God and the only way God can communicate after the Bible was written is through quotations of itself (shades of the Star Trek: TNG episode “Darmok” there), does that mean that God only really exists in the Bible for these guys?

    I know it’s probably a respect thing where they don’t want to put words in God’s mouth–at least not any more than their interpretation of the Bible does–but it really is fascinating to think about.

  • themunck

    Marry me <3….or write a book, either works.

  • Nick Gotts

    Well, if Jacobean English was good enough for Jesus…

  • Nick Gotts

    Maybe it was specifically his daughter’s left behind that he was beating?

  • Nick Gotts

    Where would the religion be if Jesus died in bed of old age, with Mary Magdelene at his side?

    Whether Mary Magdalene survived him I don’t know, but apparently they did marry, and he died a natural death at the age of 120 in Kashmir.

  • Daniel

    Jenkins’ nights are just periods of coma black nothingness. Eight solid hours of total oblivion then his timer switch kicks in and he’s up and typing, typing, typing to delay that hideous blackness.
    Or he’s just really dull.

  • NelC

    Honestly, this sounds like a hack writer having just an inkling that he doesn’t have the skills to write the words of gods and prophets convincingly and rationalising not even attempting it.

  • You monster! I can’t un-imagine that!

  • Same. Goin’ crazy over here.

  • I wonder if this has to do with the “end of the age of miracles” argument I’ve heard, like “why aren’t there cases of god appearing as a pillar of fire or whatever any more?” Well, because after [insert favorite arbitrary thing here] God stopped doing that, of course! Now he moves in mysterious ways, like…quoting himself!

  • That was really beautiful. I laughed so hard my stomach hurts now. <3

  • Daniel

    Rayford Steele’s mind was on a reporter he’d never touch…

  • mattmcirvin

    In the US, women were doing factory and technical work in World War II while most of the able-bodied male workforce were off fighting the war. In the 1950s, when times were better… these women were expected to become housewives and be happy about it. Some were not.

  • mattmcirvin

    …On the other hand, it does depend on the type of harsher environment. What spurs people to consider women as workers outside of strict gender roles is a labor shortage. When there’s a labor glut, as during the Great Depression, people can revert to a feeling that a woman with a job is taking it away from the man who should properly have it.

  • There is a (very small) period of time when David Hassid (or “That Jerk” if it’s more convenient) is all alone in Petra and whines about the lack of “creature comforts” and “leisure time.”
    But he still has his computer and his top-notch (in Jenkins’ eyes) cell phone!

  • Verna Zee Sensible Shoes Confrontation Countdown: 159 pages

    (Think I may have forgotten to post it last night…or it was Disqus. I have decided to blame Disqus!)

  • And it’s worth noting that the “bunker” is a skyscraper in the middle of abandoned downtown Chicago. So even though they whine about cabin fever, each person could have his or her own floor if they wanted.

  • damanoid

    Oh wow! How’d you get a car?

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Always blame Disqus.

  • Julie

    That was a magnificent episode of the IT Crowd.

  • Julie

    Well I guess God should have thought more carefully about boxing himself in by saying everything that could ever be said perfectly in the Bible. Now there’s nothing left to say. And he might have to worry about contradicting himself.

  • Pops

    War is mild discomfort.

  • Yeah, but that’s by Mac McCullum (or one of the other Not-Rayford pilots), not God.

  • If liking Colossus: The Forbin Project is wrong, right has never existed.

  • GDwarf

    Buck is new to Fundyville though, suggesting that he was double-checking dreams before he converted for signs of message-tampering. XD

    …Great, now you’ve got me trying to come up with a way to cryptographically validate messages in dreams.

  • That Other Jean

    There’s an “un” missing from “imaginative” in your first sentence. Other than that, spot on. L&J can’t conceive of lives that are not very much like their own, and it makes for terrible storytelling.

  • Sue White

    I don’t see what’s respectful about making Jesus a character in a crappy novel, then making him a mass murderer. South Park was more respectful.

  • Lorehead

    It’s not what you have him do, it’s how much you flatter him.

  • Sue White

    I dunno, it’s not a very flattering portrayal of Jesus or the two witlesses when the author has turned what were once (presumably) living, breathing human beings into mindless quote-bots. Declining to write original dialog for them isn’t respect, it’s recognizing that you’re a hack writer who has written yourself into a corner.

  • Lori

    So much so that we’ll recite Proverbs 3:5-6 prayerfully, trusting in the
    Lord with all our hearts and leaning not on our own understanding, in
    all our ways acknowledging him, and praying for him to direct our paths to a good parking space.

    My aunt was like this. She absolutely believed that God himself got her good parking spaces. She prayed, out loud, whenever we pulled into a parking lot didn’t immediately see an open space near the front. I never did get any explanation for why God chose to focus on her parking needs rather than say, preventing the car accident that killer her daughter. God moves in mysterious ways.

  • Lori

    I suspect it’s less a recognition of Jenkins’ hackdom than a recognition that if he writes dialog for God or Jesus someone is going to come along and nit-pick it until people start thinking they need to have a stance about it. Because that’s what LeHaye would do to someone else’s book.

  • Check to make sure they’re HTTPS and at least 64-bit encryption. :D

  • Lori

    Mac was clearly acting as God’s agent.

  • Jamoche

    Second, I seem to remember some Romans being involved, and yet there’s no blood libel regarding Italians.

    Always best to downplay the involvement of the people who are still in power at the time you’re writing the book :)

  • The_L1985

    That is just gorgeous. I love the winding key!

  • Guest

    I know this is a (constantly) reoccurring theme in the story but…..really? The good guys are making a doomed last stand here. The entire earth has been pulverized to fourth-world level standards of living and all physical reality will be brought to an end within days but apparently broadband is still up and humming? Who the hell are you going to call? Who are you going to e-mail? How many people are even alive enough to be impressed by your worldly blessings? I know I shouldn’t be amazed by this by now but I am. What. The. Fuck.

  • Daniel

    OK. But I don’t want a big ceremony, something understated would do me fine. And can we do the silk road as a honeymoon?

  • Considering he “Speaks” for TurboJesus near the end and talks like a complete jackass about Nicolae… mmhmm.

  • MuseofIre

    Oh, I’m quite certain Buck’s dreams are aberrant.

  • Daniel

    He has troublesome dreams that leave him in a mess. He hates that he enjoys them. Night after hideous night he wakes in a cold sweat, soiled by his subconscious visits to Millies’ Cookies.

  • flat

    So I didn’t asnswer until now, but nice article, I don’t have much more to say about it and I enjoy the discussions.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Could be worse, it could be SHODAN. Although she’d certainly make this series a lot more interesting…

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    “Yo, dawg, I heard you liked visions….”

  • themunck

    I have no idea what that means, but sure.

  • SkyknightXi

    And/or it would suggest that God isn’t doing that well in the department of sheltering his Elect from woe, in same fashion as Abednego & Co. (We shall ignore for now how this conflicts with how full martyrdom is praiseworthy.)