NRA: Cringe with those who cringe

Nicolae: Rise of the Antichrist; pp. 200-208

Back in the second book of this series, Tribulation Force, readers were subjected to the scene of an “inner circle” prayer meeting in Pastor Bruce Barnes’ office. Maybe you remember that scene. Or maybe you’ve suppressed that memory in the hopes that you’d never be forced to live through such extreme discomfort again.

If the latter is true, you’ll probably also want to skip these pages in Nicolae, because here again we encounter the same doubly awkward, cringe-inducing attempt to present the authors’ idea of worshipful ecstasy.

Buck and Michael beach their riverboat on the eastern shore of the Jordan River and set off, “through the underbrush,” to the secret hideout where the messianic underground has hidden renegade ex-rabbit Tsion Ben-Judah:

Buck had forgotten how long five kilometers could be. The ground was uneven and moist. The overgrowth slapped him in the face. He switched his bag from shoulder to shoulder, never fully comfortable. He was in good shape, but this was hard. This was not jogging or cycling or running on a treadmill. This was working your way through sandy shoreline to who knew where?

In our world, the eastern shore of the Jordan River is the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. In the world of Left Behind, the nation of Jordan does not exist and its nearly 7 million residents have mysteriously vanished. Not, like, Rapture-vanished — they’re simply absent from this world, displaced from their homes without a trace and with no mention of where they have gone or what happened to them. That was established in a parenthetical flashback-within-a-flashback in the first chapter of the first book. Here we learn that, apparently, after the Jordanians were peacefully ethnically cleansed and their country was absorbed into the Greater Israel of Tim LaHaye’s prophesied Middle East, the former nation of Jordan reverted to a scrubby, post-human wilderness. (Or, maybe, LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins just vaguely remember reading that John the Baptist ministered along the Jordan, and since he was described as “a voice crying in the wilderness,” they figure this is what the area must be like today.)

Anyway, this long hike gives Buck a chance to prepare for his first meeting with Tsion Ben-Judah since his friend’s wife and children were slaughtered in the streets:

He dreaded seeing Dr. Ben-Judah. He wanted to be reunited with his friend and brother in Christ, but what does one say to one who has lost his family? No platitudes, no words would make it better. The man had paid one of the steepest prices that anyone could pay, and nothing short of heaven could make it better.

It’s not meant to be foreshadowing, I don’t think, but after reading those words — “No platitudes” — here in the conclusion of Chapter 10, can you guess what we’ll find when Buck is reunited with his friend in the beginning of Chapter 11?

Buck enters Michael’s “underground shelter invisible to anyone who hadn’t come there on purpose” and the very first thing he noticed is “that there were no real beds and no pillows” — just as the Bible prophesied 2,000 years ago!

Three other gaunt and desperate-looking young men, who could have been Michael’s brothers, huddled in the dugout, where there was barely room to stand. … He was introduced all around, but only Michael, of the four, understood English.

And only Michael, of the four, gets a name. Think of the others as henchmen or redshirts or just set-dressing extras. What strikes me most about this whole bunch is how depressed and depressing they all seem. This isn’t a merry band of outlaws, burning with zeal to reach the whole world with the glorious good news of their joyful message of salvation. It’s just a bunch of sad, hungry men hiding in a hole.

Buck squinted, looking for Tsion. He could hear him, but he could not see him. Finally, a dim, electric lantern was illuminated. There, sitting in the corner, his back to the wall, was one of the first and surely the most famous of what would become the 144,000 witnesses prophesied of in the Bible.

At some point we’ll need to step back and discuss this whole “144,000” business. Tim LaHaye has a slight variation to the usual premillennial dispensationalist take on the passages from Revelation that give us that number, and we should talk about the way he and other “Bible prophecy scholars” regard the 144,000 as opposed to the way actual biblical scholars treat those passages. For now, let’s just say this: When you read a number like that which do you think is likelier: That this is a precise figure denoting a precise whole-number amount greater than 143,999 and lesser than 144,001? Or that this big round number — a dozen dozen thousands — may be a figure of speech suggesting something other than such a precise quantification?

Buck whispered that he would like a moment alone with Tsion. Michael and the others climbed through the opening and stood idly in the underbrush, weapons at the ready. Buck crouched next to Dr. Ben-Judah.

“Tsion,” Buck said, “God loves you.” The words had surprised even Buck. Could it possibly seem to Tsion that God loved him now? And what kind of a platitude was that? Was it now his place to speak for God?

Jenkins reach exceeds his grasp here, but I won’t judge this bit too harshly because at least he’s reaching for something ambitious. Better writers have also struggled, and failed, with how to discuss the inadequacy of words — even of truthful words — in the context of suffering. Jenkins is grappling with something difficult and meaningful here, and that’s to be encouraged, so I don’t want to come down too hard on him for the way this particular attempt fails.

But still, it fails. After half-acknowledging there that anything Buck says is going to sound here like empty, pious platitudes, Jenkins and Buck plow ahead with a litany of empty, pious platitudes:

“What do you know for sure?” Buck asked, wondering himself what in the world he was talking about.

Tsion’s reply, in his barely understandable Israeli accent, squeaked from a constricted throat: “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

“What else do you know?” Buck said, listening as much as speaking.

“I know that He who has begun a good work in me will be faithful to complete it.”

Praise God! Buck thought.

And then Tsion’s voice transformed into a deep, Paul-Robeson baritone, and he began to sing “When peace like a river atten-en-deth my waaayyyy …”

I imagine we caught a glimpse there of meta-Tsion trying to surface in protest of this whole scene and it’s attempt to mine his suffering for uplift. Buck hears that first answer — “I know that my Redeemer lives” — as an inspirational affirmation of Tsion’s unshakable faith, and that’s how Jenkins frames it here. But it’s also imaginable that Tsion’s throat is constricted with anger and that he’s citing the book of Job there as a warning — “Back off, Bildad! The last thing I need right now is a recitation of the theodicy of half-wits.”

Alas, though, Buck isn’t done yet. And neither is Jenkins, who wants to be sure he hasn’t been too subtle in clubbing readers with his message here:

Buck slumped to the ground and sat next to Ben-Judah, his back against the wall. He had come to rescue this man, to minister to him. Now he had been ministered to. Only God could provide such assurance and confidence at a time of such grief.

“Your wife and your children were believers –”

“Today, they see God,” Tsion finished for him.

Tsion asks Buck if he brought his Bible with him. “Not in book form, sir,” Buck says. “I have the entire Scripture on my computer.”

And thus we embark on a two-page tangent in which Buck ponders the cutting-edge Bible software of 1997 while still not quite getting it right. As he digs out his computer, Tsion asks if he would “happen to have the Old Testament in Hebrew?” (Because rabbis always refer to the Old Testament as “the Old Testament” — just as they’re more likely to quote Philippians or James, in the King James, than anything from that Old Testament.)

“No, but those programs are widely available.”

“At least they are now,” Tsion said, a sob still in his throat. “My most recent studies have led me to believe that our religious freedoms will soon become scarce at an alarming pace.”

It took this guy “study” to figure out that the Antichrist might be hostile to religious freedom? Wait until he continues his “studies” and finds out that “the 144,000 witnesses prophesied of in the Bible” are actually described in Revelation as 144,000 martyrs.

“I sometimes find the Psalms comforting,” Buck said.

Tsion nodded, now covering his mouth with his hand. The man’s chest heaved and he could hold back the sobs no longer. He leaned over onto Buck and collapsed in tears. “The joy of the Lord is my strength,” he moaned over and over. “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”

Joy, Buck thought. What a concept in this place, at this time. The name of the game now was survival. Certainly joy took on a different meaning than ever before in Buck’s life. He used to equate joy with happiness. Clearly Tsion Ben-Judah was not implying that he was happy. He might never be happy again. This joy was a deep, abiding peace, an assurance that God was sovereign. They didn’t have to like what was happening. They merely had to trust that God knew what he was doing.

In retrospect, that “No platitudes” bit at the end of the last chapter was far more ominous than I realized.

“Ask the others to join us for prayer,” Tsion says to Buck, and the reader’s eyes involuntarily scan ahead to see an unbroken block of text that continues for the next two pages. Oh no. No, not that, not again. They’re going to pray and we’re going to have to watch.

What follows is, like that earlier scene in Bruce Barnes’ office, wincingly awkward in two ways. First because of what Jenkins is attempting to portray, and secondly because of the failure of that attempt. This prayer is meant to be a time of transcendent spiritual ecstasy, but witnessing the ecstasy of others without being a participant in it is either mortifying or, for a certain kind of voyeur, titillating. Either way, it seems cheapened, which is why storytellers who are not pornographers know when it is wisest to fade to black.

Jerry Jenkins does not fade to black. He makes us watch:

A few minutes later, the six men knelt in a circle, Tsion spoke to them briefly in Hebrew, Michael quietly whispering the interpretation into Buck’s ear. “My friends and brothers in Christ, though I am deeply wounded, yet I must pray. I pray to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I praise you because you are the one and only true God, the God above all other gods. You sit high above the heavens. There is none other like you. In you there is no variation or shadow of turning.” With that, Tsion broke down again and asked that the others pray for him.

Buck had never heard people praying together aloud in a foreign language. Hearing the fervency of these witness-evangelists made him fall prostrate. He felt the cold mud on the backs of his hands as he buried his face in his palms. He didn’t know about Tsion but felt as if he were being borne along on clouds of peace. Suddenly Tsion’s voice could be heard above the rest. Michael bent down and whispered in Buck’s ear, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Buck did not know how long he lay on the floor. Eventually the prayers became groanings and what sounded like Hebrew versions of amens and hallelujahs. Buck rose to his knees and felt stiff and sore. Tsion looked at him, his face still wet but seemingly finished crying for now. “I believe I can finally sleep,” the rabbi said.

 

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  • You can do the equivalent of a shell model calculation for atoms with some assumptions about the wavefunctions of the electron orbitals to figure out what the likely optical transitions would be. But ultimately laser spectroscopy is needed to seal the deal experimentally.

    EDIT to add: And it’s more complicated because the relativistic shifting of orbital energies partly cancels the general contraction due to increasing Z, and… anyway, I could go on.

  • PorlockJunior

    “The most stable [technetium] isotopes have half-lives in the millions of years. :)”

    They’d have to have longish half-lives in order to be distributed and used for injection into people whose livers need to be examined for blank areas that don’t function. I mean, without cutting them up. To which I’d have objected strenuously at the time.

    What do you call someone who has been injected with both technetium and thallium (at different times)?

    Old. Deduct a point if you said “radioactive”.

  • Even a few hours works fine if you have a rapid delivery system and a fast on-line isotope factory. MDS Nordion has such facilities for radiotracers. :)

  • P J Evans

    My favorite very-staining substances are easy to get hold of: pomegranate juice is good. So is turmeric. ‘Superwash’ wool can be dyed with sugar-free Kool-aid.
    (My second-year biology class had a section on bacteria, complete with staining.)

  • P J Evans

    It was far more disconcerting to me that a French captain would be singing ‘Heart of Oak’. Unless Starfleet adopted a lot of old traditions from various wet-navy predecessors.

  • P J Evans

    I would expect it to be available for e-readers and tablet computers, but they weren’t around when this was written.

  • P J Evans

    There’s one that’s Paarfi writing erotica. It’s remarkably non-explicit. (Paarfirotica: http://dreamcafe.com/downloads/ )

  • It’s really subjective. I mean, that Paarfirotica link? The olde Englishe style made me giggle more than anything else.

    Incidentally, since I’ve been discussing the HP fandom there’s a few fics which have romantic/sexual elements in them which go into more or less explicit detail.

    One which is fairly tame, but which I still like, is this:

    https://www.fanfiction.net/s/3735743/1/The-Moment-It-Began

    (Snape goes back in time to the 1970s)

    Secrets: http://www.hpfandom.net/eff/viewstory.php?sid=6256

    (Fairly explicit when it comes to the sex, has crossdressing elements, too. It’s also Harry/Draco which may or may not be your thing, but the author makes it work)

    Malfoy Flavor: http://www.hpfandom.net/eff/viewstory.php?sid=2199

    (Also explicit, Harry/Draco but not the same ‘verse as “Secrets”)

  • For anyone interested, I was planning on trying to put up a set of Valentine-themed stories on Smashwords in February, and I’m thinking of actually writing this leprechaun thing as a bonus free story.

  • guest

    Fucky O’Hare?

  • P J Evans

    damfino.

  • $7768756

    The image of Tennant delivery that speech to Mel Brooks circa “Men in Tights” is somehow even funnier than the very funny thing that already happened there.

  • Lori

    There’s nothing wrong with porn, so long as both provider and consumer
    are on the same page about the product. LaHaye and Jenkins appear to
    have written one while thinking they’ve written the other, and the
    results are embarrassing and sleazy by turns.

    Exactly. I have no problem with honest porn, but dishonest porn is another issue and that’s what Fred is complaining about.

  • Ben English

    One would expect him to have a French accent, wouldn’t they? I never understood what the point of making him French was if you’re going to cast a literal knight of the English throne for the part. Plus California would make more sense than Patrick Stewart’s accent given that Star Fleet Academy is in San Francisco.

    Not that I’d actually change anything about Picard of course.

  • Ben English

    Though I’d kind of recommend avoiding anything that puts Harry Potter and erotica within the same sphere of possibility since you’re likely going to end up with a fourteen year old Hermione having desk sex with Snape or something.

  • Ben English

    He was Catholic so I’m guessing no.

  • Oh good lord, no. I don’t have any liking for all those teacher/student romance fics.

  • Ben English

    Not to mention the part where all the world’s religions have been forcibly merged into the Edward Nygma Universalist Church of Babylon headed by Pete Matthews the Pontifex Maximus. Religious freedom already doesn’t exist in any legal capacity.

  • One could get the Bible on the Newton PDA back in 1995 or so and 1997 they started producing it for the Palm, as well. If we pretend that LH&J were tech-savvy enough to give Buck a PDA back then, we could pretend that Buck could have had a Palm and, thus, the “Scripture” app at this point.

  • My maternal grandmother (who wasn’t an actress but did have foreign-born in-laws) said that when a character is supposed to be speaking the character’s native language in a movie or television show, translated into English for our convenience as necessary, it would make more sense for the actor to speak in his or her regular regional variation because one doesn’t speak one’s own language with a foreign accent. Accents should be used to indicate that a character is speaking a language foreign to him or her.

    So, following that rule, perhaps Picard is speaking French and we hear it as English because of the universal translator?

  • SkyknightXi

    Several times before, actually. The only explanation I can think of is that Jenkins thought it was a Latin term. (So where does he think “amen” comes from? Beowulf-era English?)

  • Mrs Grimble

    The world speed record for walking is held by Mikhail Shchennikov; in 1995, he did 5 kilometres in 18 min. 7.08 sec.
    And that was indoors on level flooring, by an athlete who had spent years in preparation (and – possibly – with the aid of performance-enhancing drugs). So 5 kilometres in 30 minutes, over rough terrain and sand, by averagely fit men – a little unlikely.

  • Sue White

    We could pretend that, if the book didn’t make a point of describing Tsion fumbling with the keys, then using a mouse to “cursor through” the Psalms. But I guess I should stop nitpicking and just be glad it doesn’t go on about how expensive the whole thing was.

  • $190147

    Well, no, but then remember, the ideal state of things for the authors is one in which freedom, not just religious freedom but freedom of any kind, is impossible. The Universalist Church of Babylon isn’t bad because it’s bad but because it’s being run by the wrong people. All it needs is a change of management, and then lo, behold the new Jerusalem.

  • MuseofIre

    A few of my personal recommendations, with a caveat: in romance novels, the hotness/rightness of the sex is integrally involved with the characters and the story. So if you’re not into the story, the sex may not work for you.
    Laura Kinsale, especially Shadowheart (medieval S&M!) and Midsummer Moon (sex in a fountain!)
    Loretta Chase, esp. Captives of the Night and Mr. Impossible

    J.D. Robb, the In Death series
    Victoria Dahl, esp. Talk Me Down

  • P J Evans

    Well, you could have had mice before that – I’ve been using a trackball since the late 80s, starting with DOS. They’ve certainly improved since then.

  • Sue White

    Come to think of it, why didn’t Tsion or Michael or one of the Michael clones have a Bible if they’re so fired up for Jesus?

  • I think it’s simpler than that. I think they just can’t imagine Jews doing anything that isn’t “weird and other”.

  • j_bird

    Aside from the question of whether Buck’s trek should be hard for someone “in good shape,” there’s just something about the references to exercises you’d do in a gym or on your overly-fancy road bike that means the scene never fully leaves suburban Chicago.

  • j_bird

    5 k through rough terrain without a trail*, carrying a bag, especially if you’re trying to do it in 30 minutes, is, I’d say, legitimately hard. What strikes me as slightly weird about the passage is Buck’s protestation that he’s in good shape.

    The phrase just doesn’t give us much information. “Good shape” can mean many different abilities and levels of fitness, depending on who you’re talking to. Here it just gives the sense of Buck feeling mildly embarrassed to be in a situation outside his comfort zone and protesting, “Hey, I’m in good shape!” (Or perhaps the sense of the *authors* protesting that their beloved self-insert is in good shape.) Not that this is out of character for His Entitled Whininess, Lord Buckington. It’s just that if the authors want to impress us with how hard Buck’s current trek is, they’re going to have to be a bit more specific

    If L&J wanted to give us more information (and maybe actually impress us), they’d need to say something like, “On previous assignments, Buck had tramped for days through South American rain forests and carried video equipment into the foothills of Nepal, but never had he been quite so weary as now, as the mud sucked at his shoes and thorns slapped his face.”

    Or maybe they’d like to give Buck a moment of humility. But then they’d have to write something like: “A feeling alien to Buck came over him: a feeling of weakness, of insufficiency. He began to realize that his thrice-weekly jogs of two or three miles on the treadmill and occasional bike trips had come nowhere near preparing him for slogging through unknown terrain, his ankles twisting repeatedly in the uneven ground and his last meal a distant memory.”

    *(leaving aside the fact that I can’t quite picture this overgrown, uneven sandy shoreline)

  • ScorpioUndone

    You mean like us, torturing ourselves with twelve+ books of this dreck?