Tribulation Force, pp. 236-243
Tribulation Force gathers in Bruce’s office for their meeting.
announces that he wants everyone “to put on the table everything that
was happening in each life.” He goes first, repeating his usual maudlin
refrain about “his own sense of inadequacy” and shame, guilt, etc.
also admitted his loneliness and fatigue. “Especially,” he said, “as I
think about this pull toward traveling and trying to unite the little
pockets of what the Bible calls ‘tribulation saints.’”
the thing about “what the Bible calls ‘tribulation saints’”: The Bible
never calls them that. You won’t find that phrase in the Bible, or any
close-sounding term referring to any such group of people. You won’t
find any reference to any such group at all. The term and the idea are
part of Tim LaHaye’s End Times framework, but they can’t be found in the
The closest you could come to such a
thing, and the passage Bruce/LaHaye would cite to defend the claim that
“the Bible” says anything about it, is this, from Revelation 13:7:
Beast] was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer
them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people language and
That, Bruce/LaHaye says, tells us of
the tribulation saints suffering under the Antichrist. Even if it never
mentions either one. John of Patmos was writing, explicitly, “To the
seven churches in the province of Asia.” Interpreting that “literally,”
LaHaye believes John’s book was actually addressed to the post-church
“tribulation saints,” 2,000 years in the future, far away from the
province of Asia Minor. This again is the sort of thing Tim LaHaye
always means when he says he’s interpreting the Bible “literally.” John,
writing to actual Christians in an actual place during an actual time
of actual persecution, wasn’t actually addressing any of those things.
Not those Christians in that time and place, and not that persecution.
you adopt the habit of this kind of “literal interpretation,” it’s not
much of a leap to say that the Bible speaks of “tribulation saints,” or
of “The Antichrist” or “the Rapture” or of “longtime New York Mets first
baseman Ed Kranepool.” None of those things are ever mentioned,
directly or indirectly, in the Bible, but they are all routinely
described by Bruce and the authors as being spoken of directly by that
text. (Except, of course, for Ed Kranepool — who unlike those others
Buck half-listens to Bruce,
but what he’s really thinking the whole time is that he “wanted to come
right out and ask why he hadn’t simply signed a card on Chloe’s
flowers.” You know, the really important stuff.
going to give Jerry Jenkins credit here for another piece of apt, if
unintended, realism. This is exactly how most small-group Bible studies
work. The leader asks everyone to go around the circle and share what is
“happening in each life,” and the members mostly, like Buck, only half
listen, concentrating instead on what they’re going to say when it’s
their turn, or on what they’d like each speaker to be discussing instead
of whatever it is they’re actually prattling on about. It ain’t pretty,
but it rings true.
Bruce finally captures
Buck’s full attention by discussing something Buck is interested in:
“This may shock all of you, because I
have not expressed an opinion yet, but Buck and Rayford, I think both of
you should seriously consider accepting these jobs.”
threw the meeting into an uproar. …
agrees that Rayford ought to take his offer, and Rayford agrees that
Buck ought to take his, but both continue — as they have for the past
200 pages — to insist that their lofty principles forbid them from
working for the Antichrist, even as a double-agent.
the advantage?” Rayford said.
“Maybe little to
you personally,” Buck said, “except for the income. But don’t you think
it would be of great benefit to us to have that kind of access to the
He has a point. I can’t imagine,
for example, that any agent of the French Resistance would have turned
down the chance to serve as Marshal Petain’s chauffeur.
bizarre here, though, is that everyone seems to regard “income” as a
factor worthy of consideration. There wouldn’t be a whole lot of
advantages to being what the Bible never calls “tribulation saints,” but
one such advantage, if there were such a thing, would be no longer
needing to worry much about income or saving for retirement. I’m
guessing that whatever Rayford has in the bank would be more than enough
to last the next seven years. Supplement that with an aggressive
reverse mortgage and he and Chloe could live comfortably until kingdom
come while devoting their full attention to the agenda of the
But then the Tribulation
Force doesn’t really have an agenda other than the vague outlines of
Bruce’s Big Hole Master Plan (dig a big hole; hide in it). And none of its members have yet
begun to grasp the finality of their final seven-year countdown. So
they’re still oddly considering things like income and benefits when
discussing Rayford and Buck’s job prospects.
Buck said, “the very fact that you’re not angling for it is a good
sign. If you wanted it, knowing what you know now, we would all be
worried about you."
Rayford’s reluctance, the
authors assert for the hundredth time, is a sign of his humility. And
that can be true. It can also be true, however, that a showy pose of
reluctance is a sign of false humility. We discussed last week how the
extravagant reluctance of Rayford and Buck has functioned in this book
to allow Jenkins to introduce an array of characters who come forward to
try to persuade them, and how each of these characters seems to exist
mainly to assert how very extra specially special our heroes are. But
there’s also a real-world counterpart here to the protagonists’ getting
dragged against their will into these positions of prestige and power.
Their reluctance comes straight out of Beverly LaHaye’s personal
Tim LaHaye’s wife is an influential
lobbyist and the chief executive of a massive organization. Concerned
Women for America advocates “traditional” gender roles. They attribute
many of the ills afflicting America to the evils of feminism, which has
lured many women to abandon their divinely ordained role by pursuing
careers and “work outside the home.” But Beverly LaHaye herself works
outside the home. She runs the company, and she does that from an office
3,000 miles from her husband’s home.
of that would be terribly wrong of her if she had wanted any of it, if
she had chosen it for herself or even enjoyed the thought of such
ambitions. But Beverly LaHaye insists it was all God's will, not her
own. God dragged her kicking and screaming into the executive suite and
into the halls of power. So that makes it OK.
than just OK, actually. Conveniently, it also makes it beyond criticism
I think there’s a bit of that
going on here in the long saga of Rayford and Buck refusing
to accept these jobs offers. Mostly, though, I think it’s just
over-the-top false humility.
So Buck tries to
convince Rayford to take his job while Rayford refuses, trying to
convince Buck to take his:
“Maybe I should take
your job and you should take mine,” Buck said, and finally they were
able to laugh.
You can see where this is
headed, but then you could see where this was headed 200 pages ago when
both characters first began insisting that they would never, ever accept
Chloe broke the logjam. “I think
you should both take the jobs. … One or both of you should get as close
to [Nicolae] as possible.”
Buck counters with a
three-point argument: 1) I’m scared of Nicolae; 2) Nicolae is scary;
and 3) I have journalistic principles that in this case conveniently
allow me to avoid doing scary things. Chloe deals with each of these
objections in turn.
“I was close to him once,”
Buck said. “And that’s more than enough.”
all you care about is your own sanity and safety,” Chloe pressed. … “But
without someone on the inside, Carpathia is going to deceive everyone.”
as soon as I tell what’s really happening,” Buck said, “he’ll eliminate
“Maybe. But maybe God will protect you
too. Maybe all you’ll be able to do is tell us what’s happening so we
can tell the believers.”
“I’d have to sell out
every journalistic principle I have.”
those are more sacred than your responsibilities to your brothers and
sisters in Christ?”
I think Chloe gives Buck
too much credit on that last point. If his objection were really driven
by his concern for “journalistic principle,” then he’d have brought that
Once Chloe takes charge the argument
is over pretty quickly. No one really has any response or rebuttal,
even though she’s advocating a major departure from Bruce’s Big Hole Master Plan.
But arguments and reasoning aren’t
how the Tribulation Force makes decisions. What matters, as always, is
passionate sincerity. Nothing conjures up a visceral sense of passionate
sincerity quite like fervently earnest prayer, so Bruce suggests a
round of doubly earnest, extra-fervent prayer.
suggested they pray on their knees — something each had done
privately, but not as a group. Bruce brought his chair to the other side
of the desk, and the four of them turned and knelt.
follows is two pages of something a better or a wiser writer wouldn’t
even have attempted. We’ve discussed several times previously the
problem of attempting to portray spiritual intimacy and spiritual
ecstasy. It is, like sexual intimacy and sexual ecstasy, a real thing
and a good thing and a sacred thing. But it is also, like sexual
intimacy and sexual ecstasy, an intensely private thing — a thing that
it is almost impossible to portray without being pornographic or
laughable or both at once.
The group kneels to
pray and I think, “Oh, no. Fade to black, for the love of all that's holy — fade to black!”
doesn’t. He’s determined to walk us through this. The result is not
quite the voyeuristic embarrassment I dreaded. Instead of feeling like
an unseemly intruder on another’s intimate moment, I find myself merely
unconvinced. I believe that Rayford passionately and sincerely wants to
be passionate and sincere, but I can’t quite believe he is. Jenkins’
description of this prayer session is at once overly eager to please and
oddly detached, like a transcription of glossolalia.
the best of it:
The overwhelming sense of
unworthiness seemed to crush him, and he slipped to the floor and lay
prostrate on the carpet. A fleeting thought of how ridiculous he must
look assailed him, but he quickly pushed it aside. No one was watching,
no one cared. And anyone who thought the sophisticated airplane pilot
had taken leave of his senses would have been right.
stretched his long frame flat on the floor, the backs of his hands on
the gritty carpet, his face buried in his palms. Occasionally one of the
others would pray aloud briefly, and Rayford realized that all of them
were now facedown on the floor.
track of time, knowing only vaguely that minutes passed with no one
saying anything. He had never felt so vividly the presence of God.
bit with the gritty carpet isn’t bad, but mainly methinks the man doth
testify too much. I can’t believe the lavish assertions of
“unworthiness” from a man who reflexively describes himself to himself
as “the sophisticated airline pilot.” The reader doesn’t get a sense of
Rayford communing with the vivid presence of God, but of Rayford
communing vividly with Rayford’s sense of Rayford’s devotion. God
doesn’t need to be present for that sort of religious experience. I’m
not sure that sort of religious experience even allows room for God.
was not sure how long he lay there, praying, listening. After a while
he heard Bruce get up and take his seat, humming a hymn. Soon they all
sang quietly and returned to their chairs. All were teary-eyed. Finally
“We have experienced something
unusual,” he said.
And in the hushed and holy
afterglow of this mysterious, sacred encounter with the numinous, they
realize that it is at last time to confront the matter of Bruce and the
I’m not kidding. Jenkins segues
directly from prostrate weeping to who sent the flowers?
there is anything between any of us that needs to be confessed or
forgiven,” Bruce continues as they all sit there, teary-eyed, “let’s not
leave here without doing that.”
something I would like clarified,” Chloe responds. “I received some
flowers anonymously …”
And just that suddenly
you go from feeling like you’re watching worship porn to feeling like
you’re watching a worship-porno blooper and gag reel.
the record, Bruce didn’t send the flowers after all. Once he clears
that up, they resume the usual business of a Trib Force meeting as
though they hadn't “experienced something unusual” and nobody says
anything more about the flowers and/or the spiritual ecstasy until
they’re getting ready to leave.
Buck turned to
Rayford. “As wonderful as that prayer time was, I didn’t get any direct
leading about what to do.”
must be the only two.” Bruce glanced at Chloe and she nodded. “It’s
pretty clear to us what you should do.”
that it’s the two non-POV characters who “got” the “direct leading.”
That handily allows the authors to avoid having to describe what such
explicit divine guidance looks like. Or, more accurately, what it feels
like, because such “direct leading” isn’t usually regarded as something
seen or heard as much as something felt. And having to describe what
such feelings feel like or how they might be deemed meaningful apart
from any recourse to reason or experience or evidence — any of which
would diminish the directness of this direct leading — might jeopardize
the whole racket. To describe such things would be to risk exposing
claims of such “direct leading” to the sort of evaluation that would
undermine their function as trump-cards of unquestionable authority.
me be clear. I’m not saying that the sort of “direct leading”
explicitly cited but only vaguely described here is impossible. Maybe
God is trying to tell you something. But it could just as possibly be an
undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a
fragment of an underdone potato.
claims to have received “direct leading” from God, then I don’t regard
the depth of their passion or sincerity as having any bearing on the
validity of their claim. Nor am I particularly concerned with whether
they’re hearing voices, seeing visions, dreaming dreams or just getting
some kind of feeling in their gut. What I’m most interested in is the substance of this alleged leading. You say God is leading you to go back
to school to become a teacher? Well, maybe that’s so. You say God is
leading you to pursue a music ministry? Well, I’ve heard you sing, and
you might want to double-check that one. You say God wants you to
sacrifice your first-born son? Now I’m sure you’re wrong, but stay right
here and tell me more about it while I just quickly dial these three
The prophet Micah says, “What does
the Lord require of you? To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with
your God.” That right there is some pretty direct leading.
you tell me that you’ve received a “direct” message from God to do
justice, love mercy and walk humbly, I’m inclined to believe you. If you
tell me that God has given you some kind of “direct leading” away from
justice, love, mercy and humility, then I say “Bah, humbug.”
Buck nor Rayford seems interested in hearing more about the explicit
supernatural instruction that Bruce claims to have just received about
their respective futures. That seems odd. “God has just spoken to Chloe
and I about your future,” Bruce tells them. “OK, then, good night,” they
Shouldn’t they at least be a little bit
curious? I mean, if somebody said, “Hey, I was just talking to George
Clooney the other day and he said something about you,” wouldn’t you
want to know what it was he said? And if that’s true for George Clooney,
shouldn’t it also be somewhat more true for, you know, God?
Buck and Rayford just leave without discussing this direct leading any
further. Buck walks Chloe to her car, but even though his girlfriend has
just indicated that she has received a personal transmission from the
Lord of Hosts about the specifics of his future, he doesn’t ask her
anything about what God had to say. Instead, he just teases her about
having a “secret admirer.”
says, “who do you think it is?”
flowers are apparently a far more powerful tool of sabotage than I would
have thought. One well-timed bouquet has derailed and disrupted the
entire Tribulation Force for more than 240 pages so far.
wonder if this works in real life. Picture this: Concerned Women for
America is about to launch its next big legislative campaign against
equal rights for homosexuals when a delivery man arrives with a giant
bouquet of flowers for Beverly LaHaye. The unsigned and untraceable card
says only “Always.” It might not work, but it could be worth a try.