TF: Regional sales force awards banquet

TF: Regional sales force awards banquet April 26, 2011

Tribulation Force, pp. 368-374

More than 800 pages into this story the Antichrist finally signs his big peace treaty with Israel. This, according to Tim LaHaye’s Bible prophecy scheme, officially heralds the start of the End of the World.

Everything we have read up to this point has occurred in LaHaye’s prophetic limbo period — an unstable interim between the Rapture of the real, true Christians and the onset of the seven-year “Great Tribulation” during which God will pour out his wrath, taking a series of final brutal shots at the earth and all that is in it.

This chapter of Tribulation Force is thus about the most important thing to happen since the very beginning of the story. The treaty-signing is something Jerry Jenkins wants to portray as prophetically important and portentous.

Unfortunately, portentous is not Jenkins’ forte. His depiction of this treaty-signing ceremony is further hobbled by his apparently never having seen anything like such a ceremony — never having watched any such formal state ceremony on C-SPAN, never even apparently having attended a local school board swearing-in or anything remotely like what he’s trying to portray here. The whole thing thus comes across like a local Kiwanis luncheon or maybe like the annual awards banquet for a regional sales force. Instead of the kind of formal pomp and speechifying one might expect to accompany such an event, Jenkins presents the Antichrist and the American president as ill-prepared emcees winging it at a wedding reception.

Set aside the “Bible prophecy” implications of inaugurating the Great Tribulation and this would still be a momentous occasion. The state of Israel is agreeing to disarm — signing a treaty that it is fully confident will ensure its security without the need to preserve the military strength it has relied on for its very survival ever since its inception. This is peace in the Middle East — the elusive goal of statesmen and politicians for generations. Yet in Jenkins’ rendition, no one has any prepared remarks and the whole affair is conducted with the ad hoc sloppiness of an employee-of-the-month ceremony.

By the end of the chapter Jenkins seems to have realized that he has come up short in portraying the gravity and import he was striving for, so he tacks on this coda:

At the famed Wall, the two witnesses wailed the truth. At the tops of their voices, the sound carrying to the far reaches of the Temple Mount and beyond, they called out the news: “Thus begins the last terrible week of the Lord!”

The seven-year “week” had begun.

The Tribulation.

That’s an odd little addendum in that neither Buck nor Rayford is on hand to witness this proclamation. This objective, omniscient scene breaks with the limited and subjective approach Jenkins has stuck with up until now, telling readers only that which is directly observed by one of his protagonists.

That’s a stylistic lapse. I would call it a mistake, except that I think the larger mistake has been not doing this more often. The story of the End of the World is, by definition, a global story and it’s useful to remind readers of that occasionally by giving them glimpses of perspectives from around the world — perspectives other than the narrow views of two narrow-minded narrators. The account of the rapture in the previous book would have benefitted greatly from many more viewpoints from around the world. So too would the coming accounts of all the global calamities of the Tribulation.

Alas, though, this instance is just an aberration. After this one brief intrusion of the two witnesses (acting here like the weird sisters from Macbeth) Jenkins reverts back to only showing us what his two dim and oblivious witnesses perceive.

That perspective, as I mentioned, doesn’t serve either Jenkins or his readers well during his account of the treaty signing. Buck and Rayford remain as self-absorbed and distracted as ever, sticking to their Prime Directive of prophetic fatalism and non-interference.

Chaim Rosenzweig turned to beam at Buck, who smiled at him. Buck wished he could rescue his friend from this debacle, but the time was not right. All he could do was let the man enjoy the moment, for he would not have too many more to enjoy. …

Flash units were erupting all over, recording for posterity the dignitaries lending their support to this historic covenant. And Buck was the only one in the picture who knew who Carpathia was, who knew that the signing of the treaty would officially usher in the Tribulation.

I was being somewhat facetious when I used that same word earlier — “officially.” But as you can see there, that really is how the authors conceive of their End Times check list. It is a strict and meticulous schedule, officiated over by divinely appointed officials. (I’m picturing an angel with a stopwatch and a whistle, but I can’t decide if he should be dress like the platform conductor at a railway station or in the striped shirt of a football referee.)

Once the offstage announcer is finished introducing all the participants in this treaty ceremony, Jenkins injects another odd interlude of slapstick as Buck gets tangled in his own jacket while trying to affix his GIRAT badge:

Suddenly Buck remembered the Velcro-backed Global Weekly patch in his side pocket. As he pulled it out to apply it to his breast pocket, the Velcro caught the flap over the side pocket and held fast. As Buck lifted, his entire jacket pulled up over his belt, and when he let go, the hem stayed up by his shirt. By the time he smoothed out his jacked and used both hands to yank the patch free, he had been photographed a dozen times looking like a contortionist.

We’ve encountered a handful of these scenes ever since Buck’s first pratfall exiting the airplane in the first book. I guess these are meant to inject a bit of humor into the misery of the End Times, but they also serve another purpose. These slapstick mishaps are Jenkins’ attempt at humility. Or, at least, his attempt to counter likely criticism of the flawless and infallible awesomeness of his surrogate character.

The authors’ egos couldn’t bear to attribute any meaningful flaws to their respective stand-ins, so Jenkins turns to things like this bit with the Velcro in an attempt to shield himself from the accusation of Mary Sue-ism. His avatar, Buck Williams, is thus portrayed as a bit of a schlimazel. The little mishaps that befall him are never really his fault, or anything that he could be faulted for. They don’t indicate any real failings on his part because Jenkins still desperately needs readers to admire Buck, to regard him as the object of desire for women and the object of bitter jealousy for men (or for women in sensible shoes).

The irony, of course, is that these tacked-on nonflaws are superfluous. Yes, the Buck Williams that Jenkins has been telling us about is implausibly perfect — a paragon of wit, charm, sophistication, virtue and professional skill. But at the same time the Buck Williams that Jenkins has been showing us is a deeply flawed, immoral, craven, incompetent journalistic failure — an antihero every bit as warped and stunted as Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, if not quite as likable. So on one level these interludes of slapstick are insufficient. On another level they’re redundant.

When the applause died and the crowd resumed their seats, Carpathia stood, microphone in hand. “This is an historic day,” he began with a smile …

Holding the mic like a daytime talk-show host, Nicolae begins another example of what Jenkins tells us is the greatest oratory in the history of the world. It actually amounts to Nicolae ladling goopy praise onto the other dignitaries present and saying nothing more remarkable or original or momentous than, “This is an historic day.”

When I described Nicolae as acting more like an emcee than a statesman here, I was thinking of bits like this, after he has introduced President Fitzhugh as “the greatest friend Israel has ever had”:

More thunderous applause, Fitzhugh rose a few inches from his chair to acknowledge the response, and just when it was about to die down, Carpathia himself kept it going, tucking the microphone under his arm and stepping back to applaud loudly himself.

I can’t help but picture the Antichrist here as that oily character Eric Idle always played so well in Monty Python, but for this authors this bit of hackneyed glad-handing is meant to be seen as further evidence of Nicolae’s supernatural charisma and his nefarious ability to manipulate others. “Buck was amazed at Carpathia’s ability to control the crowd,” they gush, as though such genius had never before been seen on earth. Nicolae half-drags Fitzhugh out of his seat and sticks the microphone in his hand as Buck marvels at the wonder of it all.

The president mutters an impromptu speech in praise of the treaty and of Nicolae’s efforts to bring it about. As he speaks, Buck’s spiritual-sense starts tingling, alerting him that the Antichrist’s evil mind-control mojo has been unleashed on the unsuspecting president:

Buck knew Carpathia was at work. And while he didn’t expect to witness a murder, as he had in New York, Buck became immediately convinced  that Carpathia had caused something every bit as sinister. For the Gerald Fitzhugh speaking to the enthusiastic throng was anything but the frustrated president Buck had met with just minutes before.

Buck felt his neck grow warm and his knees weaken as Fitzhugh spoke. He leaned forward and gripped the back of Rosenzweig’s chair, trying in vain to keep from trembling. Buck felt the clear presence of evil, and nausea nearly overtook him. … Buck’s head swam and he fought to keep his equilibrium.

This is useful information for those of us readers who have been trying to determine the parameters of Nicolae’s mind-control powers. It seems he is able to make Fitzhugh his puppet only when in close physical proximity. Standing near them, Buck is wracked by the effects of these evil mind-rays. But when we cut back to Rayford’s point of view a few paragraphs later, he has no idea that this is happening:

Rayford kept a close eye on Buck. The man did not look well. Buck had seemed to nearly topple, and Rayford wondered if it was the heat or merely the nauseating mutual-admiration-society speeches that were turning Buck green around the gills.

So Buck is almost bowled over, but Rayford — sitting in the front row just a 10 or 20 yards away — is completely unaffected. Nicolae’s powers apparently can’t travel as far as a bullet can. That would be useful information for a resistance group made up of his sworn enemies.

If only there were such a group in this story.

I should note that nothing Fitzhugh actually says in his speech varies at all from what he earlier told Buck in secret, away from the influence of Nicolae’s supposed mind-control. Well, only one thing — he of course devotes a large portion of his speech to the matter of Air Force One, the most important topic on everyone’s mind, and here he pretends to be happy about surrendering the plane.

But apart from that, the opinions he expresses here are exactly the same illegal opinions he expressed to Buck:

“The secretary-general’s idea for global disarmament is a stroke of genius. I support it without reservation and am proud to lead the way to the rapid destruction of 90 percent of our weapons and the donation of the other 10 percent to Global Community, under Mr. Carpathia’s direction.”

Once again no mention is made of this violating the Constitution and Fitzhugh’s oath of office. And once again this very sketchy plan is sketched out so hurriedly that the authors hope no one reading their story — and no one in their story — will be tempted to pause to think about how any of that is supposed to work. How will this destruction of arsenals be carried out? How will it be verified? And how is “Global Community” supposed to receive those donations of the remaining 10 percent? It doesn’t posses any territory of its own — no military bases, no depots, no ports, no air fields, no missile silos.

I’m picturing Hattie and Steve carting crates of ammunition through the lobby of the Plaza and into Nicolae’s suite where Chaim stands with a clipboard saying things like, “Dutch grenades? Put them over there with the Belgian bullets, by the potted fern.”

Even if Nicolae had an army of minions and a place to store or deploy all this weaponry, this plan would still be more of a logistical nightmare than a stroke of genius. It simply would not work. It is not workable — particularly not with only seven years remaining in which to get it done, seven turbulent years constantly interrupted by earthquake and meteor and cataclysm.

So once again we find that Tim LaHaye’s “Bible prophecy” depends not just on the unlikely, but on the impossible.

That’s convenient. Most false prophets require us to wait around to see whether or not their prophesies come true before we can say, definitively, that they are indeed false prophets. But we don’t have to wait to realize with certainty that nothing like LaHaye’s nonsense can or will ever occur.

Finally, somewhat anticlimactically, the treaty is signed:

And the signers of this treaty — all except one — were ignorant of its consequences, unaware they had been party to an unholy alliance.

A covenant had been struck. God’s chosen people, who planned to rebuild the temple and reinstitute the systems of sacrifices until the coming of their Messiah, had signed a deal with the devil.

Only two men on the dais knew this pact signaled the beginning of the end of time. One was maniacally hopeful; the other trembled at what was to come.

Premillennial dispensationalist Bible prophecy enthusiasts are great supporters of Israel. The convention is that this should shield them from accusations of anti-Semitism just because they like to say that the Jews are in league with the devil. I’m not sure I understand that convention.

It’s intriguing that Nicolae Carpathia here is described — in contrast to the RTC Buck — as “hopeful.” So once again the Antichrist in this story displays the cardinal virtues while the Christian in this story does not. (See also: the Beatitudes, the fruits of the spirit, etc.)

Browse Our Archives