T.F.: A beautiful Fifth Avenue penthouse

T.F.: A beautiful Fifth Avenue penthouse November 1, 2011

Tribulation Force, pp. 428-430

Buck and Chloe had settled in Buck’s beautiful Fifth Avenue penthouse, but any joy normal newlyweds might have received from a place like that was lost on them.

Let me first express my relief and gratitude that we readers are spared any account of the joy of normal newlyweds. Just a few pages ago, Buck Williams and Chloe Steele were both chaste virgins and now, presumably, they are not, but the less said about that the better.

Jerry Jenkins seems not to realize that the category of “normal newlyweds” can’t be stretched to apply to the context of a “Fifth Avenue penthouse.” Buck and his new bride have moved into some of the most expensive housing on the planet. Working for the Antichrist apparently pays really well.

As a “journalist,” Buck has never reported on what he knows about the source of Nicolae’s vast wealth. That fortune — the money that pays for Buck’s salary and his Manhattan penthouse — was inherited from international banker Jonathan Rothschild Rockefeller Illuminati Stonagal. It comes, in other words, from a man whom Buck watched die, sitting quietly without a peep of protest as Nicolae shot him in cold blood. Buck never requested or solicited the hush money now paying for his penthouse, but he’s still happily cashing Nicolae’s checks.

Chloe kept up her research and study on the Internet. …

I’m not really sure what the authors mean by “research.” Tim LaHaye insists that his End Times prophecies are taken verbatim from the “literal” words of the Bible. If it’s all as self-evident and straightforward as he says, then why does she need to do any additional research? The footnotes of a Scofield prophecy reference Bible explain all the jumping around and restitching of the text needed to string together the basic premillennial dispensationalist check list. All the additional books she might need to consult would fit on a single shelf. So what’s she surfing around on the Internet for?

The answer, I suppose, is that she’s doing what people like Jack Van Impe do for a living — combing through the news from all over the world in search of anything that might be interpreted as the fulfillment of “Bible prophecy.”

But there’s no point in her doing that either. She doesn’t need to discern the signs of the times — the times are now. The rapturing away of her mother and brother and billions of others made that clear enough. There’s no longer any need for the kind of “research” into current events being done now in the real world by self-proclaimed prophecy scholars like LaHaye, Van Impe, Hal Lindsay or John Hagee. You don’t need to check the local radar online when you can see the tornado approaching right outside your window.

Buck had been praying about whether to tell Chloe of [ex-]President Fitzhugh’s warning about New York City and Washington. Fitzhugh was well-connected and undoubtedly accurate, but Buck couldn’t spend his life running from danger. Life was perilous these days, and war and destruction could break out anywhere.

If those prophecies Chloe is researching are true, then actually war and destruction are about to break out everywhere. But after being specifically warned that New York City was about to be attacked, Buck’s lack of concern seems foolish and his failure to share this warning with Chloe seems cruel. Life is perilous these days, he shrugs. The Hypothetical Bus could strike at any time, so there’s no point in getting out of the street or paying any attention to the headlights bearing down on you. You can’t spend your life running from danger.

The quotes above are from the short Buck-and-Chloe section on page 430, which really seems as though it should have come before this Buck-and-Chloe section back on page 428:

Chloe broke down when she read her father’s email about Hattie. “Buck, we have failed that woman. We have all failed her. … We have to do more. We have to get to her somehow, talk to her.”

Chloe is right. She and Buck do have a serious obligation to try to rescue Hattie from her fate. They owe it to her. They owe her a debt of gratitude for helping to introduce them and prodding them to start dating. And they both feel they owe Hattie something for having wronged her in the past. Buck introduced her to the Antichrist, so without his involvement she wouldn’t have wound up where she is today, carrying the love-child of the 10-horned Beast from the Abyss. And Chloe, I think, feels guilty due to her father’s long mistreatment of Hattie. By stringing her along for so many years, Rayford created, or at least reinforced, the pattern of manipulation by a father figure that left Hattie vulnerable to Nicolae.

More generally, Buck and Chloe possess a great, life-giving secret. They have The Key — the hidden knowledge that is the only thing that can save Hattie not just from the years of cruel suffering that lie ahead, but from eternal torture thereafter in Hell.

We should note again that this idea reflects a big departure from the more conventional Christian understanding of the gospel. It seems more like a Gnostic view, with salvation or enlightenment achieved through initiation into secret knowledge. But these are the rules in the universe of the Left Behind series, so whether or not this is how actual Christians in the actual world think of — or ought to think of — the meaning of “salvation,” that’s how it works in these pages for these characters. Given that, and given how “perilous” life has become in the Great Tribulation, it would seem that Buck and Chloe have an urgent moral obligation to share their secret mystery knowledge with Hattie and Steve Plank and Chaim Rosenzweig and everyone else they can possibly reach as quickly as possible.

I think that urgent obligation is intended to be one of the main lessons in this book. That’s why we’ve seen Rayford desperately, if awkwardly, attempting to convince his co-workers of the truth of this secret knowledge. But neither Chloe nor Buck has displayed any such desperate urgency. Chloe has been living almost a cloistered life — shut away in her studies with very little contact with outsiders. (She may feel a special concern for Hattie just because Hattie is the only “unsaved” person she knows.) And Buck has been working to conceal that secret knowledge, to keep it hidden from his millions of readers and from his closest friends and associates, actively misleading Steve and Chaim when it seems like they’ve gotten too close to figuring out what he knows.

“We have failed that woman,” Chloe said, “We have all failed her.” But it’s hard not to read this section as a rebuke of Buck specifically. He was supposed to have attended to the Hattie Situation several chapters ago.

By this point in the book it has become routine for our protagonists to rub elbows with the Antichrist, working by his side, hanging out and regularly engaging in small talk with the mind-reading incarnation of pure evil. In the early chapters of Tribulation Force, however, a face-to-face encounter with Nicolae was portrayed as a harrowing ordeal that put one’s life and soul in jeopardy. Buck endured that grave danger earlier in this book expressly for the chance it might afford him to talk to Hattie and to try to rescue her from the Antichrist’s clutches. Once he got there, though, he didn’t even try. She greeted him, he sneered at her silently, and he left without even attempting to speak to her.

No one in the book has asked Buck about that failure — about that refusal to even try to do what he supposedly had gone to Nicolae’s offices to do. But the whole time he was there, Chloe had been back in Chicago, weaving a magical shield of prayer to protect him from the Antichrist’s power long enough for him to reach Hattie. Chloe can’t have forgotten about that, even if the authors themselves apparently have.

So Chloe’s lament that “we have failed that woman” also reads like a pointed reminder to her husband of his self-centered cowardice and failure. Such a complaint is interesting coming now, during the first blush of newlywed bliss. It’s a sign, perhaps, that Chloe (or maybe meta-Chloe) isn’t entirely impressed with her new husband and his “beautiful Fifth Avenue penthouse.” It’s a sign, perhaps, that she is aware that such extravagance, paid for with the Antichrist’s blood-money, comes at a high price. And that she is uneasy with her husband’s willingness and eagerness to pay that price.

The authors want us to see Chloe here as a humble helpmeet to her righteously heroic husband, but there’s also a glimmer of something unbidden and unintended — a glimpse that meta-Chloe realizes she’s less like Lois Lane than she is like Carmela Soprano.

For his part, Buck does what he always does whenever anyone proposes bold and decisive action: He explains why he couldn’t possibly be expected to do that.

“We have to get to her somehow, talk to her.”

“And have her know that I’m a believer, just like your dad is? It doesn’t seem to matter that Nicolae’s pilot is a Christian, but can you imagine how long I would last as his magazine publisher if he knew I was?”

The possessive pronoun there is telling — “his magazine publisher.” Bought and paid for. And I can’t help but picture him gesturing with his arm, indicating the full sweep of his “beautiful Fifth Avenue penthouse” as he says, “can you imagine how long I would last.”

It’s difficult sometimes to remember that we readers are supposed to like Buck Williams. The authors seem not to realize how unattractive his cowardice can be or how hard it is for readers to root for a character when he’s arguing that he can’t risk his privilege because that might threaten his ability to reform the Antichrist’s tyranny by working within the system.

“What are you going to do, Chloe? Tell her she’s carrying the Antichrist’s child and that she ought to leave him?”

“It may come to that.”

If all else fails, Chloe says, and if every other possible course of action is exhausted, then they just might be forced to resort to telling Hattie the truth.

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