Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist, pp. 227-230
Here we come to an unsettling little interlude concerning the eternal fate of Jaime, last name unknown, the loyal friend, diligent chauffeur, confidante and companion of former-Rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah.
Jaime was dead: to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that. He was killed by evil Jewish assassins in the service of the evil Jewish Israeli government which is Jewish and therefore lethally anti-Christian and therefore evil.
But Jaime was Jewish, too — an upright, Hebrew-speaking Israeli citizen. He is therefore the exception that disproves the rule. No fair accusing Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins of writing an anti-Semitic story just because it portrays Jews as being more of a deadly threat to the good guys than even the Antichrist himself, because these evil Jews don’t only kill Christians — they also kill other Jews. Plus some of the authors’
best friends favorite characters are Jewish, so how could they possibly be anti-Semitic?
Anyway, the same evil Jewish assassins who slaughtered Tsion’s wife and children also killed his chauffeur with a car bomb. Buck Williams knows this. Tsion suspects this — he knows how evil the evil Israelis can be, and that no one who was close to him is safe. But still reeling from the murder of his family, he hasn’t yet asked his friend Buck, directly, if Jaime was also among those killed.
That’s this scene. This is the scene where Tsion asks Buck if Jaime the limo-driver is dead too.
Buck is driving south out of Jericho, making a run for the border in an old school bus with Tsion crouched down in the back, singing, praying and weeping as they drive into the night. And then this:
“Cameron, there is something I would like to talk to you about.”
“I want you to know that I am deeply grateful that you have sacrificed your time and risked your life to come for me.”
“No friend would do less, Tsion. I’ve felt a deep bond with you since the day you first took me to the Wailing Wall. And then we had to flee together after your television broadcast.”
“We have been through some incredible experiences, it is true,” Tsion said. “That is why I knew if I could merely get Dr. Rosenzweig to point you in the direction of the witnesses, you would find me. I did not dare let on to him where I was. …”
Just two good friends on a road trip, taking a moment to exchange expository summaries of all of their previous scenes together and to take turns congratulating the author’s vicarious stand-in for all of his outstanding qualities. You know, just like real people do when they’re talking like real people.
“… Even my driver knew only to take me to Michael and the other brothers in Jericho. My driver was so distraught at what happened to my family that he was in tears. We have been together for many years. Michael promised to keep him informed, but I would like to call him myself. Perhaps I can use your secure phone once we have passed the border.”
Buck didn’t know what to say. He had more confidence than Michael that Tsion could take yet more bad news, but why did he have to be the one to bear it? The intuitive rabbi seemed to immediately suspect Buck was hiding something. “What?” he asked. “Do you think it is too late to call him?”
“It is very late,” Buck said.
“But if the situation were reversed, I would be overjoyed to hear from him at any time of the day or night.”
“I’m sure he felt — feels the same,” Buck said lamely.
Buck peeked into the rearview mirror. Tsion stared at him, a look of realization coming over him. “Maybe I should call him now,” he suggested. “May I use your phone?”
“Tsion, you are always welcome to whatever I have. You know that. I would not phone him now, no.”
In the first book of this series, Buck agonized before his first meeting with Nicolae Carpathia, the man he had just realized must be the Antichrist, the superlative evil, the enemy of God and of all that is good. Buck knew that the Antichrist would eventually seek to kill everyone who became a Christian after the Rapture, and he worried that Nicolae might ask him about such Christians. That terrified Buck because he could not commit the sin of lying. If he were asked directly, he would be compelled to tell the Antichrist the full truth about himself, Chloe, Rayford, Bruce and everyone else he knew at the New Hope church (you know, like Loretta and that kid with the computers and whatsisname and That Other Guy). In that book and in that scene, the rules were clear and inviolable: Lying was forbidden — even lying to the Antichrist himself in order to save the lives of his fellow believers.
The stakes here are far, far lower. Here Buck is trying to avoid telling the truth simply to spare Tsion further emotional pain. Yet here Buck seems to view the whole prohibition against lying as much more flexible. He doesn’t say anything explicitly false, but he doesn’t want to tell the truth either.
I suppose everything Buck says above is technically not lying. But it’s also technically not fooling anybody, so it’s pretty pointless. Buck winds up cruelly prolonging his friend’s agony — delivering bad news in the most painful way possible.
When Tsion responded, Buck knew that he knew. His voice was flat, full of the pain that would plague him the rest of his days.
Bad writers are often like bad directors. “Try that line again,” says the bad director. “But this time I want your voice to be flat and full of pain.”
“Wait … which do you want? Flat? Or full of pain?”
“Both. And try to say it with a look of realization coming over you.”
“Cameron, his name was Jaime. He had been with me since I started teaching at the university. He was not an educated man; however, he was wise in the ways of the world. We talked much about my findings. He and my wife were the only ones besides my student assistants who knew what I was going to say on the television broadcast. He was close, Cameron. So close. But he is no longer with us, is he?”
Buck thought about merely shaking his head, but he could not do that. He busied himself looking for road signs for Hebron, but the rabbi, of course, would not let it go.
“Cameron, we are too close and have gone through too much for you to hold out on me now. Clearly you have been told the disposition of Jaime. You must understand that the toll the bad news has taken on me can be made neither worse by hearing more, nor better by hearing less. We believers in Christ, of all people, must never fear any truth, hard as it may be.”
“Jaime is dead,” Buck said.
It would have been kinder to have just said that two pages ago. But that bad news — “Jaime is dead” — isn’t the whole of the bad news here. The far worse news, “hard as it may be,” is that Jaime never prayed the magic words.
Jaime is in Hell.
Tsion hung his head. “He heard me preach so many times. He knew the gospel. Sometimes I even pushed him. He was not offended. He knew I cared about him. I can only hope and pray that perhaps after he delivered me to Michael, he had time to join the family. Tell me how it happened.”
“Instantaneous, then,” he said. “Perhaps he never knew what him him. Perhaps he did not suffer.”
I’m not sure why that should offer any consolation here. I understand why a quick and painless death is usually thought of as preferable to a slow, drawn-out process of agonizing pain, but in the case of unsaved Jaime, this instantaneous death meant he had no last chance to pray the magic prayer. What good is one last instant without pain if it is immediately followed by an eternity of conscious torment in Hell? It would have been better for Jaime to have been crucified slowly so that — like the thief at Calvary, he might have at least had that final agonizing opportunity to plead for salvation. Even the most agonizing earthly death, after all, is nothing compared to the suffering that poor Jaime now faces, forever and ever and ever, in Hell.
I really don’t know what to make of this scene. On the one hand, it’s admirable, in a sense, that the authors don’t flinch from the implications of their belief in Hell. In their theology, anyone who does not act to save themselves is damned for eternity. Jesus does not save sinners, in this theology, sinners save themselves by “accepting” Jesus. Jaime died without doing that, therefore Jaime is in Hell.
This saddens Tsion and Buck, and I believe in this case it is meant to sadden readers. That’s a somewhat refreshing change from these books’ usual delight over the damnation of the unrighteous. But Tsion, Buck and the authors can’t allow themselves to dwell on that sadness because Tim LaHaye’s theology can’t withstand any exploration of why that should make us sad.
We’re sad because we don’t want Jaime to be in Hell. He was a good guy. Every portrayal of him in this story was positive. He was loyal, faithful, reliable and brave. Those are good qualities and it seems wrong that someone who displayed such good qualities should be punished — punished absolutely with the same absolute punishment that awaits Nicolae and Stonagal and Fortunato and every other despicable villain in this story.
One cannot be sad for Jaime for very much longer than an instant or two without becoming angry as well as sad. For Jaime to be tortured for all of eternity seems unfair and unjust and simply wrong. Logic would suggest that if it seems unfair and unjust to us, then it must seem even more unfair and more unjust to God. But that’s not what LaHaye’s theology says. LaHaye’s theology says that anything less than the eternal, never-ending torture of Jaime would offend God’s insatiable need for vengeance.
The damnation of Jaime, then, seems like a dangerous subject for this book to have addressed. It tempts us to mourn for Jaime, and mourning for Jaime borders on blasphemy — on thinking that we are more loving, more just, more good than God.
Or perhaps, even more dangerously, this scene briefly exposes readers to the reality of LaHaye’s theology — which teaches that, in fact, we are more loving, more just and more good than this hellish God of insatiable vengeance.
The most peculiar thing about this discussion of Jaime’s eternal fate is that it doesn’t fall into the usual pattern of Christian-brand fiction’s discussions of Hell. In “Christian fiction,” Hell is almost always mentioned as a warning. Occasionally that warning is issued directly to any potential unsaved reader — as a warning to get saved lest you wind up being tortured forever in Hell.
Usually, though, Hell is discussed mainly as a cautionary tale for readers to urge them to be more forceful and persistent in proselytizing others. It’s usually more along the lines of this awful “evangelistic” video — “A Letter From Hell“:
(Above the iron gates of Hell is written “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” — in comic sans.)
That video is a horrible failure on so many levels — artistic, theological, moral — but at least the Youth Minster From Hell who produced and posted it had some idea of what he was trying to do and what he was trying to say. He was trying to beat his church kids over the head with a fire-and-brimstone guilt trip to inspire them to bring more of their friends from school back here to church. The video ultimately runs into all the same problems as LaHaye and Jenkins do, in that God’s delight in the torture of “Josh” is just as despicable as God’s delight in the torture of Jaime, but we can at least tell what this failure was intended to attempt.
I’m not sure what L&J thought they were attempting with this infernal Jaime subplot. Tsion Ben-Judah certainly didn’t need a guilt-trip to inspire him to be more insistent in witnessing to his driver. So is this story supposed to be exculpatory? Is it supposed to reassure us that Tsion cannot be held liable for the eternal damnation of his faithful servant?
If that was the intended message here, then I think this scene from Nicolae is probably even more immoral than that repugnant video above. That guilt-trip video at least understands that we are our brothers’ keepers. But if this scene is meant to show us that Tsion did everything he could and thus can be exempted from any remorse for Jaime’s damnation, then L&J seem yet again to be answering Cain’s question differently than God did.
“I’m so sorry, Tsion, Michael didn’t think you could take it.”
“He underestimates me, but I appreciate his concern. I worry about everyone associated with me. Anyone who appears they might know anything of my whereabouts may suffer if they are not forthcoming. That includes so many. I will never forgive myself if they all pay the ultimate price for merely having known me.”
Again, it’s important throughout this part of the book to continually remind ourselves why “everyone associated with” Tsion risks paying that “ultimate price.” It’s because Tsion converted to Christianity. That’s all it took to put a price on his head. That is why his wife and children were dragged from his home and decapitated in the street.
And, again, this is not the work of the Antichrist or of his Satanic one-world government. This is not some new evil that arises in the apocalyptic world of the Great Tribulation. This is, according to these books, simply how the Jewish government of a Jewish state can be expected to respond to any Jew who converts to Christianity.
The authors don’t explain this assertion or attempt to defend it. For them it needs no explanation and no defense. It’s just a fact — an obvious fact. Jews hunt down and kill Christians. They murder their children in the street. If you’re a Christian, you’re far safer living under the Antichrist’s totalitarian regime than in Israel. This is just something the authors know and assume that their readers know as well.
I cannot figure out how this odd fantasy can be reconciled with the fact that the authors, Christians themselves, have visited Israel many times, encountering only warm hospitality and no anti-Christian death squads. But then I suppose one shouldn’t expect rabid anti-Semitism to make anyone smarter or more rational.