Saturday, March 22, 2014

Nothing Separates Us from God

If any of my readers suffer from some kind of delicate heart condition that is triggered by the slightest excitement, fear not. Nothing happens in the first two chapters. I know I promised to stop complaining about boredom, but I still find myself amazed that after ending the previous book with a beheading, they don't even bother to ramp up the tension any more. I pity the poor RTC kids who got stuck reading these books.

Vicki is hanging out in the hideout, listening to the radio which recounts what we already witnessed with Zeke getting beheaded. This of course gets Vicki to wondering if she'd have the courage to die for her beliefs. Me, this little discussion makes me think of one of my favorite Left Behind posts by Fred: Martyr Envy

To quote Fred:

And here we come to the vicarious appeal of these books for American evangelicals. The perilous Tribulation that Bruce Barnes describes is frightening, yes, but at least it’s not as dull as the uninspiring sit-around-and-wait, do-nothing existence they’ve come to believe is their lot in life here in history.

Here in Left Behind they can reimagine the Christian life as an exciting adventure. It’s similar to the speakers we had on youth group retreats back in high school. They would tell these thrilling stories of Christians who were persecuted for their faith — first century believers or 20th-century Christians in China or behind the Iron Curtain. The stories would reach a crescendo where the persecuted faithful were forced to choose between denying their faith and certain death. “What would you do?” the speakers would ask. And then, with every head bowed and every eye closed, we were given the opportunity to come forward yet again to re-re-dedicate our lives to Christ.

I don’t know whether those speakers realized the secret envy we had when listening to those stories. The lives of those martyrs seemed so much more exciting and meaningful than our own did. Plus there was something weirdly appealing about a one-time, one-question, pass-fail test in place of the tedious day-after-day. In our imaginations, at least, the martyr’s egress sounded almost easier than the pilgrim’s progress (as somebody once said, the hardest thing in this world is to live in it.) We imagined that, like the grandmother in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” we could’ve been good kids if it had been somebody there to shoot us every minute of our lives.

Sorry for the bigass quote but Fred sums up the appeal of these stories so well that any attempt on my part feels lacking in comparison.

Plus, Ellanjay also forget that the deck is stacked for the characters in these books: they have seen irrefutable proof of God's hand at work. Most of his readers will have to go their entire lives without seeing something as awe-inspiring as God swatting aside nukes. Of course, maybe Bizarro-God took his place because ever since, He can't seem to witness to the people of Earth without killing them horribly.

Next section, well apparently Lionel is back from outer space or wherever the hell he's been these past few chapters because we finally hear from his perspective again. I'm guessing with Ryan dead, someone has to be the series' Butt Monkey. I'm surprised it wasn't Vicki given that she's a girl with girl parts, but then again she is identical to mini-Rayford aka Judd, so much so that I sometimes think of her as Judd-with-Boobs.

I have to admit: the Lionel section is fairly decent. Ellanjay actually eases off the narrative gas and allows Lionel some time to ruminate and think about his slaughtered family. It also contains an attempt at an Author's Saving Throw with Ellanjay trying to convince us that our protagonists are totally suffering even though so far their plot armor doesn't have so much as a single dent in it.

Lionel missed his dad more than he wanted to admit. They had missed so many things. With each birthday or holiday, Lionel ached for some kind of celebration, a cake, or some presents. But the truth was, the kids didn’t have time for things like that. Life was a constant struggle.

Natalie talks with Vicki basically again recounting stuff we already know about how the mark will damn you forever. I have to admit that I don't normally agree with Paul, that old Misogynist, but I feel that this verse, Romans 8:38-39, is apropos:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In other words, I fail to see how Ellanjay's "The mark will totally damn you for all eternity!" thing lines up with the Bible. I'd ask but they'd probably only reply with something about how the devil can quote scripture to suit its own ends, which is a paraphrase from Shakespeare, not the Bible.

Natalie says that first all the prisoners would be marked but then the GC employees will have to go through with it, leaving her to wonder what to do. My response: Either witness until they drag you off and guillotine you (which is what a true martyr like St. Stephen would do) or head for the hills. It's not a hard decision to make.

The chapter ends with Vicki receiving a message from someone named Kelly Bradshaw asking for help. Once again, I ask why is it that it couldn't be the GC pretending to be an RTC in need of assistance in order to bait them? Is there some law in the Satanic New World Order that forbids lying even in order to capture enemies of the state?

Next chapter, well, Judd and Lionel get tired of waiting and go to Chang's parents' apartment to ask about him. They find out that Chang's been drugged and dragged off to get the mark. They're like "We've gotta save him!" and Judd calls on the help of that peacekeeper, Roy Donaldson. For those of you wondering, Roy is that perfectly nice guy whom Judd was too much of a coward to witness to in a previous chapter.

Roy tells him that Chang already got the mark and the Judd-Lionel section ends with this conversation.

Judd shook his head and glanced at the employees waiting to seal their fates. They were like sheep being led to the slaughter, and they didn’t even know it.
Judd thanked Roy, and the Peacekeeper walked away clutching Z-Van’s autograph.
Lionel sat down hard on a bench. “I don’t get it. Tsion said God would give believers the strength they needed to resist taking the mark.”
“Maybe it’s not real,” Judd said.
“Maybe Chang came up with a fake that convinced everybody.”
“Maybe. But there’s another possibility.”
“What’s that?”
“Maybe Chang is fake himself.”

Nice to know that the YTF isn't completely rock-stupid in that they considered the possibility that all this talk about being opposed to the GC and in love with God was a fa├žade. But I'm still confused in that didn't they explicitly say earlier that Chang was drugged? So why the sudden attitude, Judd?

The chapter ends with Vicki meeting up with Jim again and they start discussing plans. We're on yet another road trip as the YTF head towards Iowa to rescue some believers. We do find out that apparently our brave double agents have actually done some double-agent stuff. It's small but I feel like celebrating every time the Tribbles do something smart.

“How do we know they haven’t already applied the mark?” Vicki said.
Colin shook his head. “Jim and Natalie diverted a shipment of injector machines. They were going to do the same thing to the guillotines, but for some reason ship- ments have been delayed in North Carolina, Florida, Iowa, and Tennessee. We don’t have any idea why.”

Vicki puts on a GC uniform and actually demonstrates some compassion by wondering what happened to the girl who previously wore it. The answer is, of course, that Zod killed her, but Vicki doesn't take her train of thought that far. We also get this slightly (by Ellanjay standards) racy passage with her thinking about Judd.

When Vicki had prayed for all the names and faces she could think of, she thought of Judd. She always kept him last. Sometimes she fell asleep praying for him and thinking of what he might be doing. She wondered if he missed her as much as she missed him. There were nights when she would dream of Judd standing up to Carpathia or telling strangers about God. Once she dreamed about his speech in front of Leon Fortunato at Nicolae High, and she woke up in a cold sweat.

Good heavens, Vicki! Next you'll be showing those ankles of yours at the next cotillion.

Pity, Vicki's images of Judd don't match up to the reality: that he's a scared little coward who talks big but lacks the nerve to do any actual witness. About the only thing in that passage that's accurate is that he did do a speech at graduation in front of Leon Fortunado, but since nothing happened to him (he was expelled and forbidden from attending college, but other than that, nothing), it's not really as brave martyrrific material as they make it out to be.

The chapter ends with Vicki also quoting from Paul. Her quote though is from a letter more popular with RTCs, Ephesians, if you're wondering, and yes, it's chapter six, more specifically the part about doing battle with wicked forces and putting on the armor of God. For some reason those verses are so much more popular than all that stuff about turning and offering the other cheek. I wonder why.

But then Vicki, in the middle of her reverie, notices that Jim is turning onto another road, and that's where I'll leave you for this week. Feel free to tell me in the comments section how I'm totally full of it. Or you can praise me as a genius, whatever appeals to you.


aunursa said...

the deck is stacked for the characters in these books: they have seen irrefutable proof of God's hand at work.

Plus Deus Ex Machina shows up several times to protect the authors' favorite characters.

aunursa said...

"They were going to do the same thing to the guillotines, but for some reason ship- ments have been delayed in North Carolina, Florida, Iowa, and Tennessee. We don’t have any idea why."

Colin doesn't know because he didn't read Book 9 from the main series.

Firedrake said...

"Warning to readers: this book is not going to cure your hiccups."

Ah yes, the Rapture of the Warheads. They all got to go to high neutron flux heaven without detonating first.

"Yeah, I miss old… what was his name?… Dad."

Mouse said...

Oh and I forgot to mention in my snark, but we got another mention of Ryan. I'm really kicking myself for not starting a tally immediately after his death, just so I can see just how little he matters to his so-called friends.