by Mark Mason
ive days after leaving Oregon, Jeff’s car rolled into Richmond, Virginia. All had gone smoothly with the drive across America, his travel pass opening the way at every border crossing. He had phoned his father, earlier in the day, saying he expected to be home this evening. Now, in the warm glow of sunset, he turned into his street—the street he grew up on. There, where he rode his bike as a boy and played with the neighbor’s kids, a lump came to his throat. He felt like he was coming home to stay, after a long odyssey, and would never leave again. Then there was his house, which to his surprise, had a banner on it, printed on yards and yards of old computer paper, saying ‘Welcome home Jeff.’ In his tiredness, and with all this emotion bubbling over, he just pulled into the drive, sat in his car and stared at the banner, with tears flowing down his cheeks. After a few minutes, he heard his father say,
“Look who’s just pulled up! That’s Jeff’s car. Come on Mom, Julia, Pat.” And in a few seconds they were out the door and waving to him. Jeff wound down the window just as they swarmed around the car door.
“Something bad happened to you, son, that you’re crying like that?”
“Oh no,” he smiled. “Just the emotion of it all—coming home after being away so long. And so much has happened.”
“Of course, sweetheart,” his mother said. “I can understand that. Come on outta there, and let your Mom give you a big hug.”
Jeff climbed out into his mother’s arms, and after a few moments kissed her on the cheek and smiled, and turned to his dad, who had, as usual, his hand stuck out for him to shake. He had never been big on hugging. So, he shook his father’s hand, and with his other hand reached around and patted him on the back. His dad seemed only a little uncomfortable with that. After hugging his younger brother and sister, who obviously had missed him a lot, they headed up to the house. Inside it was totally dark. He was about to ask if the power was out, when the lights suddenly came on and a million people seemed to be calling out, “Welcome home Jeff!”
A welcome home party! After five long days on the road, traveling right across America, he was so tired and weak. He almost collapsed at the thought of it, but pulled himself together.
“What a wonderful surprise.” He turned around to all these people he knew from growing up in the church, but who seemed more like distant acquaintances to him these days. “Thank you for coming to meet me. I feel honored. Forgive me if I’m a little out of it—I’ve just driven over three thousand miles. It’ll be nice to just unwind with you for a while before I collapse from exhaustion.”
They all clapped his little speech, and he just stood there, gazing blankly at them. All the men came over and shook his hand, while the women uncovered the dishes of food they’d brought.
“So I hear you’ve had an adventure out west in the rebel states that are fighting us?” Bob was the father of one of his school friends.
“Did you run into any of the militias out there we’ve been hearing of?”
“I got accused of being a part of one by the police in Oregon. If Dad hadn’t intervened, I’d be in prison there still.”
“So I heard. You’re a lucky kid to have such an influential father.”
“So, why were you over there, anyway?”
“Well, I was actually just vacationing. And I met and got engaged to a girl over there. But it didn’t work out.”
“Well, you sure are lucky you didn’t get caught on the wrong side of the civil war.”
“Is there a war going on with the Western States then? It didn’t seem like there was a war there when I left a few days ago.”
“Is there a war!” Jeff’s father interjected. “Twenty-three army, navy and air force bases in the West have defected to what they call the ‘American Liberation Army.’ Sound like a bunch of commies, don’t they?” The two older men laughed like gurgling drains, and Jeff, too, raised a smile at the thought that so many additional military bases had come over to their side.
“And over the last three days they fought off a ground attack by the US Army Loyalists, as we call our side,” Bob added.
“But they can’t win in the long run—not with God on our side,” interjected a third man.
“Praise the Lord!” a woman offering sandwiches chimed in.
“It is unfortunate, though.” Jeff’s father was speaking again. “Just when we have so many problems dealing with the unrepentant, godless homosexuals and witches and all the rest, and with our need to conquer the communist dragon and spread God’s kingdom, finally, to all the corners of the earth, we get this. Just what we need, when ‘the laborers are few,’ to have to turn around and fight part of our own army. But we have to remember that even Jesus had his Judas, and the beast, the dragon and the false prophet are formidable opponents. It’s not going to be a pushover. It will, on the contrary, be a glorious victory for God and his army, just as it predicts in Revelation.”
“The communist dragon, Dad?” Jeff asked. “Do you mean China? Are we going to war with China?”
“Well, we will have to fight China—that will be the battle of Armageddon. Of course we’re not at war with them yet.”
“I guess we’ve got to deal with the Western States first?”
“Yes and no. Maybe we’ll deal with them both together. God has a plan, which I have been privileged to be a party to, but am not at liberty to reveal. I’m sure you understand.” Significant glances passed between Bob, Jeff’s father, and another man. “Let me just say it will be devastating and quick, with little risk to ourselves, and involve the cleverest military strategy the world has ever seen.”
“Praise the Lord!” That same woman was back again with her sandwiches.
“So we’re just going to annihilate the Western States?”
“That, my son, I am not at liberty to reveal. All I can say is that everyone will be astonished at God’s brilliant strategy, as it unfolds. It will be the heralding glory of the Millennium.”
After Jeff had shaken every man’s hand, and all the women and girls had come over and welcomed him home, it was almost midnight. Just seconds after climbing into bed he experienced himself sinking quickly into a deep, glorious sleep.
Next morning Jeff awoke to the sun shining through his window, the birds singing—it was like he was a child again. But this happy reverie was soon interrupted by the less happy thought of how he could find out what the theocracy’s master strategy was for defeating China and the Western States in one hit—for that seemed to be what his father had been hinting at last night. He realized his best plan would be not to ask too many questions, but just to win his father’s confidence first, in the hope that he’d be able to piece together the details from little things his father and others said.
After showering and dressing, he went out to the kitchen to eat.
“Hi Jeff,” his father called out.
“I’ve been waiting to have breakfast with you. Care to join me?”
“Sure. I’ve lots of questions to ask you about everything that’s been happening.”
“Me too. Let’s get some cereal and go out onto the deck. I want to hear about your travels.”
“And I want to know how you came to be on the Presidential Governing Council.”
“Huh. Well, contacts, contacts—you know the way it is in the church. I was kind of surprised myself, but sure glad to have the opportunity to serve God in such a vital capacity.” They took seats across a glass-topped table near the pool.
“Well it sure saved me from ten years in prison. And Amanda—she was grateful, too, as you might imagine. I know she would have liked to have been able to thank you in person.”
“Well that’s OK son. What are families for? But tell me about Amanda. You mentioned you’d broken off your engagement to her, but didn’t say why. What went wrong?”
Jeff paused for a moment. “I found out she was a witch.”
“You mean she wasn’t as nice as you first thought?”
“No Dad. I mean she was actually into witchcraft.”
“Enough said! The country’s full of it. America—and the world—are full of all types of filth, corruption, wickedness and ungodliness. But God always knew that would be the case, even though he pleaded with people down through the ages to come to him, and even sent his own son to reach out to people to repent and be saved. That is why the tribulation had to come—to rid society of that evil. Man, I’m glad Jesus showed you, in time, what you were headed for. It’s a sign Jesus favors you, son, that he plucked you out of that danger—so many lukewarm Christians have been sucked in by that sort of insidious evil. I also think it’s a sign that you should be working with me, in the mission God has given us.”
“Oh? And what is your work, Dad? I’ve been wondering about that.”
“My official title is ‘Secretary of Non-Christian Resources.’ You know, as in ‘Secretary of State’—I’m a member of President Jones’ cabinet. It’s a new portfolio, made necessary by the tribulation, to manage the way it’s carried out. I don’t know whether you know, yet, that true Bible-believing Christians have been ‘raised’ into authority over all the earth to actually carry out the tribulation?”
“I did hear something like that, from a Christian woman who ran a bed and breakfast I stayed at. She was saying that is the new view of what the ‘rapture’ is—the raising of Christians into positions of authority to carry out the tribulation, rather than being raised into the air to meet Jesus.”
“That’s pretty close to it. However, we still will meet Jesus. When the work of the tribulation is done, he will descend from heaven, greet us in joy, and live with us in glory during the thousand years of the Millennium.”
“This woman also said there was a plan to re-enslave African-Americans at some stage before we enter the Millennium. Is there any truth in that?”
“Well, it’s not on the agenda at this point. There are too many other more urgent priorities. But God’s order has to be reestablished for the Millennium. So its time will come, and it will be a great vindication for the South after a hundred-and-fifty years of deprivation. We will be rewarded for our patience.”
“Where in the Bible does it say that slavery is a part of God’s order?”
“Where in the Bible does it say that it isn’t? Slavery was common in Biblical times. Greek and Roman civilization was built on it. Jesus would have spoken out against it if it was wrong in God’s eyes. He spoke out against lots of other things, like the money changers in the temple, the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, and stoning the adulteress. Yet he didn’t say anything about slavery. And the only thing Paul said about it was that masters should treat their slaves well. And how would Robert E. Lee have been able to fight so inspiringly and bravely against overwhelming odds if it wasn’t for a righteous cause?”
“Well, I’ll have to give that some thought.” Jeff didn’t want to get into an argument with his father about this. “But getting back to your work. Are you in charge of organizing the ‘cleansing’ of all the evil people in the country?”
“That’s certainly a part of my job. But I don’t see it as the most important part. The tribulation is also a time of purification through trials—a refining in the fire, if you like—when many sinners will come to God. It’s important to me to help save every person I possibly can. It’s the final opportunity for salvation, and that’s what I like to focus on.”
“So, are you giving all these people a chance to repent and become Christians before you take their children from them and send them to a labor camp?”
“Yes, we sure are. And huge numbers are repenting and converting. These are such blessed times we live in. All these people I was afraid would be lost are being gathered into the harvest by Jesus at the eleventh hour. It really is a miracle. Of course, I should add that not quite everyone is given that chance. Some of the most evil just have to be quickly removed from society to take away their destructive influence on others. They are the unrepentant architects of godlessness—people like abortion providers, militant homosexuals and lesbians, leaders of dangerous religious sects such as yoga meditation groups, open advocates of Darwinism, publishers of pornographic material, prominent and well-known atheists and witches, and so called ‘Bible scholars’ who have made a career out of distorting our beloved Bible.”
“What are you doing with them?”
“They are being tried for the criminal offenses they’re guilty of: murder, child pornography, fomenting social disorder, teaching blasphemous untruths to children, offensive behavior, social pollution, unnatural sexual behavior, and distortion of the Word. The appropriate penalty is then applied, from public hangings for the worst and most provocative of the ring-leaders, through to banishment to agricultural work camps.”
“Public hangings? Isn’t that a little barbaric?”
“It has the desired effect, son. The effect Jesus wants. After each public hanging, hundreds convert to the faith.”
“Where do these hangings take place?”
“At scaffolds we’ve built in Monroe Park. There’s one taking place this afternoon, actually. You should come along and see the effect it has on people.”
“You’ve built the scaffolds in Monroe Park, right next to VCU?”
“Yes, we thought it would be a salutary warning to the students there, with their tendency to radicalism, not to forget God’s laws.”
“I’m sure it will. But what about those you banish to the work camps. Do you send their families with them?”
“Of course not. Don’t their kids deserve a chance to become good Christians?”
“Yes. But what about their wives?”
“Well, mostly they are found to be guilty, too, except in the few cases where they’ve turned their husbands in.”
“So at least you send the husbands and wives away together?”
“Oh no. They are sent to separate camps.”
“Why? Isn’t the aim just to get them out of society’s way? Couldn’t you do that as kindly as possible?”
“Quite apart from needing to break their spirits so they don’t incite trouble at the labor camps, we think this is the kindest thing to do. We want to prepare them gradually for the horrors of hell that inevitably await them, so it won’t be too great a shock for them when they arrive there.”
“Dad! Do you burn them with hot irons each day to get them ready for the flames of hell?” Jeff was becoming more and more horrified at what his father was involved in, yet he instantly regretted saying this, out of fear of blowing his cover.
“No, of course not. That would be a cruel and unusual punishment. And we all know nowadays hell isn’t like that—that was a thoroughly medieval concept, and God would never torture people by burning their flesh, any more than we would. Hell is nothing more than eternal and complete separation from God. And as we all know, God is love. Whenever we experience love, from a parent or a friend or a spouse, or even from a pet, we are, by God’s grace, experiencing a little of Him. It’s God’s way of introducing Himself to us, and giving us a foretaste of the joy of heaven. So, hell is just eternal separation from all love and companionship—utter soul destroying loneliness, forever. Which is what these people have actually asked for in rejecting God. So, out of compassion, to prepare them for the terrible fate they’ve insisted on bringing upon themselves, we keep them isolated when not working, and as much as possible even when they are working. But at least they have the solace of being able to work, and of having some human company on the job, while gradually learning to adjust to perpetual loneliness.”
“That sounds even worse than the hot irons.” Again the comment slipped past Jeff’s guard. He was appalled at the way fundamentalists like his father could be aware of such advanced spiritual concepts as the love we experience being a reflection of God’s love, yet distort it in such a hideous way. He was sickened by it. His father seemed to notice his discomfort, and said, a little more softly,
“Well, it has been their choice.”
“And what do you do to all the others who don’t repent when you give them the opportunity to?”
“Usually we assign them as servants to Christian households, or as laborers on farms owned by Christians. The hope there is that, through the tribulation of being separated from their families and their freedom, and through the good example of the families they are serving, they might, before the period of tribulation is over, repent and come to Christ.”
“Don’t you think this is a wonderful thing we are doing for all these precious souls who would otherwise miss out on a chance for salvation?”
“Well, that’s one way of looking at it. It’s an interesting perspective.”
“What I want to ask you, Jeff, is: would you like to work with me on this—be a part of it?”
“Well…this is all so new to me, Dad. I’m not sure what I think about it. It’ll take me a day or two, at least, to take it all in.”
“Sure. I can tell you are a little lukewarm about it right now, but that’s understandable. It seems like you’re almost persuaded, but it’s reasonable that you should have some time to digest all these radical changes. I have to remember that I’ve been gradually formulating these ideas over the years, along with many of our leaders. If we were hit with them all at once, I’m sure we would need time to think them over, too.”
“So, give it some thought—whether you’d like to work with me. I need to pay more attention to what’s happening in other states, so I need someone to take charge of matters here in Virginia. The harvest is plenteous, but the laborers are few. I could find you an office job in some other area, probably in D.C., but it wouldn’t be nearly such an influential position. If you work with me here you’ll really have a future, and will be able to say you played a glorious part in bringing God’s kingdom to earth.”
“Yes, I will think about that Dad. And thanks for the offer.”
“Well, I won’t overload you with anything more now. You can tell me later whether you want to go to the hanging this afternoon. If you don’t that’s fine—there will be plenty more of them later. I’ve got to go out to meet someone now, but I’ll be back for lunch.”
Jeff decided, in the end, to attend the hanging. The very thought of it made him feel sick, but he was back here to learn about things, and find out as much information as he could. There was a crowd of about five hundred people, on this sunny Saturday afternoon, seated in the shade on the grass, and on benches, back from the row of three scaffolds under a large tree near the center of the park. Each scaffold had a banner above it proclaiming the name of the criminal and his or her offense. The three offenses on this day were: ‘Abortion Provider,’ ‘Practitioner of Yoga and Witchcraft,’ and ‘Homosexual Activist.’ Over to the right, past the fountain and a few trees, was a large open tent with the sign: ‘Salvation Tent—Get right with Jesus here.’ Jeff was a part of the official party, seated at the back. He was glad not to be too close to the cold-blooded slaughter of what were, in the world of a few weeks ago, perfectly normal, law-abiding citizens of the United States of America.
Shortly the abortion provider was brought up, hands tied behind his back, by two guards. The noose was placed around his neck, and his feet bound together. Then likewise the witch and the gay activist. As one-by-one the trap doors fell, and the bodies jerked on the ropes, there came a few cheers from some, wails from others, possibly friends or relatives. After a few minutes people got up and drifted away, some, maybe fifty, toward the Salvation Tent.
“Do they become Christians right here, straight after the executions?” Jeff turned to his father.
“No. Volunteers pray for each person, give them a Bible and some other material about becoming a Christian, and organize for them to attend a church the following Sunday, which is where they give their lives to Christ.”
It was a gruesome experience for Jeff. Even his sickening expectation of it didn’t really prepare him for it. He felt debased by being there. How could humanity sink this low? He felt guilty of killing these innocent people himself, by association, and just wanted to get away to somewhere where he could pray to God in silence and beg for forgiveness. Once it was over, he quickly made his excuses to his father and left. He drove down to the Pony Pasture and sat on a rock on the bank of the James. There he whispered, in prayer, words from a psalm which had often been a solace to him:
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness. According to the multitude of your tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash away my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin, for I know my transgressions, and my errors are ever before me. Against you and you only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight…Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow…Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me…The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
Jeff looked up to the sky, and after a while his heart lightened a little. Then the feeling of peace and being right with God flooded back, and with it an overwhelming gratitude. He broke down and cried and thanked God for restoring the peace to his soul that he thought he might have lost forever, and that he treasured more than anything else. That peace was his very closeness to God, and he knew he wouldn’t want to even go on living without it. There was still a wistful sadness around him, but he felt it gradually lifting, as he watched a red-shouldered hawk soaring above the river, then diving to pluck a fish from the water, and listened to the gurgle of the river, the insects chattering, and the rustle of the breeze in the trees behind him. At times like this, he knew, only the presence of God in nature could gradually center him again, slowly lift the gloom from his soul, and restore his joy in living.
That night it took Jeff a long time to settle into a fitful sleep. Some hours later, he woke up in a cold sweat from a nightmare. He had been inside the mouth of a fuming volcano, clinging onto precarious hand and foot holds on a cliff of hot rocks. Below him was bubbling lava, about to erupt. Each time he tried to scramble up the near vertical cliff, he would slide down a little lower before catching another precarious foothold. And all the while, with the hiss and gurgle of the red hot lava below him in the background, angels above him were singing the old evangelical song he had sung in church so many times while growing up, and which had been the subject of so many long sermons:
Almost persuaded, Now to believe
Almost persuaded, Christ to receive
Seems now some soul to say, Go Spirit, Go Thy way
Some more convenient day, On Thee I’ll call
Almost persuaded, Harvest is past
Almost persuaded, Doom comes at last
Almost can not avail, Almost is but to fail
Sad, sad, the bitter wail, Almost but lost.
(P. P. Bliss, referring to Acts 26:24-30)
He knew he’d had many chances to be saved, but always asked too many questions, had too many reservations, wanted too much time to explore the other side of the story. And now through his willfulness, and lack of faith, he was in this predicament: ‘Almost persuaded…Almost but lost.’ And any moment now he knew he would be engulfed in the fiery pit of hell, as the Angels sadly looked on and sung their ‘I-told-you-so’ song.
It took Jeff a while to realize the dream wasn’t real. In the dark night he touched the bed, and reached for his watch, then finally turned on the bedside lamp. He sat up, still shaking with fear, and wondered what this dream could mean. He didn’t buy any of that hellfire and brimstone stuff any more. Then he remembered his father had used those words ‘almost persuaded’ the previous morning. He’d said, ‘It seems like you’re almost persuaded…” Often, while growing up, he had suffered from remorse after his bouts of questioning and rebelliousness, and imagined himself sliding into the pit of hell, which he had thought of as the old disused well out back which he’d peered into one day, disobeying his father’s injunction never to move the decaying wooden lid. He had seen himself sliding into that pit of oblivion, just unable to claw his way back—just past redemption because of his willfulness: ‘Almost persuaded…Almost, but lost.’ It was like his dream.
But what could it mean now? He felt it had to have something to do with his father’s job offer, since there was the connection with his words. He was undecided about working with his father. And maybe this meant he was almost at the point of losing his opportunity to perform his mission on time. He had to overcome his squeamishness and be decisive. It was no use getting soft now, after all he’d been through.
In the morning he went out and told his father he would take the job.
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