Little could be weirder than to be, as I am, the author of a financial/religious/political thriller called Nuclear Blues, watching the Ukraine conflict unfold.
A little over two weeks ago, noticing how the market in credit default swaps on Russian sovereign debt had spiked, I wondered for public consumption whether it was being manipulated, a la one of the premises of my fictional plot (see “Could a credit default swaps scam be Putin’s game?“).
And now the televangelisaur Pat Robertson, whom you may forgivably have assumed was by now playing his harp in heaven, has come out of retirement to advise his teleflock that “Putin’s invasion of Ukraine ‘is being compelled by God’ to fulfill Biblical prophecy.”
“I think you can say, well, Putin’s out of his mind and, yes, maybe so,” said Robertson. “But at the same time, he’s being compelled by God. He went into Ukraine, but that wasn’t his goal. His goal was to move against Israel, ultimately.”
“God is getting ready to do something amazing, and that will be fulfilled,” added Robertson. “And what Putin is doing, by moving as he is, to set up Ukraine as a staging ground for one of the armies.”
“And it’s going to happen. So I say, that is what’s coming up. Is Putin crazy? Is he mad? Well, perhaps. But God says, ‘I’m going to put hooks in your jaws and I’m going to draw you into this battle, whether you like it or not.'”
In the tunnel
As it happens, in my novel also, Putin and Russia are cast by the Almighty’s human servant in the roles of Prince Gog and his northern land of Magog, their function ibeing to bring about the battle of Gog and Magog that is predicted in the Bible.
In this excerpt, edited for length, we’re in a tunnel at a secret armaments factory that adjoins a small, new Christian college in a remote corner of North Korea. Photojournalist-turned-blues musician Heck Davis narrates:
At several points we passed through doorways where massive double doors – obviously constructed to provide tight seals – had been left open for us. As we got closer we could hear the organist playing the processional, an arrangement of “Onward Christian Soldiers” that was even more martial than usual. By the time we entered the sanctuary, the sound was deafening. The organist seemed to be pulling out all the stops; you could have closed your eyes and imagined yourself in the midst of a stupendous cosmic battle.
And what a sight the cathedral was: a commodious chamber hewn out of solid rock, its walls and high ceiling covered with huge slogans and pictures exhorting the faithful to prepare for the final struggle with Satan and for Christ’s return — all painted in the garish style of North Korean propaganda posters. The painter must have enjoyed a previous career as a socialist-realist artist working for the regime.
I imagined the cathedral decor might represent a consciously ironic turning of tables. After all, the North Korean regime’s visual propaganda style, as someone had told me, owed much to the Christian Sunday school literature that Kim Il-sung had studied as a boy.
My student choristers filed into the choir loft, which overlooked the pulpit and the gigantic pipe organ. Behind them was a glass-fronted baptismal pool. The water looked clear and fresh. Apparently Reverend Bob planned to dunk any converts without delay.
On the stone wall behind the pool was painted a giant cross on which Jesus was depicted as a determined-looking, square-jawed worker straight out of a poster designed to whip the masses into a frenzy of overproduction. With the exception of the pipe organ, the fittings and furniture — including pews and pulpit — were simple and didn’t appear to have cost a huge amount. Still the effect was spectacular.
I led the congregation in the first hymn, singing into a microphone and backed by the choir. Reverend Bob prayed for blessings on this very special, momentous occasion. Then he read from Ezekiel’s prophecy about a great attack on God’s chosen people by combined forces of enemy countries, with Magog and Persia in the lead.
This was going just as I’d expected based on my reading of Gird Up Your Loins the night before.
“And thou shalt come from thy place out of the north parts. And thou shalt come up against my people of Israel, as a cloud to cover the land,” Reverend Bob intoned, quoting the prophet’s channeling of Jehovah’s warning to Prince Gog of Magog. “Surely in that day there shall be a great shaking.”
“Amen!” Darley Scratch shouted.
“And I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire and brimstone.”
“Amen,” shouted Darley, along with two or three other congregants seated near him in the front of the room and to my left.
“I will give thee unto the ravenous birds of every sort, and to the beasts of the field to be devoured. Thou shalt fall upon the open field, for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God. And I will send a fire on Magog and they shall know that I am the Lord. So will I make my holy name known.”
More amens followed, and the singing of the second hymn. Then Reverend Bob launched into his sermon. “What if it really is today?” he began — just as I had anticipated. “There are vital reasons why we must ponder this question, right now, today, and that’s why I asked you all to come here ” He paused, as he had done while reading the scripture, to let a Korean interpreter translate through a separate microphone. When she had finished, he coughed and resumed speaking:
“Sending his only begotten son to the earth, the almighty God offered his kingdom to any and all who would accept it. It has been two thousand years since the Lord made that offer, and still most of mankind has been too stubborn to accept it.”
“Tell ’em, brother!” Darley shouted.
Reverend Bob smiled thinly and continued: “Jesus knew rejection. In fact, he expected it. He knew that even many who thought they were listening to his words did not really listen. They didn’t pay attention when he said, as recounted in Matthew 10:34, that he had not come to bring peace to the world — he had come with a sword.”
A chorus of loud amens issued from Darley, Sable and Ezra, all of whom were nodding in emphatic agreement. Shirley, who was seated with them, wearing light makeup for the occasion, failed to match her parents’ enthusiasm. In fact she looked downright bored. Goodness and Mercy weren’t with them — they must be upstairs in the family tunnel with the other young children.
“But didn’t Isaiah say the coming messiah would be called ‘Prince of Peace’? Yes, but you have to read carefully what is prophesied in Isaiah 9:6: ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder. And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.’”
When he paused, I heard more amens and saw more heads bobbing.
“Only the first of those conditions has been fulfilled. The child Jesus was born on earth; the son was given. Jesus won’t be called Prince of Peace until the government is on his shoulder. Only then, as we learn in chapters 19 and 20 of the book of Revelation, will Jesus rule the earth. Then shall his name be called Prince of Peace!”
Reverend Bob’s pause this time was longer than required for a translator to render what he’d said in Korean. He dabbed at his mouth with a handkerchief before resuming. The amen corner was quiet — maybe out of concern for the preacher, who looked unwell.
“Bible prophecy foretells two great battles for control of the earth. Those will be the battle of Gog and Magog and the final battle of Armageddon. The two great battles will be at or near the beginning and the end, respectively, of the seven years of Tribulation.” He paused again for more mouth dabbing.
“The signs that the prophets pointed to are now all in place. The Temple in Jerusalem is being rebuilt as we speak. Red heifers are being born in Israel. There is nothing left but for Israel’s enemies — Gog and Magog, Persia and so on — to do their part.”
“Yes, Lord!” cried Lindsey Harrold. The normally staid old theologian was starting to get into the spirit of the occasion.
“What does this mean?” Reverend Bob asked rhetorically. “The scriptures are clear that it means the almighty God’s patience is exhausted and he is ready to judge the sinful of the earth and show his glory to all human beings, the saved and the unsaved alike.”
“Amen!” Darley Scratch shouted louder than before. Ezra Pugmire seconded the motion.
“Reading the descriptions in the Bible,” Reverend Bob preached, “we see that the coming warfare will employ horrific weapons of mass destruction.”
A chill went down my spine. Here it comes. I reached into a jacket pocket and felt to make sure the recorder was still switched on.
Reverend Bob dabbed his mouth again before continuing. “The book of Revelation says, ‘The fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun, and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. By these three was the third part of men killed — by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone.’”
“We trust in thy wisdom, Lord!” Darley Scratch shouted.
“Referring to Armageddon the prophet Zechariah tells us, ‘This shall be the plague wherewith the Lord will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth.’”
Reverend Bob’s face consumed away into a scary mask.
“The prophets who foresaw that future for us had never heard of today’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, but they described with perfect accuracy the effects of such weapons.”
Ms. Namkung got into sync with Darley and company by shouting “Yes, Lord!” in Korean from the choir loft. No other Koreans appeared really pumped. Reverend Bob didn’t seem to notice. He just continued on, coughing more often, his voice becoming raw.
“Ezekiel tells us that enemies of Israel involved in the first battle will include the land of Magog led by the prince called Gog. We know that those are code words for what is now Russia and its ruler. President Ronald Reagan knew that biblical truth.
Ezekiel tells us that Persia is also involved. Persia is the old name of Iran. Surely you all know that for quite a while a huge argument has raged over how much time it would take for that country to turn itself into a nuclear weapons state, with or without international agreements, sanctions and so on. I have prayed over this. Today I can tell you that the matter is no longer subject to dispute. Persia is within a few days of playing its prophesied role, with the help of Russian-designed nuclear missiles.”
I glanced behind me at Yu with a questioning look. I wanted backup. She nodded toward her handbag, a signal that her own recorder was running.
“Israel already has its own nukes,” Reverend Bob said. “God’s will be done. By the end of the two battles, all the works of man will be destroyed. Will the world end then? No. Rather, as Peter tells us in his second epistle, it will be remade by holy fire.”
He turned to me and nodded. Playing guitar, I sang about the saints who’d go marching in when the sun refused to shine and the moon turned to blood. The backup students did me proud — particularly Yu on harmonica. It was a shame I wouldn’t be able to work with them after that night.
Reverend Bob resumed preaching, launching into his altar call: “Sin and human failure have irrevocably tainted the world as it is now. The earth must be returned to the pristine state that Adam and Eve found when God created them in his image and placed them in the Garden of Eden. Then Christ will reign over human beings, who will lead sin-free lives for a thousand years under his perfect system of government.”
“Come, precious Lord,” Darley interjected.
“His return will be a great comfort to true Christians. Nonbelievers make fun of us. In the final judgment the tables will be turned; we believers will be vindicated. The nonbelievers will choke on their laughter in the face of the horrible wrath of God.”
I looked at Reverend Bob’s face during the translation. Although his preaching was not especially powerful — to tell the truth, it was on the tedious side — he looked mighty pleased with himself. His eyes wide and unfocused, he gazed out over the congregation, toward the invisible hills and mountains beyond, in a fair approximation of the look for which his far more eloquent and charismatic father had been famous in his preaching days.
At the same time I had to note that he appeared more than slightly unhinged. His mouth was twisted. Spittle had formed around his lips, but he didn’t wipe it away with his handkerchief.
“What about you?” he inevitably asked. “Where do you stand? When the trumpet sounds its call, when the new world is revealed, will you be one of the saints privileged to march in?”
Some people were fidgeting. The message was so overpowering, so challenging to the worldly hopes and dreams of even the most faithful, that it was sorely testing Reverend Bob’s delivery capabilities. It seemed he had actually begun to bore people, if not turn them off.
“You won’t be in that number if you haven’t accepted God’s offer, if you haven’t confessed your faith in Jesus Christ, letting him wash you clean. You won’t be in that number if you were once right with God but fell from grace and don’t get right with him again before it’s too late.”
Damned if he didn’t look briefly over at me as he said that. Then, without pausing for the translator, he thundered on to the climax.
“Do you really want to be left behind, left outside? Revelation tells us, ‘Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.’”
A student just behind me in the choir loft whispered to her companion, “Coach Scratch’s preaching is better.” Reverend Bob didn’t hear the remark. I couldn’t tell whether he sensed that he wasn’t getting through.
“I can’t make the choice for you. God won’t make it for you. If you have not made that choice, make it now. Come down the aisle and throw yourself on the mercy of the Lord as we sing the invitation hymn.”
He nodded at me, my cue to be ready to start “Just As I Am” at the conclusion of the translation.
I turned on my microphone. When the time came I stood. Instead of singing, I spoke: “Reverend Bob, I always admired and loved you, and I deeply appreciate your concern for all our souls, so it pains me to have to point out that you are perpetrating a fraud.”
I stopped for the translator and saw that my first words had shocked the English speakers in the congregation. Darley Scratch, looking somewhere between outraged and dumbfounded, spoke up. “Where are you headed with this, Heck?”
I couldn’t come out and explain, at that point, that I needed more details to be confirmed in the preacher’s voice while Yu and I recorded, so I continued speaking to Reverend Bob: “Russian-designed, Russian-marked nuclear weapons are on the way to ‘Persia.’ But it was not through communing with God, as you implied, that you learned about that. You and your organization are the ones who are sending them, and those nukes are in fact put together from the ‘tractor subassemblies’ that you’ve had these good people manufacturing in the next tunnel. You not only look forward to the Tribulation, the final battles and the Second Coming, you can’t wait. You’re determined to make them happen right now.”
The Koreans in the congregation were listening carefully to the translation coming through their earphones, and the expressions on some of their faces suggested they understood what I was saying.
“You and Zack Nodding are helping the North Korean ruler make huge profits so he’ll play his part in your scheme.”
Lindsey Harrold pulled himself up straight. “Sit down, Heck. We all thought you had a good mind, but it turns out there’s nothing in the attic but cobwebs.”
“Zack is brokering a fraud scheme that involves investing through his bank in financial instruments called credit default swaps.”
“Can you prove that?”
Besides Nuclear Blues, Bradley K. Martin is the author of Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty.