Note: This is my first post, so if there's anything wrong with it that'll be my excuse. ;) After reading Pocket full of kryptonite on Slacktivist, I kind of became curious what the answer to Steele's question about Nicolae might be. I'm not sure if L&J tell the readers eventually (although I doubt it), or what the Bible says. My research for this pretty much consisted of the following: briefly checking Wikipedia, and asking a Christian I know about the Antichrist's nature as she understood it. It was also inspired partly by reading "Malevolent Father" during an earlier visit. I don't know a whole lot about theology, or about L&J's story. So basically, I'm an ill-informed guy who's just going to be making stuff up and hoping that it'll at least turn out to seem plausible. With that disclaimer out of the way, I'll start writing...
"I feel like I'm going to meet the devil," Rayford told Bruce. "I've never felt as scared as I am right now--and I hate to sound like I'm bragging, but I've never been easily frightened. I feel as if I'll fall apart in there! Buck may have gotten through a meeting with Carpathia, but he's younger and in better shape. I know that I can count on prayer support, but I still just want to turn around and run while I have the chance, and not look back."
On the other end of the line, Bruce listened sympathetically and instinctively nodded at Rayford's words, even though he knew Rayford couldn't see it. He didn't fault Rayford for being apprehensive--"apprehensive" nothing, the proper word would be "terrified". At any rate, it was a perfectly normal and human way to feel. But Rayford would need to keep his panic under control when meeting Carpathia. And even if Bruce were to forget all about the Trib Force's mission, hearing another human being in such distress made him want to ease that distress. It was simply his nature.
"Okay Rayford, try to stay calm. I believe you'll be able to get through this. We all do. And things aren't as bad as you think. First, you're not literally going to be meeting the devil; only if you were encountering the Antichrist in the second half of the Tribulation would you actually be dealing with the person who was possessed by Satan himself. Second, you don't need to be in excellent physical shape for something like this. As long as you're not prone to heart attack, you should be fine. And between you and me, I think you might actually have more stamina than Buck; he might have hit the weights on a regular basis, but the poor guy can't walk very far before he needs a rest."
When Rayford next spoke, Bruce was glad to hear that he did sound a little most composed.
"So what is Carpathia, then, if he's not actually the devil? Some second-rate demon?"
Certainly, Bruce thought, Rayford wouldn't have asked a question like that when he'd first called. When he had picked up, Rayford had indeed sounded like he was on the verge of falling apart. At that point, his focus wasn't on the nature of his enemy as much as it was on securing protection from his enemy. Primal flight instinct, Bruce thought. An animal confronted by a predator just wants to run away, get away as fast as it can. Only when it feels some measure of safety does its fear become replaced with some measure of curiosity, as seemed to be the case with Rayford now.
"Well, no," Bruce answered. "If he were a demon then I doubt he'd be a second-rate one, but that's moot because he isn't. Just the same as Jesus wasn't an angel. And, as I've already told you, Carpathia is not a manifestation of Satan, or even possessed by Satan. The simple answer is that Carpathia is a human being. He's a human being who has been given supernatural abilities by Satan, but human nonetheless. A human whom Satan has spoken to since the day of his birth. You almost have to feel sorry for him."
"WHAT?! How can you say that, Bruce?! I mean, this man is the Antichrist, and for the first time in my life I'm saying that about somebody without hyperbole! He's the embodiment of evil! He's the enemy, and you're saying that we should feel sorry for him for some reason?"
Me and my big mouth, Bruce thought. Sharing that particular opinion with Rayford had him back to near-hysterics.
"Rayford, I'm sorry that I've upset you. Please, let me explain. Imagine if you heard a voice in your head your entire life, a voice telling you to do this or that, a voice that praised you for some actions and berated you for others. A voice that drowned out the voices of your parents, teachers, people you looked up to, and a voice that you could never silence. That is what Satan has done with Carpathia. That's how Carpathia was groomed for the role Satan had planned for him. It's difficult to imagine any normal person not eventually succumbing to such mental conditioning. He had no choice in the kind of human he would grow up to be, and because of that he is doomed to burn for eternity. Jesus told us to be merciful, Rayford, to love our enemies, and a logical extension of that love is to pity them when they are in pain. Nicolae Carpathia may be evil, but I still wouldn't wish the fate that's in store for him on anybody."
Silence, but no dial tone. Bruce wondered if he ought to say something more, and then...
"I can't believe you're actually sympathizing with the son of Satan," Rayford's voice grated through the phone. Bruce's words had apparently fallen on deaf ears. Rayford sounded angry and disgusted with him. "He's EVIL. He DESERVES it."
It's not that simple, Rayford! Bruce wanted to shout into the phone. But he could tell that it would only make things worse.
"Look, Rayford, I have to go, all right?" Bruce lied. "We can talk more about this later. Just try to calm down. Meeting Carpathia while full of rage could be as bad as meeting him while full of fear. I'll make sure to pray for you and get the others to do the same, so you don't need to worry. Good luck."
Click and a dial tone.
Bruce hoped that he hadn't made things worse. Was he wrong, he wondered? Did pitying somebody condemned to suffer for eternity make him a bad person? Did God frown on that?
He hoped not. He couldn't help it. And he wondered, not for the first time, how a loving God could condemn even the likes of Nicolae Carpathia, even Satan himself, to such horrible and neverending punishment.
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