AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story about Jay Gallard's cousin Paul precedes the action of the novel. This is also a Three Word Wednesday post.
The answer, of course, was prayer. But although Paul prayed fervently, the deaths continued.
“It’s because there’s so much sin in the world,” his church friends said. Paul’s parents and older sister hadn’t been particularly religious, and it had now been two weeks since they were tossed into mass graves with the others. Nevertheless, Paul was reluctant to ascribe their deaths to sin. The explanations of the scientists didn’t help much either, though. It was a pandemic; it was no one’s fault.
If a just and loving God ruled the earth, what lucid mind could believe He would allow such devastation?
Paul shifted his weight on his aching knees and tried again to focus on his prayers. The other young people who had been living at this church weren’t agitated like he was. Heads down, hands clasped before them, they were true believers and would be among the saved. Paul, on the other hand, would surely go to hell for doubting.
He tried to force the conundrum of the pandemic out of his thoughts. Since the words of Jeremy’s new anti-plague prayer refused to come to mind, he softly mumbled the only words he could think of. “Our Father, who art in Heaven….”
He felt more than heard the presence of someone at his side, but for the moment he kept his eyes clenched shut. “…forgive us our trespasses….”
A hand fell on his shoulder and Paul looked up into Jeremy Worthington’s stern features. Did he know Paul had already forgotten the new prayer? As the preacher’s son, Jeremy had taken over after his father had been called to Heaven. The spiritual integrity of the remaining congregation was a duty he took seriously.
Jeremy gave a little jerk of his chin, indicating that he should follow, and with a knot of fear in his stomach, Paul obeyed. Was this it? Would he be asked to leave for lack of orthodoxy? In a world suddenly without adults, electricity, or food deliveries, how would he survive without the protection and guidance of friends?
In the minister’s office, Jeremy waved Paul to a guest chair and took a seat behind his father’s desk. “I’ve had my eye on you.”
Paul sucked in his breath and waited to hear the words of banishment.
“As you know, it’s getting worse out there.”
“Jesus will save the righteous,” Paul said, hoping that was the right response.
“Yes,” Jeremy agreed. “But not if we refuse to be instruments of our own salvation.” He leaned forward and rested his hands on the desk. “God has spoken to me, and He says you should be on our salvage team.”
Paul blinked. “Our what?”
“The church pantry is empty and we can’t go on much longer this way. We need a team to go to the stores, homes and warehouses and get supplies.”
“Isn’t that stealing? We should trust the Lord to provide.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Jeremy sneered. “The Lord has provided by removing the sinners who were keeping us from obtaining what we need. Now we must simply collect it, like manna from Heaven.”
Paul didn’t care for the analogy, but Jeremy had a point. Taking from the dead wasn’t quite the same as stealing from the living.
“You’ll be given a weapon. Don’t hesitate to defend yourself or to use it against any infidel gangs who try to take supplies that God has decreed are rightly ours.”
Jeremy jumped to his feet. “Are you refusing the call of God? I’m telling you, He spoke to me in a dream and you are among those chosen for this special mission. The world of sin and ugliness is passing and we are to lead the crusade in bringing about God’s holy purpose. You are to find food to feed His needy and you are to send anyone who opposes you to Hell.” He fixed Paul with a feverish gaze. “Any questions? Or are you a doubter?”
Paul had doubts – lots of them. He had seen the filth of the streets and the wild gangs of angry, desperate young people struggling for survival in the wreckage. Realistically, he had always known their group couldn’t hide in this church forever, praying for deliverance. He understood that sin and evil stalked the city streets, but he had hoped that if he were to be called to a mission, it would be to distribute goods to the hungry and preach God’s love to the frightened. What good could come from being a common looter?
“There will be a team meeting in the church library in an hour,” Jeremy said. “Be on time, and may God be with you.”
In thoughtful silence, Paul returned to the sanctuary. He found a space among the other young people and dropped to his knees. Surely he would be doing no wrong by taking abandoned goods and putting them to use in the house of the Lord, so why did he feel uneasy? He bowed his head over his clasped hands and waited in desperation for proper words of prayer to come. The Lord would guide him. He had to.