First of all, do note that I don’t do your typical book review complete with plot summary etc. You can find those on Amazon. For these books, while I do make the occasional remarks on character or the quality of the writing (both are too easy to poke fun at), my main concern is the theology being pushed as the Truth.
I have finally finished reading the fourth book in the Left Behind series, Soul Harvest, and intend to start working on that review.
Now to review the third book, Nicolae by Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins, Tyndale House Publishers, ISBN 0-8423-2924-2, available practically anywhere Christian books are sold:
A plot summary is here.
The farther I got in this book, the more I began to really dislike the main characters, even ones I sort of liked before, such as Chloe. (I’ll go into more detail later.) I also began to see more and more of the true nature of the authors’ theology.
I will start by discussing the nature of the Tribulation punishments. In Orthodoxy there is no fixed interpretation of Revelations. It is said that a good interpretation will use a combination of preterist (Revelation is a coded reference to past events under the Caesars),
futurist (all the events are yet to come and will only be fully understood by the last generation),
historicist (the events span from St. John’s time to the Second Coming),
and idealist (purely symbolic) views (T.L. Frazier, A Second Look at the Second Coming, p. 313-4).
Revelations does indeed speak of Tribulation and God’s wrath. Whether these events happened in the time of the Caesars, will happen at the End of Time or happen over and over again symbolically, we need to have a proper understanding of God’s wrath. Is God having a temper tantrum and killing indiscriminately? Is it a response to offense against a righteous God?
The common witness within Orthodox Tradition is that the wrath of God is a theological term which describes not God Himself, but a state of being in which we are opposed to God….
We may place ourselves in such a position that even the love of God seems to us as fire of wrath. –(Fr. Stephen Freeman, “God’s Wrath”)
In his classic work The River of Fire, Alexandre Kalomiros describes this in great detail.
(Please note that Kalomiros does speak vehemently against Western theology as a whole, even though in reality it’s just some branches of Western theology which fall into this thinking. This is a weakness of the work. But such theologies do indeed exist in some Protestant branches, particularly the ones stemming from Calvinism. I encountered them in Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches, and see them at work in the Left Behind books.)
Kalomiros explains that men hate God because God is seen as a menace, a cruel judge and vengeful inquisitor, who will destroy them unless they do exactly as he requires. Salvation is “from the wrath of God.”
Kalomiros describes the very kind of god that we hear atheists and Neo-Pagans rail against today. But we are not to see God in this fashion: He is loving, good and merciful, even in His justice.
He is not ruled by passions as men are. His punishment is in order to correct, or to stop evil and protect the good. God is Truth and Light; His judgment is, in reality, how we react to His Truth and Light.
The same fire which will purify gold will burn wood. God loves all and has compassion even on the wicked; His love will follow them into Hell. But this love will burn them like fire because they reject God.
If I understand Kalomiros correctly, since God is not the cause of evil or death, the Tribulation punishments should be understood not so much as God’s wrathful acts, as God allowing evil to go unchecked in the world and bring its own punishment on itself.
But whether they come directly from God or from the forces of evil being allowed to do as they wish, they’re meant for the wicked, the enemies of God; they are meant to correct, to lead to salvation.
Focusing so much on the End-Times, especially as an evangelistic tool, is wrong because we should focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Revelations is to comfort us, remind us who wins in the end. The Orthodox Church does not even read from Revelations in worship services because of the danger of misinterpretation. The book very nearly didn’t make it into the biblical canon.
We are to focus on our own sins and repentance, not on whether or not we’re nearing the Tribulation. Note that the Church has seen many Tribulations throughout history, when governments massacred Christians; Revelations is meant to see us through such times.
In these Left Behind books, salvation is specifically described again and again as a “transaction.” You’re not saved unless you’ve done this “transaction.”
Even if a character is sympathetic to the authors’ view of the End Times, even if a character is searching for the truth, even if a character is curious about Christianity or a decent sort who follows the dictates of his own religion, if he dies from one of the Tribulation plagues before doing this “transaction,” he is lost forever.
For example, on page 230, it is assumed that unless Tsion’s driver “joined the family” before his untimely death, he is now in torment. We can’t judge in God’s place!
What so offends me about the Tribulation plagues in this book is not that they occurred–Revelation does specifically describe them–but that they punish indiscriminately. Good, bad, saints, sinners, all could die, even though God made sure Israel could be spared in Goshen and Noah’s family could be spared in the Ark while He punished the wicked.
In Revelations, the wicked are punished, not people who aren’t sure about Christianity or haven’t enacted the “transaction,” but people who hate God and love evil, and refuse to repent of this. People who hate their fellow man so much that it only seems right that they go through earthquakes, plagues, and have mountains fall on them.
On page 268 of A Second Look at the Second Coming, we read,
Hippolytus’ chilling description [in Against the Greeks] of the end of those who reject the grace of Christ is worthy of contemplation. Observe that Hippolytus says that it is “lovers of iniquity” who shall be condemned, not “doers of iniquity.”
Of course, we have all been guilty of “doing inquity,” and if this were the sole standard for judgment we would all be lost. But a “lover of iniquity” isn’t just someone who sins.
[It is] someone who is wedded to his wickedness, who experiences no qualms for his iniquity, and is thus devoid of any inclination toward repentance. The eternal punishment that Hipplolytus describes is for the truly unrepentant.
The theology of Jenkins and LaHaye fits squarely within the “Western theology” that Kalomiros so detests. And because of the slander it does to God’s name, we also should detest such theology.
I couldn’t help but note, in the ending chapter as the earthquake kills thousands, that Rayford has far more compassion than the deity he believed had caused this earthquake.
Rayford wants to murder Nicolae, the Antichrist, for his lack of compassion on the people dying around him, but note that Rayford’s deity has caused the deaths in the first place.
To be continued.