The Mark–Left Behind Review

by Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins, Tyndale House Publishers, ISBN 1414334974, available practically anywhere Christian books are sold:

A plot summary is here.

In Book 8 of the series, you’d think the series would have hit its stride by now, but no, it’s still slow as molasses.  So many of the writing and theological problems of the older books are still around, that it would be too repetitive to list them all.  So these reviews may end up being shorter.  Or maybe not.  We shall see.

Hey, here’s some good news: “Buck was struck” made a reappearance, after disappearing for so long, on page 72!  Well, that is, if you’d call that good news.  At least it’s something interesting.

On page 2, we read,

Should David be able to see evidence that the man was now indwelt by Satan himself?  The body, the hair, the complexion, the look were the same.

But an intensity, an air of restlessness and alertness, flowed from the eyes.  Though he smiled and talked softly, it was as if Nicolae could barely contain the monster within.

Controlled fury, violence delayed, revenge in abeyance played at the muscles in his neck and shoulders.  David half expected him to burst from his suit and then from his very skin, exposed to the world as the repulsive serpent he was.

I hope this indwelling changes this Antichrist into a more formidable opponent.

On page 73, Chaim’s jaw is wired shut for reasons I’ve forgotten because these books are just so dang long and unmemorable.  Yet he sure is saying quite a bit just the same, full sentences and paragraphs in a conversation with Buck and Tsion.

On page 74, Buck tries to convince Chaim that Chaim’s memory (from the first book) of a conference–a conference with the heads of the countries at which Nicolae shot Stonagal and Todd-Cothran–is wrong.  If you take out the dialogue, however, the body language becomes much more interesting, thus:

The old man put a quivering hand on Buck’s knee….[Chaim] Rosenzweig began to shiver until his whole body shook.  He pressed his hands against his tender face to stop the quivering of his lips.

Ooh la la!  What is it with the men in these books touching each other’s knees?  I thought in American culture that means you want sex!

Chaim finally remembers what happened at the conference.  Then he says, “Thank you, Jehovah God.”  But–why would a Jew say “Jehovah God”?  That is an error made by a Christian trying to figure out God’s name.  Here are the names which are far more likely.

On pages 92-94, Steve Plank shows up again–in a wheelchair, most of his face gone and covered by a mask, a new ID (Pinkerton Stephens), and a new status as a believer.  He takes off his mask to show Rayford and Albie his cross, so we get to read all the gory details of how icky his “face” (or lack thereof) now looks.

Though why the authors keep making things as gross as possible and describing everything, while virtually ignoring descriptions of characters normally–I don’t know.  I think the authors must love horror movies.

On page 101, Rayford and Albie discover Hattie on the floor after a botched suicide attempt.  Hm, Rayford gives Hattie mouth-to-mouth!

On page 108, Zeke explains to Buck that gasoline itself doesn’t burn, but the fumes.  But when he first tells Buck that the gas doesn’t burn, we read,

Buck felt stupid.  He had been a globe-trotting journalist, and a virtual illiterate was trying to tell him gasoline fires aren’t what they seem?

Er, way to be a patronizing, arrogant and pompous ass, Buck.  Especially since Zeke works at a gas station and should know what he’s talking about!

On page 118, Albie makes a little prayer for Hattie: “God, save that girl.”  Girl?  Isn’t she at least 30 by now?  Poor Hattie just doesn’t get a break.

On page 126, David’s love, Annie, has been killed by lightning brought down by Nicolae–or was it Fortunato?  I can’t keep it straight because it’s hard to pay attention to the details in such boring books.

Anyway, a little group of believers decides to gather around him and pray.  Mac lays a hand on David’s shoulder, while Abdullah reaches for his knee….

Er, his knee?  Geez, man, personal space!  Yet again, one man reaches for another man’s knee in these books.  They abound with unintended homoeroticism.

The other thing I find unbelievable is the sudden prayer Mac gives.  It seems so fake after they’ve just discovered that Annie is dead.  Would any of them even be able to speak for the sobs?

I find it interesting that, such as on page 128, the group of believers is using “Nick” currency, the GC-printed money named after the Antichrist.

Considering that the mark of the beast, which you can’t buy or sell without, is quite likely money printed with the image of the Beast (as I read once on a Catholic website), aren’t the believers buying and selling with the mark of the beast? making them subject to condemnation?

The scene on page 134 is rich with unintentionally erotic imagery. Check it out:

Rayford stepped out, and Hattie nearly lunged at him.  “Let me see, let me see!” she said, staring at him.  “I can see yours!” she said.  “That means you can see mine!  Can you?”

His eyes were still adjusting to the sun, but as she pulled him out of the shadow by the door, it hit him.  His knees buckled and he almost fell.

Dang, that door must have hit you hard.  Or was it from the sight of what Hattie is showing you?

“Oh, Hattie!” he said, reaching for her.  She leaped into his arms and squeezed him around the neck so hard he finally had to push her away so he could breathe.

“Does mine look like yours?” she said.

Hmmm.  If it does, then you must be a darn skillful transvestite, because nobody had a clue.

He laughed.  “How would I know?  We can’t see our own.

We can’t?

But yours looks like every other one I’ve seen.

How many have you seen, Rayford?

This is worth waking Albie for.”

A threesome!

“Is he decent?”

Not if he wants to be in this threesome.

“Sure.  Why?”

“Let me.”

Rayford unlocked the door and Hattie burst in.  “Albie, wake up, sleepyhead!”

I’ve got a surprise for you!

He didn’t stir.

She sat on the bed next to him and bounced.  He groaned.  

I bet he wouldn’t groan if you bounced nekkid….Or maybe he would.

“C’mon, Albie!  The day is young!”

“What?” he said, sitting up.  “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing will ever be wrong again!” she said, taking his face in her hands

HMMMM, what do you have in mind, Hattie?

…and pointing his bleary eyes toward her.  “I’m just showing off my mark!”

Er–What?  You’re showing off your BELIEVER’S MARK?  That’s what this is about?  Sheesh.  Bummer.

On page 142, we read in one of Tsion Ben-Judah’s missives to the world:

While the messianic prophecies were fairly straightforward and, indeed, led me to believe in Jesus as their unique fulfillment, I prayed earnestly that God would reveal to me the key to the rest of the predictive passages.

This he did in a most understated way.  He simply impressed upon me to take the words as literally as I took any others from the Bible, unless the context and the wording itself indicated otherwise.

Note that we’re not told how exactly God “impressed” this upon him.  We’re just supposed to take his word for it.

In other words, I had always taken at its word a passage such as, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” or “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Why then, could I not take just as straightforwardly a verse which said that John the Revelator saw a pale horse?  

Because the Bible is made up of all different kinds of genres: poetry, narrative, apocalypse.  You wouldn’t take every word of poetry literally, would you?  Why should John have seen a literal pale horse when he’s writing apocalyptic literature, NOT narrative?

Must we read the Bible as if we had a literal brain that thinks that when you say, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” cats and dogs are actually falling from the sky?

Yes, I understood that the horse stood for something.  And yet, the Bible said that John saw it.  I took that literally, along with all the other prophetic statements (unless they used phrases such as “like unto” or others that made it clear they were symbolic).

Prophecy is meant to be ambiguous.  You don’t apply the same rules to an apocalypse that you do to, say, a history.

My dear friends, the Scriptures opened to me in a way I never dreamed possible.

That’s funny, I always found the prophecies to be much harder to understand when literal, than when I began to read them metaphorically.  Nothing in Revelations makes sense when you take it literally!  I finally began to understand it when I discovered the symbolic readings.

Also, the Scriptures opened to me in a way I never dreamed possible when I began reading it with an Orthodox Study Bible that explained how everything fit together.  Things that had been lost in Protestant literalism and sledgehammers making the Bible read how different denominations wanted, now became clear with the Orthodox reading.

For example, James and Paul now work together rather than opposing each other on works vs. faith.  Another example is, I had no idea that when Christ was baptized in the Jordan, he redeemed the waters of the world and made them useful for Christian baptism.

On page 144, Tsion refers to Revelation 13:11-18 as a “clear prophetic passage.”  Yeah, clear as mud!  Check out this passage for yourself.   We’re supposed to take this as completely literal?

It makes far more sense to me to see it as, say, a metaphor for a Roman emperor who got too big for his britches (another metaphor we can’t take literally).  If the mark of the beast is money, printed with the emperor’s face, then it makes perfect sense to say that you can’t buy or sell without it.

And are we to believe that the Antichrist is a literal beast with two lamb horns on his head, coming out the ground, and speaking like a dragon?  After all, there is no “like unto” there!  But even LaHaye and Jenkins don’t give Nicolae two literal horns!

On page 1711, the Orthodox Study Bible reads:

The early Church was convinced the Second Coming was near (Acts 2:16, 17; Heb. 1:1; 1Jn 2:18).  John’s vision was first of all a reminder from God to the churches not to give in to their adversaries, but to hold fast to their faith.

The book can also be seen as prophecy addressing a time far distant from its era of composition, predicting actual future events; or as an exposition of the ongoing relationships and conflicts between God and His kingdom, humanity, and Satan.  These three approaches are not contradictory but complementary; all are valid.

While seen as canonical and inspired by God, the Revelation is the only New Testament book not publicly read in the services of the Orthodox Church.  This is partly because the book was only gradually accepted as canonical in many parts of Christendom.

In addition, in the second and third centuries Revelation was widely twisted and sensationally misinterpreted, and the erroneous teachings brought troublesome confusion to Christians–a trend that continues to this day.

As for the number 666, which The Mark references on page 145, and the mark of the beast, let’s see what the Orthodox Study Bible says on page 1733:

The mark is a parody of God’s seal in 7:3, alluding to both the Hebrew phylactery of Deuteronomy 6:8 (God’s Law kept on the forehead and left hand) and to chrismation (when the new believer is marked with a cross by holy oil on the hands and forehead, among other places).  This is not necessarily a physical or visible mark, is “gained by worshiping the beast,” and “is required to do business.”

As for 666, in Roman times when Revelations was written, letters were used for numbers (ie, Roman numerals), so you could calculate the numerical value of names. So 666 is the value of the name of the beast, who is a man.

“John may be purposefully enigmatic, using a secret code to protect against a charge of sedition.”  6 stands for “falling short, incompleteness, imperfection,” 7 for “perfection, fullness, completion,” 8 for “eschatological perfection, a superabundance of fullness.”

Sunday is the 8th day, the day of Resurrection.  Though “777” is used in evangelical circles to represent Christ as a counter to 666, “Jesus” in Greek is actually 888, while the Trinity is 777.

666 is “the epitome of created inadequacy.”  When transliterated from Greek into Hebrew, “Nero Caesar” equals 666.  Transliterated from Latin into Hebrew, it’s 616, which some Revelation texts read instead of 666.

If 666 actually refers to Domitian, “whom some considered to be Nero reincarnated, it would be safer to refer not to the present persecutor but to the one long gone.”  But still, only 100 years after John wrote Revelation, St. Irenaeus still “had no idea to whom John was referring!”

(Here ends the summary of the Orthodox Study Bible, p. 1733.)

Despite the first book, which showed that people could think they were Christians and still get left behind in the Rapture, Tsion now tells his cyber flock that they can know for sure they are eternally secure as Christians: “If you are already a believer, you will not be able to turn your back on Christ, praise God.”

But even in the real-life persecutions and martyrdoms in the early centuries of the Church, many believers turned their backs on the Church rather than be martyred in the many grisly, torturous fashions dreamed up by the Romans.

So how can these Tribulation Saints be so sure, just because they believe, that they won’t do the same?  It is dangerous for their souls to tell them they won’t.

Here we read about the many who lapsed from the faith to avoid martyrdom, and the controversy in the Church over letting them back in later on.  If so many couldn’t stand up for their faith in the face of terrible death, how can Tsion be so certain that all believers will be able to stand up for their faith in the face of the guillotine?

Are you a Calvinist, Tsion, once saved always saved?  What about the many people who were left behind after the Rapture, thinking they were saved?  Don’t give your flock such false security!

We find no such teaching in the New Testament, to trust that we won’t fall, rather that we are to be vigilant, to stay steadfast, lest we fall away.

On pages 147-8 we read:

It may be hard to recognize God’s mercy when his wrath is also intensifying.  Woe to those who believe the lie that God is only “love.”

Yes, he is love.  And his gift of Jesus as the sacrifice for our sin is the greatest evidence of this.

But the Bible also says God is “holy, holy, holy.”  He is righteous and a God of justice, and it is not in his nature to allow sin to go unpunished or unpaid for.

But what does Orthodoxy believe about God as love, wrath, justice?

First of all, the reason for the Cross is a bit different.  God is seen as impassive: That is, he’s not stirred to strong passions for evil in the same way we humans are, passions which drive us to defend ourselves or our good name at the expense of rational thinking or love or justice.

He does not hate sinners, as demonstrated when Christ spent so much time with sinners.  He hates sinful deeds–those are what condemn a soul.

And when the Bible speaks of his wrath, that “wrath” is actually the way sinners experience his love and sense of justice–you know, just as with a parent and child.

A good parent loves the child, protects him, and tells him not to do things because they will hurt him, make things difficult for the parent changing his diaper, or will hurt someone else.  But the child does not like being told no, and will act up.

The parent disciplines, but not to upset the child or be a tyrant, though the child thinks so.  This is corrective discipline and loving.

The use of the word “wrath” was not meant to be literal, but something that the writers and readers of the Bible could understand.  It basically means “consequences.”  Redemption redeems us from sin’s consequences; it heals our spiritually diseased condition.

(You’ll find my sources here.)

From The River of Fire by Alexandre Kalomiros:

This paganistic conception of God’s justice which demands infinite sacrifices in order to be appeased clearly makes God our real enemy and the cause of all our misfortunes.

Moreover, it is a justice which is not at all just since it punishes and demands satisfaction from persons which were not at all responsible for the sin of their forefathers.

In other words, what Westerners call justice ought rather to be called resentment and vengeance of the worst kind. Even Christ’s love and sacrifice loses its significance and logic in this schizoid notion of a God who kills God in order to satisfy the so-called justice of God.

…The word DIKAIWSUNH,”justice”, is a translation of the Hebraic word tsedaka.  This word means “the divine energy which accomplishes man’s salvation”.

It is parallel and almost synonymous to the other Hebraic word, hesed which means “mercy”, “compassion”, “love”, and to the word, emeth which means “fidelity”, “truth”.

This, as you see, gives a completely other dimension to what we usually conceive as justice.  This is how the Church understood God’s justice.  This is what the Fathers of the Church taught of it.

“How can you call God just”, writes Saint Isaac the Syrian, “when you read the passage on the wage given to the workers?  ‘Friend, I do thee no wrong; I will give unto this last even as unto thee who worked for me from the first hour.  Is thine eye evil, because I am good?'”

“How can a man call God just”, continues Saint Isaac, “when he comes across the passage on the prodigal son, who wasted his wealth in riotous living, and yet only for the contrition which he showed, the father ran and fell upon his neck, and gave him authority over all his wealth?

“None other but His very Son said these things concerning Him lest we doubt it, and thus He bare witness concerning Him.  Where, then, is God’s justice, for whilst we were sinners, Christ died for us!”

So we see that God is not just, with the human meaning of this word, but we see that His justice means His goodness and love, which are given in an unjust manner, that is, God always gives without taking anything in return, and He gives to persons like us who are not worthy of receiving.

That is why Saint Isaac teaches us: “Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in the things concerning you.  And if David calls Him just and upright, His Son revealed to us that He is good and kind.  ‘He is good,’ He says, ‘to the evil and impious.'”

God is good, loving, and kind toward those who disregard, disobey, and ignore Him.  He never returns evil for evil, He never takes vengeance.

His punishments are loving means of correction, as long as anything can be corrected and healed in this life.  They never extend to eternity.

He created everything good.  The wild beasts recognize as their master the Christian who through humility has gained the likeness of God.  They draw near to him, not with fear, but with joy, in grateful and loving submission; they wag their heads and lick his hands and serve him with gratitude.

The irrational beasts know that their Master and God is not evil and wicked and vengeful, but rather full of love.  (See also St. Isaac of Syria, SWZOMENA ASKHTIKA [Athens, 1871], pp. 95-96.)

He protected and saved us when we fell.  The eternally evil has nothing to do with God.  It comes rather from the will of His free, logical creatures, and this will He respects.

Lots more good stuff is in that article.

Tsion goes on to tell his flock that

if the Bible is true, next on the agenda is the ceremonial desecration of the temple in Jerusalem by Antichrist himself….this desecration shall include the sacrificing of a pig on the sacred altar.  It also includes blasphemy against God, profanity, derogatory statements about God and Messiah, and a denial of his resurrection.

I’m not sure where he gets all this from, saying it’s in the Bible. Best I can figure is that he gets it from Matthew 24:15-16:

Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

The Daniel verses on this subject are 11:31 and 12:11, as follows:

Daniel speaks of warring kings.  As for one of these kings,

Then offspring shall arise from him, and they shall defile the sanctuary of power.  They shall take away the daily sacrifice, and place there the abomination of desolation.

There is nothing here about pigs or anything else Tsion mentioned.  In fact, Daniel was written before there was a Messiah or resurrection to deny.  Verse 12:11 reads,

From the time the daily sacrifice is taken away and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be 1290 days.

The Orthodox Study Bible notes explain that the Daniel verses describe struggles between the Romans, Antiochus IV Epiphanes who reigned in Syria and Judea, and the Maccabees.  2 Maccabees 5-6 describes just what Epiphanes did:

Among various other cruel and despicable acts, he desecrated the Jewish Temple by daring to enter into it, with defiled hands taking the holy vessels, pulling down “the things dedicated by other kings to increase the glory and honor of the place,” and carrying off 1800 talents.

He insisted the temple be dedicated to Zeus; in fact, the The New Oxford Annotated Bible identifies the abomination as an altar to Zeus set up in the Temple’s holy of holies.

The Gentiles filled the temple with “debauchery and reveling,” including sex inside the temple precincts, and brought “unfitting things inside.  The altar was filled with disgusting things forbidden by the laws.”  That would include pigs.

Hey, wait a minute, this is 2 Maccabees, the Apocrypha, not recognized as Biblical by Protestants.  There was nothing in the Protestant Bible in these verses about pigs being sacrificed on the altar, but it’s here in 2 Maccabees.

Yet Tsion said it was in the Bible.  So–Does Tsion agree with the Catholics and Orthodox, and recognize 2 Maccabees as part of the Bible?  Hmmmm….

The Orthodox Study Bible notes also say that

Many early Christians also saw the destruction of the temple by the Roman general, Titus, in AD 70, as well as the persecutions of Christians by the Roman emperor Nero, as fulfillments of these verses [Daniel 11:30-35].

Indeed, Daniel’s prophecies have been fulfilled many times over the course of history, as God’s people have endured persecution and testing at the hands of those who blaspheme God in their pride.

Which works against the idea of complete literalism in the End-Times prophecies, doesn’t it?  How can the same exact thing be happening over and over again unless it can be understood as symbolic?

This also shows that the Antichrist is hardly one single person at one single point in time, but a figure who keeps rising again and again throughout history, persecuting first the Jews and then the Church.

Hitler would probably qualify as one Antichrist.  Also Stalin, Lenin, the Chinese government.

From what I’ve seen of Carpathia so far in these books, he’s a wimp compared to the many real-life Antichrists who have risen and fallen during the last 2000 years since Revelation was written.

If you want to create a compelling Antichrist character, you must study the madness of the previous Antichrists, their narcissism, how they got so many to do their bidding that–in the case of Hitler–even Christians fell in step with the Nazis.

These men did not have Carpathia’s mind-bending powers; they used their own words to mesmerize.  Good people, normal people, ended up following the tyranny of the majority–why?

This is how you write an Antichrist.  You don’t just keep saying that Carpathia is succeeding because he’s such a good speaker, and then portray him giving some lame speech that names all the countries of the UN.  Is that the kind of speech Hitler would give?  How did Caligula inspire his followers to treat him as a god?

Carpathia is making such a half-hearted attempt at scapegoating the Orthodox Jews and Christians that I just don’t see it convincing anybody in the real world, except maybe for people with personality disorders who already like to scapegoat.  Until I can imagine your Antichrist and his followers in a Rammstein music video–

–until I–while listening to Links 2 3 4

–can imagine his soldiers goose-stepping, he just isn’t a convincing Antichrist.

The Study Bible also notes at Matthew 24:15,

Daniel’s prophecy of the abomination of desolation (Dan 9:27) was fulfilled in AD 70, when the Roman general Titus entered the Most Holy Place and had a statue of himself erected in the temple before having the temple destroyed.

The Lord’s phrase ‘when you see’ indicates that many of the disciples would still be alive at the time.  The words ‘whoever reads, let him understand’ are commonly understood to be inserted by Matthew into Christ’s address as an encouragement to his early Christian flock, who may have witnessed this event.

Also, for Matt. 24:3-31 the Study Bible notes that Scripture describes the End Times in so many ways that “no precise chronology can be determined.”  We are to be watchful and virtuous, not focusing on timetables for things that haven’t even happened yet.

For Daniel 9:27, we learn that Hippolytus identified the “abomination of desolations” as Antichrist himself, “announcing desolation to the world.”

Eusebius writes about the abomination of desolation, referring the reader to the works of Josephus on the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, where he can read how the abomination “was set up in the very temple of God, celebrated of old, when it was utterly destroyed by fire” (“The Last Siege of the Jews Before Christ,” chapter 5, Book 3: Missions and Persecutions, Church History).

This website goes into this from a Jewish perspective.

Also, you can read Josephus’ “War of the Jews” here to find out just what all went down during that desecration–all things not detailed in the Protestant Bible.

You need to go outside the Protestant Bible into other sources–Early Church Fathers, Eusebius, the Jewish Josephus, histories, the Deuterocanonical books which Protestants call “Apocrypha”–to find out what the “abomination of desolation” is all about.

But the danger of doing that, is discovering that maybe your system of interpretation is faulty.

On page 150, after reading Tsion’s latest missive to his Web flock, Buck hits “with great relish” “the key that broadcast Tsion’s words to a global audience.”  Aw, it would’ve been so funny if he hit the wrong button and deleted it instead.

Page 152 has a merciful view on forgiveness: Albie says to Hattie, who is now a believer, remorseful over things she did to the other members of the Trib Force, but not wishing to have to go over them all again,

“A wise man once counseled me that apologies must be specific, but now that I am a believer, I am not sure I agree.  If your friends know that you are sorry, deeply remorseful, and that you mean it when you apologize, I expect they will forgive you.”

[Hattie] “Without making me rehash everything so they’ll know I know what I did?”

Albie cocked his head and appeared to be thinking.  “That doesn’t sound like a born-again response, as Dr. Ben-Judah would call it.  Does it?”

She shook her head.  “That would be like rubbing it in.”

Of course, it isn’t quite that easy, because the Trib Force is angry at Hattie and (since Hattie talks to Chloe on the phone before the announcement is made) doesn’t realize she’s a believer now.  They forgive her, yet still get annoyed at her.

On page 159, Hattie goes to speak to Rayford as he pilots a helicopter. She puts “a hand on each of his shoulders,” then “let her hands slip to the top of his chair.”  Hmm–is Hattie getting friendly with Rayford again now that she’s saved?  Could there be a third marriage in the future for Rayford?  Lucky duck….

On page 165, we meet Viv Ivins, a family friend of Carpathia’s, like an aunt to him.  She wears dress suits, teases her blue-gray hair “into a helmetlike ball,” and–oh no–she wears sensible shoes!

For a female character in this series to care about her arches more than silly foot-killing fashions, she must be eeeeeviiiill!  Which doesn’t make any sense, but seems to be the case.  Remember, Verna Zee also wore sensible shoes.

On page 177, we find that “Hattie was getting on everyone’s nerves.” We’re not told how she’s doing this.  So even though she’s saved now, she’s still getting on everyone’s nerves?

On page 186, finally, we have a mission for the Tribulation Force: “stymieing Carpathia where possible and winning as many people to the kingdom as they could.”

The new Supreme Commander, Hickman, says on page 192, “You know how [Carpathia] talks, never usin’ contractions and like that.”  Eh?  No, I never noticed, and his sentence that Hickman quotes–“maybe I will show them–” works better that way, anyway.  It seems odd to bring attention to it here.

On page 205, the GC has been putting guillotines around the globe to go along with the biochips, “marks,” to be put on everyone’s forehead or hand.  They don’t expect much defiance.

But how can they be putting up these guillotines without losing the loyalty of the people of the world?  Where are the protests, the Jon Stewarts, the Stephen Colberts, the pundits on FOX?  You don’t have to be Christian or Orthodox Jewish to find these guillotines abhorrent!

I do like Hannah Palemoon, a new believer introduced into David’s life, and her sense of humor.  She’s a nurse, the type to make fun of your wounds while treating them, but without offending.  Since David’s fiancée was just killed by Carpathia’s lightning strikes in the last book, and Hannah seems to have a little thing for him, I wonder if they’re meant to be a couple in a later book….

Then I get to page 268, yet another meeting between some of the Trib Force people.  ARGH!  These books are mostly endless committee meetings rather than action!  You know what that’s like when it happens at work; imagine the same thing happening in a book you read.  Do we really need to witness all the decision-making?  Can’t we just watch how things actually play out?

On page 271, Buck tells Albie about the guillotines:

“That’s one of my sidebar stories, how easily they can be assembled.  They’re simple machines with basic, pattern-cut parts.  Each is basically wood, screws, blade, spring, and rope.

That’s why it was so easy for the GC to send out the specs and let anybody who wanted work and had the materials to have at it.  You’ve got huge manufacturing plants reopening to mass-produce these, competing with amateur craftsmen in their backyards.”

Er…Yeah.  Just what you’d expect from a guillotine.  Such gripping prose; I bet Buck’s readers were on the edge of their seats.  😛

Makes me long for the scene from Image of the Beast with Patty at the guillotine (starts at 6:25).  Now that’s an impressive scene, especially from a Christian movie (Christian movies, especially from that time period, tended to be poorly produced, poorly acted, etc.).

And you know the Left Behind series is dragging when you begin longing for the Thief in the Night series, of which Image of the Beast is part, and thinking how exciting it is, how suspenseful, when you begin to hold it up as the gold standard for Rapture/Tribulation movies.  Because the Thief in the Night series is really, really bad.

At least in the “Thief” series, when you’re traveling with the characters, you’re going somewhere, getting character development, and the like.

In the “Left Behind” series, on the other hand, on page 272, Albie–disguised as a GC commander–calls over a GC Peacekeeper (who’s directing traffic) and asks her for directions to the main detention facility.  Then we get,

“Well, they’re all together about three clicks west.  Take a left at your next intersection, and follow the unpaved road around a curve until it joins the rebuilt highway again.  The center will be on your right, just inside the city.  Can’t miss it.  Massive, surrounded by barbed wire and more of us.”

Wow.  6 lines of directions we’ll never need to a place we’ll never drive to.  And we couldn’t possibly have known that a jail would be big, surrounded by barbed wire and guards.  Why not summarize these things, say Albie flagged down an officer, got directions, and found the jail? The lack of editing in these books is astounding.

On page 279, we find still more blindly obvious descriptions of the detention center:

…the complex of five rather plain, industrial buildings that had probably once been factories.  The windows were covered with bars, and the perimeter was a tangle of fence and razor wire.

We get full descriptions of a jail which looks like any other jail or prison camp we’ve seen on TV and in the movies, with nothing remarkable about it.  Yet when we need to know what the characters look like, normally we get nothing except one or two details–hair color and drop-dead gorgeous, or looks like Robert Redford–which really don’t say much.

On page 297, a bunch of teen prison girls are being herded over to get the mark or death.  (Insert “cake or death” jokes here if you like.)  One of the girls clarifies that if your choice is the mark or death, then you really have no choice.

And on page 298, Buck muses that the girls didn’t really know what they were choosing, that it wasn’t between loyalty and death, but “between Heaven or Hell, eternal life or eternal damnation.”

Which is why this whole premise is problematic, that if you take the mark in these books, you are irrevocably condemned to Hell.  Doesn’t the very act of choosing require that you know?  If you don’t know, then how you can be irrevocably condemned for it?  Isn’t God more merciful than that?

On page 308, we read Rayford’s thoughts that:

But if there was someone who seemed healthier more quickly than most, it was Hattie.  The irony of that was not lost on Rayford.

Fewer than twenty-four hours before she became a believer, she was suicidal.  Months before, she had admitted to any Trib Force member who had the endurance to debate her that she understood and believed the whole truth about the salvation gospel of Christ.

She simply had decided, on her own, to willfully reject it because, even if God didn’t seem to care that she didn’t deserve it, she did care.  She was saying, in effect, that God could offer her the forgiveness of her sins without qualification, but she didn’t have to accept it.

But once she finally received the gift, her mere persistence was wearing.  In many ways she was the same forthright woman she had been before, nearly as obnoxious as a new believer as she had been as a holdout.  But of course, everyone was happy she was finally on the team.

Poor obnoxious Hattie.  Even becoming a believer doesn’t stop her from being obnoxious.

Rayford finds her doing a womanly task–changing the baby–and asks if she has a minute.  She says, “If this guy is drowsy, I’ve got all the time in the world, which–according to our favorite rabbi–is slightly less than three and a half years.”

Just a harmless joke that anybody might make, but Rayford thinks, “Hattie isn’t as funny as she sees herself, but there is something to be said for consistency.”

Yes, there is something to be said for consistency: Ray is still condescending to this person whom he once wanted to pork.  Love them, then devalue and discard them–Dang, Rayford sounds like a narcissist!  Knowing what we know about him, yeah, “narcissism” fits him like a glove.

Anyway, Ray hems and haws a bit before finally getting around to saying that he needs Hattie to do a favor that has to do with Chaim.  She says,

“Isn’t he the best?”

“He’s great, Hattie.  But he needs something Tsion and I don’t seem to be able to give him.”

“Rayford!  He’s twice my age!”

Oh, geez.  She’s redeemed yet still she’s painted as the whore!

The “favor,” by the way, is for her to transfer some of her new believer bounciness into Chaim.  In a nonsexual fashion, of course.

On page 312, Buck, who is impersonating “Corporal Jack Jensen on behalf of Deputy Commander Marcus Elbaz [Albie],” is watching as prisoners in the detention center are made to choose between the Mark and the guillotine: “Buck watched the process, despairing at the masses who ignorantly sealed their fate.”

Yes, Buck watched as the masses ignorantly sealed their fate.  They’re ignorant, yet this seals their fate?  They can’t possibly change their mind later if they got a mark they didn’t actually fully understand?

Somehow I think that God would snatch souls out of Satan’s very grasp, even if Satan had a signed contract saying they were his.  Not to mention, you would think that Buck would at least try to stop the proceedings, maybe quietly pass out some Chick Tracts.  (Everyone loves Chick Tracts!)

But then his phone vibrated–woowoo!  I bet Buck loves having his phone on vibrate.  Then his phone shows how much it loves him back.

On page 339, Tsion once again deceives his readers with the false security of Once-Saved-Always-Saved, telling them that once they decide for Christ and get God’s seal on their foreheads, or accept the mark of loyalty to Antichrist, “[Y]ou cannot change your mind!”

And that he believes that when his flock is forced to make public their beliefs, choose for God or the Antichrist, they will be “unable to deny Jesus, unable to even choose the mark that would temporarily save our lives.”

I bet this would be news to the Early Church.  Not only did the Epistles warn us to stay steadfast in the faith, that we needed to work hard to stay Christians, but many people were turned away from re-joining the faith after having chosen loyalty to the emperor over martyrdom.  People are weak.

On pages 342 to 343, Tsion basically invents a way of explaining Exodus 32:33 to fit with once-saved-always-saved: When Moses asks God to blot his name out of God’s book rather than punish the Israelites for their many sins, God says he will blot out of the book whoever has sinned against Him.

Tsion comes up with the idea that this is referring to the book of the living, and that the book referred to in the New Testament is the book of Christians.  He has no sources to base this on other than “my contention” and “to me”–and having to make the Bible conform to Calvinist doctrine.

This is not the traditional view of the Book of Life, rather, that it and the Book of the Life of the Lamb (which Tsion says is referred to in the New Testament) are one and the same thing: a roster of the righteous, out of which to be blotted means (physical and spiritual) death.

The Talmud and the Book of Jubilees also refer to a Book of the Dead, where the wicked and their deeds are recorded.

Tsion’s version is not one I’ve heard of before: Growing up in the Nazarene tradition, I always understood there to be one Book of Life with the names of the redeemed, not two separate books, one for the physically alive and one for the spiritually alive.

With his lack of cited sources, or even a reference to any tradition, Tsion appears to have invented this solely out of his own head, and with some prooftexting, in order to fit with his contention that none of his flock need fear choosing the Mark over salvation out of brown-underpantsing fear.

R. Kruspedai said in the name of R. Johanan: Three books are opened [in heaven] on New Year, one for the thoroughly wicked, one for the thoroughly righteous, and one for the intermediate.

The thoroughly righteous are forthwith inscribed definitively in the book of life; the thoroughly wicked are forthwith inscribed definitively in the book of death; the doom of the intermediate is suspended from New Year till the Day of Atonement; if they deserve well, they are inscribed in the book of life; if they do not deserve well, they are inscribed in the book of death.

Said R. Abin, What text tells us this? — Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.

‘Let them be blotted out from the book — this refers to the book of the wicked.

‘Of life — this is the book of the righteous.

‘And not be written with the righteous’– this is the book of the intermediate.

R. Nahman b. Isaac derives it from here: And if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written, ‘Blot me, I pray thee’– this is the book of the wicked.

‘Out of thy book’– this is the book of the righteous. ‘Which thou has written’– this is the book of the intermediate.

Talmud – Mas. Rosh HaShana 16b, translated into English with notes, glossary and indices under the editorship of Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein, B.A., Ph.D., D. Lit., Soncino Babylonian Talmud

I see I’m not the only one to have noticed this strange teaching of Tim LaHaye’s:

Scripture-Twisting in the LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible

The Book of Life: One Book or Two?

On pages 348 to 354, we read about a kid, Chang, who doesn’t want to take the Mark, is a believer, resists all he can, but is forced to take the Mark by his father.  But underneath the Mark can still be seen (to other believers) the cross of Christ.  So it’s not all-or-nothing after all?

At long last, I have finished book 8.  I’m halfway through the series (I think)!  On to book 9….

[5/4/11-6/22/11]

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