by Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins, Tyndale House Publishers, ISBN 141430577X, available practically anywhere Christian books are sold:
A plot summary is here.
And we trudge ever on to the end of the series….The funny thing is that character development–so sorely lacking in the other books–is finally here:
We see Carpathia’s sociopathy in action. We see how Buck became a star journalist. We discover that Rayford was tapped as a potential pilot for Air Force One long before Carpathia needed a pilot.
It would have been helpful to know all this way back in the beginning of the series, where we wanted to know these things but were denied.
And on we go to page 15. Irene and Rayford are arguing, yet again, over religion, because even though they’re both Christians, Irene has decided the family church is not Christian enough.
Rayford sees her personality change, and that she’s turned into a zealot. He says, “What’s the difference between a zealous Christian and a zealous terrorist who believes God or Allah or whoever has told him to bomb buildings or kill people?”
Irene says, “Well, for one thing, have you ever heard of a terrorist attack by a born-again Christian, claiming God told him to do it?”
So Rayford throws the Crusades in her face, instead of saying, Why yes, I have: Just Google “abortion clinic bombings.” Christian terrorism does actually exist. So while Rayford is being mean to Irene, lumping her in with terrorists, both of them are also using faulty arguments.
On page 34, he recognizes that his “perky blonde daughter” reminds “him of himself” with her intellect and questions, yet his “many dreams” have been pinned on his son….Why no dreams pinned on Chloe? Is it because she’s a girl?
On page 54, Irene goes to visit Rayford’s mother, whose mind has been going. Irene says to her, “Mom, do you ever pray?”
Ray’s mom says, “Why, yes, of course I do. I pray every day. I am a Christian, you know.”
To which Irene wants to retort, I know you think you are.
Of course, Irene soon discovers that Ray’s mother really is a Christian because she read her Bible and found out she had to have Jesus in her heart. But just because her view of Christianity was different from Irene’s, Irene was so quick to believe her not a true Christian!
Being a true Christian is about believing in and following Christ. You can do that no matter what church you go to, whether you believe in infant baptism, saying the sinner’s prayer, or whatever. You can behave like you follow Christ, or behave with no morals or values or compassion, no matter if you go to a liberal UCC church or a little Bible church.
On page 110, we learn that Buck “eschewed the standard who, what, when, where, why, and how inverted-pyramid formula and got to the point in the first paragraph.” So–You mean his stories don’t have the necessary facts for the reader to know what’s going on? I hate news stories like that.
On page 112, we read that Buck “had been lounging in the editorial office, gassing with a couple of photographers”–What the heck is gassing? Are they smoking weed?
On pages 135-136, an aide at the health-care facility where Rayford’s father is, tells Irene that he led Mr. Steele to Christ. He called in the code blue as Mr. Steele died; before the crash cart came, the aide told him to get right with God.
He did the whole Evangelical routine, asking do you know you’re a sinner, do you know Christ died for your sins, etc. etc. Mr. Steele says he has already prayed and accepted Jesus into his heart, when Irene told him how. (Mr. Steele has Alzheimer’s, and is not always lucid enough to respond to Irene.)
Um, are aides allowed to do this? And how would he know if Mr. Steele was a Christian or not? What gave him the idea he could assume? Or does he do this to everyone he finds dying–which, again, brings up the question, is this allowed?
On pages 137-138, Irene and Rayford argue, yet again, over Irene’s sudden zealousness. She begins by saying, “I swear, if there is no mention of your father’s faith during the eulogies I’m going to say something.”
To Ray’s, “Don’t embarrass me or the pastor,” she replies, “It would embarrass you to have people know that your father was a true believer?”
Um–What the–Why is it such a big deal to put this into the eulogy that she would embarrass people over it, if it’s not there??!! The argument continues:
“A deathbed convert is more like it, Irene. After your browbeating and that Filipino kid’s badgering, what choice did a confused, dying man have? Anyway, he’s already known in this church as a true believer for a lifetime.”
“This won’t be doing justice to your father.” This was the last thing she wanted to fight over, but it was as if she couldn’t help herself.
“Just promise me you won’t do anything weird, Irene.”
“You’d consider it weird if I merely told the truth?”
“I’d be humiliated.”
She pressed her lips together and shook her head, despising that she felt so weak. “I won’t humiliate you, Rayford.”
“I do wish your mother could be here. You couldn’t stop her from telling the truth.”
“Depends on your idea of truth,” he said. “People would pass it off as the ravings of an Alzheimer’s patient.”
“But I would know better. And so would you.”
“You know what I think, Irene. The truth is my dad has always been a Christian. He didn’t just get religion before he died.”
Then during the funeral, instead of crying over her loss, she weeps “throughout the service” because
[w]hile all the familiar Scriptures about death and rebirth were employed, nothing that was said explained them or brought the point home.
Mr. Steele was revered, but there was no mention of his coming to a saving belief in Christ, no mention of his ever repenting of sin and putting his faith in God.
But why would there be mention of this, when he was a lifelong Christian and everybody knew this?
This reminds me of my time in an Evangelical Free church, during which I felt bad for my Lutheran husband because people kept saying Lutherans weren’t really saved.
Lutherans baptize babies, you see, and have confirmation, rather than telling people they have to say the sinner’s prayer and convert even if they’ve been born and raised in the Church.
I was also taught this growing up in a Nazarene church, that Catholics, Lutherans, etc. weren’t really saved unless they did the sinner’s prayer, because they did it “wrong” by baptizing babies and calling them Christians.
I do seem to recall mention made, during his funeral, of my own grandfather coming to Christ right before he died. There is nothing wrong with speaking of the religious faith of the deceased.
But Irene will not be satisfied with less than a bludgeon-over-the-head fire-and-brimstone sermon saying that Mr. Steele lived his life in the wrong church, not truly believing, until he did things the way her church said it needed to be done–complete with calls for the mourners to repent of their sins before it’s too late.
This is not what a funeral is for! It’s easy to see why Rayford was turned off to her brand of Christianity.
But his not being Raptured with her sends out a strong message from the authors: that even if Christians turned you off to the church, no matter what reason you’re not “saved,” God won’t look on your heart, won’t have mercy on you.
And all because you didn’t believe in something, the truth of which is impossible to prove in this life. And even because you were in the wrong church.
On page 143, we find more of Irene trying to get Rayford to change churches….
Geez, when I began looking into Orthodoxy, my husband said he would go with me if I chose it–but I could tell he didn’t want to. So I released him from his promise so he could go back to the Lutheran church, after we spent several years trying to find one church we both liked; I became Orthodox on my own. I do not push him like Irene does.
She has to realize that conversion from one church to another cannot be made lightly, that it has to be desired by the heart, not badgered. Rayford also has to realize that he can’t ridicule and force her into staying in a church she does not like.
My college memoirs speak of my ex Phil trying to shame me into becoming Catholic because “otherwise we can’t get married,” even though I was staunchly Evangelical. St. John Chrysostom has some good words on the matter:
It is as if Paul were saying, “If your husband is not contentious, it could very well prove to be worthwhile if you stay with him. So stay, give him advice, persuade him of the truth.” No teacher is so effective as a persuasive wife.
Notice, however, that St. Paul doesn’t forcibly impose this idea, and demand that every spouse, no matter what the circumstances, attempt to persuade his partner in this way; such a demand would be too burdensome.
On the other hand, he doesn’t recommend the whole situation to be dismissed as hopeless (Homily 19 on 1 Corinthians 7).
However, he says that if your unbelieving husband tries to force you to violate your beliefs, beats you, picks fights, it’s better to separate, and better to let the unbelieving spouse leave.
So you see he advocates gentle persuasion for a spouse who is open to it, but not forcing your beliefs on the other.
On page 153, we see the natural outcome of henpecking your husband: He starts looking elsewhere for solace. He starts driving home a hot stewardess, Hattie, whom we already know from the post-Rapture books.
We read, “He was certain he had never had as beautiful a woman in such close proximity.” Not even his ex-girlfriend, who was hot but self-centered? Hasn’t he ever, in his entire life, driven home a beautiful friend, or sat next to a beautiful girl in a class or church, or had a beautiful teacher?
This next part is not related to theology, but I was pleasantly surprised to find, on pages 164 to 167, the answer to what happened with my car years ago: Buck and his best friend Dirk are stuck on the side of the road after an engine lock-up: Buck has not been paying attention, so the car runs out of oil and overheats.
[S]uddenly all the gauges lit up, the dashboard lights went out, the headlights dimmed, and the car shut down.
Back at my first job after college, I was forced to drive because my job was in the next county, out of range of public transportation. I also had an old beater, because I couldn’t afford anything better. The oil began leaking, so I kept oil cans in the trunk, and tested it every time I filled up (which was every few days).
Despite my diligence, on the way to work one day, in terrible wintry weather, my car suddenly began slowing down right on the highway! I couldn’t get it to behave, so I pulled over to the side before a catastrophe happened.
This was the mid-90s, when a few people had cell phones, but I didn’t get one until 2007. So until a sheriff’s car came by, or somebody took pity on me, I had to deal with it myself, knowing almost nothing about cars, and being scared of driving. (Situations like this did not help the fear.)
I had no clue what happened, or how to fix it, but since I knew how to deal with oil and had an oil can, I tried that first. After dumping in two quarts, I got back in–and my car was fine after that.
I always wondered what that was all about, but here, in an unexpected place, I found my answer: an overheated car, apparently out of oil, and engine lock-up.
Irene’s conversion has somehow made her automatically proficient in Christianese. Just on page 177, for example, she uses such terms as, “soak up real Bible teaching and preaching” and “I’m starving to death spiritually.” It must have been implanted in her brain along with the salvation.
Also, remarkably, her conversion has somehow turned her–not into an obedient and submissive wife, since she keeps badgering Rayford about converting and arguing with him over the funeral–but into a wife who wants to be obedient and submissive.
Didn’t Irene grow up sometime in the 21st century, when the culture has moved away from that whole man-the-head-of-the-household thing? I can’t imagine Rayford’s (most likely) liberal church insisting on such things. That’s far more easily found in the Fundamentalist/Evangelical churches.
Liberal churches tend to celebrate being open, welcoming, affirming, allowing homosexuality, women breaking barriers and being preachers, that sort of thing. Yet from what Irene says here, Rayford expects to be the head of the household, and expects the woman to submit:
“Right now everything in our marriage is how he wants it. There’s no real give-and-take….
“And if he’d just give me an iota of consideration, I’d be more than happy to let the rest of my life revolve around him. Something tells me, though, that he’s got the wrong idea of what it means to be the head of the household.”
“Hey,” Jackie said, “even Christian men often miss that.”
Once I get through gagging over making her life revolve around a man, I sputter again over the “even Christian men.” What do you mean, “even”? Are you suggesting that the 21st century American culture-at-large–probably at least a few decades from now–would still be forcing that outdated idea on wives? This is 2013!
By the time the events of this book supposedly take place, marriages–if they still exist outside religious groups–will probably be even more egalitarian than they are now. Rayford’s concept of the woman doing whatever he wants, should be long since dismissed as archaic.
The following pages try to make Christian marriage sound more equal than the concept that wives are subservient because God says so. Basically, you submit to each other, the husband is responsible for his wife’s spiritual health, he should treat her right, etc. etc.
Which is a great improvement, and sounds like what I heard in Evangelical churches around 2000. It isn’t about the husband getting his way all the time and deciding where to go, what to do, what to eat, etc. etc. He’s supposed to honor her and listen to her concerns and input, not terrorize and abuse her.
However, the husband still gets to make the decision if they “come to loggerheads over some important issue.” I’ve also seen in the post-Rapture books that even Chloe would get sassy but ultimately submit because she’s “supposed” to do what her husband says.
And saying my husband is responsible for my spiritual health, makes me sound like a child who can’t take care of my own spiritual health. I can’t imagine letting my husband make spiritual decisions for me, or tell me what to do.
You’d think someone of Irene’s generation, would fight tooth and nail against any sort of control by her husband. That even a housewife like Irene would insist on more to life than having it “revolve around” Rayford.
Cameron then goes to his mother’s funeral. His sister-in-law, Sharon, cries through the whole thing–which would be understandable. But we learn that it’s not for grief of her loss: Cameron’s mother was already a Christian, but not Sharon’s kind of Christian, not properly “saved.”
Sharon constantly badgered her to get “saved,” and got rebuffed again and again. Cameron’s mother finally said enough is enough, and she’ll stick with what makes her comfortable. To which Sharon “got into making sure ‘you’re not comfortable now but burning in hell later.'”
I’m not a bit surprised that they “barely spoke for more than six months.” But then Cameron’s mother got cancer, and they were close again, “but there was no indication that Mrs. Williams had ever received Christ.” So Sharon was now distraught for fear her mother-in-law was now “burning in hell.”
What? But she was already a Christian, right? Why would she be burning in hell?
On page 217, Irene refers to Rayford’s church (and her own, though she desperately wanted to switch to New Hope) as a “country club of a church.” What kind of church is this anyway?
On page 218, Cameron is back at Princeton, “finding it hard to concentrate on finishing.” This seems understandable at first, because his mother just died, his mommy, his first beloved–until we find it’s because he can hardly wait to start his new job.
What? I can understand being excited for a new job, but dang it, his mother just died of cancer!
On page 242, Chloe is described as “suddenly on the phone to her girlfriends all the time…” LOL, how quaint, a phone. This book was written in 2005, so the authors have no excuse! Don’t they know kids these days would rather use their computers and text messaging to communicate with each other?
On page 247, we finally find out information we could’ve used back in the first few books: how th’ heck Rayford, just another airplane pilot, ended up the pilot for Air Force 1. Turns out he saved the lives of his passengers in a dramatic near-miss with another plane which missed the instructions from the control tower. And he was in ROTC. So he ended up on the reserve list for Air Forces One and Two.
The time to explain to us how Rayford and Buck ended up in their high positions, was in the first few books, not now! Sure the whole back story could wait, but summaries would’ve been helpful. Otherwise, we just have Buck who never actually bucks much of anything or writes, either, and Rayford who suddenly becomes the pilot for the Antichrist.
Now we even find that Rayford and Tribulation Forcer Abdullah already knew each other, as on page 271 and after, Rayford becomes a consultant on arming commercial planes against terrorists. On page 276, we find that Rayford is supposed to become a friend to Abdullah (“Smitty”), who is painfully shy, so that Smitty will open up to him about his ideas for arming planes.
On page 258, Rayford asks Irene, “VBS? What’s that?” She describes Vacation Bible School. Now come on, why would Rayford not know what VBS is? Lots of different kinds of churches host VBS and post signs all over the place, not just Fundamentalists!
On page 259, Irene complains to him about their church, saying,
Our church dances around the truth. We sing, we read a few verses, pastor Bohrer doesn’t so much preach–and he never teaches–as much as he just shares thoughts. Like a homily.
Listening to him is like reading those inspirational books full of partly true but mostly made-up stories of long-lost kitties finding their way home, orphans teaching some curmudgeon a life lesson, an elderly woman–“
Hey, wait a minute. Like a homily? What’s wrong with a homily? Catholic and Orthodox churches often do short homilies rather than sermons; my priest can pack quite a bit of hard teaching in one ten-minute homily.
Heck, it’s better than what I had been getting in Evangelical churches as of late, because it skipped the prooftexting, theological errors, skits, etc., instead getting to the heart of Christianity.
She complains that their church doesn’t get into the “real truth,” the “hard truth.” Yet, in 2007, even in a Fundamentalist church–the Nazarene church where I grew up–I found a skit, a dinky Scripture reading which was then used to make some vague point about life rather than hard theological truth, and all the things that Irene here complained of.
This is not a “liberal” problem, but one that fills churches all across the spectrum, where “purpose-driven” Evangelical churches (the ones that teach the theology you find touted in these Left Behind books) do what feels good and gets people in the pews.
Even where I found preachers teaching in long sermons full of theology and sin, they used paraphrases such as the Message Bible, the theology was wrong, the Scriptures were prooftexted (i.e. pulled out of context to make a theological point). I had to leave Evangelicalism and go to an Orthodox church, to find good, hard, Biblical and theological truth–in ten-minute homilies.
To my pleasant surprise, on page 276 when Abdullah is described to Rayford, the authors “get” shy, quiet people like me:
…[Abdullah] has a lot to offer in the way of ideas, according to his superiors. He knows a lot, thinks things through, and is far and away their best pilot. The trouble is, he’s quiet and apparently painfully shy. He’s best in one-on-one situations when he has learned to trust someone. He suddenly becomes a fount of information.
They have put him in uncomfortable situations with dignitaries, diplomats, and the like. He clams up.
We don’t want you to fake or manufacture anything. We just want to see if you can become his friend. And while that may take some time, you understand that terrorism is not on anyone else’s calendar or clock. If this guy has as much to offer as we think he does, we need to start mining it.
Rather than force or shame him into opening up, they work with his natural temperament. Bravo! I can attest to the failure of trying to force a shy, quiet person to start talking, and then blaming that shy person for “not trying hard enough.”
On pages 291 to 292, Abdullah explains Muslim ritual prayers to Rayford. Instead of appreciating the beauty of the prayers, Rayford finds them “terribly ritualistic and depressing,” reminding him “of his own feeble attempts at religion: the obligation to go to church when he could and guilt when he found excuses not to.”
It probably wouldn’t help to tell him that the Muslims got prostration from the Orthodox Church, some branches of which still do prostrations in services.
On page 310, now we get to see Cameron in action, the star reporter–unlike during the entire series before the prequels, when he barely seemed to care about his job. The Slacktivist especially gets after him for never actually doing his job.
Nicolae’s narcissistic sociopathy is also finally showing up. No more do we read that he’s evil, while he promotes peace and other things generally considered good; now we know that he truly is the kind of evil which hides itself behind goodness.
For just one example, on page 364, we read, “Nicolae had learned the art of humility. Or at least of appearing humble.” One huge red sign of narcissism is claiming to be humble. (My ex-narc-friend Richard actually wrote on his Blogger profile that he’s humble.) A truly humble person will never say so, or think so, because he’s too humble to think he’s humble.
But during the rest of the series, we were often told he was evil, while he tried to promote peace and harmony among all. We should have been shown his pathology in a more convincing manner, such as getting into his head, because oftentimes very few people really know what’s going on in the head of a narcissist.
Only going into the heads of the Tribulation Force, was very limiting, often leading to questionable choices by the “good guys”–such as working for the Antichrist–so we can listen in to his private conversations without changing point-of-view.
I feel cheated because we are getting so much background information and rich characterization that was sorely missing from the rest of the series.
A scythe should have been taken to much of the series, cutting out all those boring phone conversations about logistics, sermons, and repeating what we already knew. Then there would have been plenty of room for this background info, interspersed throughout maybe three books instead of twelve.
On page 366, Cameron notes that his coworker Lucinda is very religious, with Christian “artifacts” (picture of Jesus, etc.) in her office; he’s met other Christians at work, but “most were pretty laid-back about it, almost secretive. It was as if they knew they were in the minority and didn’t want to look like weirdos.”
Um….Being a “person of faith,” as he terms it, I, too, wouldn’t talk too much about it or post a bunch of Christian stuff in my cubicle or office. But I wasn’t hiding my faith, nor did I fear looking like a “weirdo.” I was just at my job doing my work, not proselytizing.
I do believe the placement of Chloe’s skepticism in this paragraph is deliberate:
But on the negative side Chloe seemed to think the world revolved around her, that she answered to no one, and that she knew better than anyone else anyway–in particular, her mother. She believed only in what she could see and touch. To her God was okay as a concept, but He certainly didn’t really exist, not as a person.
I think atheists would object to skepticism being equated to teen-age self-absorption.
On pages 368 to 369, and 371, we find a power struggle between Irene and Chloe: Irene wants to dictate whether Chloe goes to church, and where she goes to college, even threatening to not pay for college if Chloe doesn’t go to church until she leaves home! But Chloe has full scholarships, and wants to go 2000 miles away to Stanford, also against her mother’s wishes (it’s “too far”).
Fortunately, Rayford mediates, getting Irene to back off and let Chloe make her own decisions. He doesn’t understand Irene’s trouble with Chloe, or with her going to Stanford; he’s proud of Chloe, considers her an ideal daughter.
The basic problem is that Chloe doesn’t want to follow Irene’s religion. Since Irene loses that fight, she “had grown chillier than ever.” It’s the classic problem of a parent not wanting to let go of her child, who is now nearly an adult and needs to make her own decisions. I’m on Chloe’s side in this one.
On page 385, we find more clumsy dialogue: Buck says, “I am always busy, and though you are more than twice my age, you are busier than I.” No contractions, and “busier than I” instead of “busier than I am” or “busier than me”?
These authors have no feel for how people actually talk. It’s one thing to write that way, but even English majors and writers don’t follow precise grammar in speech.
On to the next book. This is almost done!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!