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 “Buck was struck” tally: twice, on pages 78 and 159.

On pages ix-x, I’m confused: Nicolae shows no compassion for his fellow human beings, dying in the earthquake described in the previous book, preferring instead to find a working phone, so Rayford grabs him and says, “You’ve just seen the wrath of the Lamb”?

Two problems: 1) What about saying, “All this death and destruction and all you care about is a working phone?!”  2) Nicolae is no worse here than the deity described (and phone-obsessed Buck, for that matter).

On p. 7, how is it “selfish” to pray that Chloe has not “preceded [Buck] into Heaven”?  Death is a tragedy brought by the Fall, not to be celebrated.  And until Buck’s death or the end of the Tribulation, he’d be without her, a lonely existence.

On p. 15, Rayford is baffled at callous Nicolae, who ignores the people suffering all around him.  Yet Rayford was the same way in Book 1, ignoring the death and destruction all around him at the airport as he rushed to get home.  On page 25, he finds a plane in which most of the people could still be alive–but his heart sinks when he sees it’s not his wife’s plane:

He was struck with such conflicting emotions that he could barely sort them out.  What kind of a cold, selfish person is so obsessed with the survival of his own wife that he would be disappointed that hundreds of people might have been saved on this plane?  He had to face the ugly truth about himself that he cared mostly for Amanda.

It’s about time he realized that!

On page 31, he digs in to help the people, ruining his clothes and realizing that “the shine of his shoes would never return.”  Somehow I think that would be the last thing on his mind.

On page 34, pilot Mac McCullum is musing over the blood-red moon.  I couldn’t help but wonder at his surprise, since red moons are not uncommon.  Is the moon actually scarlet instead of the usual red-orange?

As Mac muses about Nicolae, the Wrath of the Lamb and the various natural disasters and phenomena going on around him, Rayford thinks, Man, this guy is ripe.  Does Rayford look at Mac as some sort of convert fruit ready to be plucked, or has Mac not showered for a while?

On page 55, we get the first hint that Amanda is actually a double agent working for the Antichrist, not the Real True Christian love of Rayford.  I’m impressed by this plot twist, and hope it turns out to be true, because of the potential for a good subplot here and Rayford’s feelings of betrayal.

On page 66, Nicolae Carpathia says to Rayford,

Perhaps you can understand my own feeling of loss over the many lives this calamity has cost.  It was worldwide, every continent suffering severe damage.  The only region spared was Israel….Surely you do not lay at the feet of some Supreme Being an act so spiteful and capricious and deadly as this.

How very odd–Isn’t this precisely the response most people would have to the earthquake supposedly being the Wrath of the Lamb?  Wouldn’t most people recoil rather than running to become Christians?  “Please, sir, may I have another?”

On page 124, Rayford explains to Mac that “[j]ust about anybody who was raptured knew it was coming.  They didn’t know when, but they looked forward to it.”  Here is more evidence that the ones who are raptured are the ones who have the “proper” theology, while the others are left behind.

Also, I and others in my youth group hoped to do a lot more living before getting raptured: We didn’t want to miss college, marriage, kids, grandchildren, etc.

On page 132, Rayford tells “how a holy God had to punish sin but didn’t want any of the people he created to die.”  He explains about Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross: “All we had to do was believe that, repent of our sins, receive the gift of salvation.  We would be forgiven and what Billings referred to as ‘reconciled’ to God.”

He explains the proper wording of the prayer Mac is supposed to pray, all the points he needs to cover.  Mac says, “So if I believe that, I’m in?”

The problem here is the concept that God’s hands are somehow tied by some moral law greater than He is.  This fits in with the penal substitutionary atonement theory, that God’s justice was so offended by sin that, basically, blood had to be spilled.  (See Redemption, Penal Substitutionary Atonement, Satisfaction Theory, Soteriology.)

This is not the Orthodox view, which is often described as Christus Victor: The focus is not the business transaction of the Satisfaction Theory, but Christ rescuing us, paying the ransom to release us from slavery to sin and death, becoming like us so we can be like him (Irenaeus), entering into our humanity so he could redeem it.  (Theopedia, Christus Victor)

The often-used term “transaction”–and Mac’s If I do that, I’m in?–show the LB books are focused on a business transaction: You sign your name here, and your sins are forgiven; you don’t go to a fiery Hell after you die.

After Mac decides he believes that, Rayford tells him there’s more he must do: He needs to confess with his mouth the Lord Jesus (Romans 10:9-10).  What does this mean, he asks?  Rayford replies that he’s supposed to tell somebody–lots of people, in fact….

Um, you’re reading in things that aren’t there, Ray.  You confess with your mouth at baptism; you confess with your mouth when you are ordered to relinquish your faith or die a terrible death.  It doesn’t say that you must go around telling a whole bunch of people about your conversion in order to be saved.

Remember that when Romans was written, the Church was enduring persecution; in fact, in many parts of the world, the Church is still under persecution.  (And I don’t mean milquetoast stuff like not being allowed to pray at a school football game.  Yeah, people saying nasty things about your religion is annoying, but I don’t mean that, either.)  Confessing your faith could mean losing everything.

It’s not about going around saying “I just got saved” to your friends, your family, the dog next door, the hair stylist, and the old lady on the subway, but about standing for Christ no matter what the cost.  Something which you would think Ray would understand, living in the Tribulation.

On page 156, Rayford can’t believe that Buck’s phone is busy.  Which is very strange, considering that Buck’s phone is practically soldered to his ear.  For four books, Buck has been obsessed with phones!  (Some have suggested on the Slacktivist blog that his attachment to phones is a strange sexual fetish.)

On page 159-60 we read the statement of the prophecy guru Tsion Ben-Judah, “Much bad teaching is going out on the Net, Cameron.”  Yeah, and much of it comes from the authors of these books.

On page 162, we find that old nature popping up again, but this time in Tsion’s “old nature” attracting him to private files on the late Bruce Barnes’ hard drive.  Funny how the old nature keeps getting blamed for things, as if they are already perfect Christians and any hint of wrongdoing is an aberration.

In this book, little crosses–visible only to other believers–now appear on the foreheads of those who have “made the transaction” of salvation.  If you want to know if someone has made that transaction, you simply look.  Funny how the sign of salvation no longer becomes, how you love God and other people.

On page 173, Rayford is with his pilot friend Mac: “Rayford could barely breathe as Mac stared.  ‘Unbelievable!’ Mac said.  ‘It is a cross.  I can see yours and you can see mine, but we can’t see our own.'”

I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.  And you will stare and I will stop breathing at the awesomeness of it.

And then on page 185, Rayford has yet another awesome thing to show Mac, as he “threw an arm around Mac’s shoulder and drew him close.  ‘There’s also something I need to show you on board,’ he whispered.”  Cue the homoerotic porn music now.

Oh–no, it’s just the bugging device Rayford’s been using to spy on the Antichrist during flights.  Bummer for the slash fanfiction writers.

On page 206, Ken Ritz says to Buck, “Cause I figure if what the globe just went through was the wrath of the Lamb, I better make friends with that Lamb.”

I don’t think the authors quite understand human nature here.  Why would he want to be friends with the one who’s causing all this death and destruction, except out of fear for his own skin?  Isn’t conversion to Christ supposed to be out of love, and not dread of punishment?

I’d far more trust the sincerity and longevity of someone who converts while Christians are being persecuted and martyred.  In Ken Ritz’s case, if the punishment stops and he eventually thinks the Wrath is over, he’ll probably revert to his old ways.

Here’s an interesting little quote from Nicolae Carpathia on page 213, spoken to the masses via television and radio:

“I do not begrudge anyone the right to believe in a personal god.  However, I do not understand how a god they describe as just and loving would capriciously decide who is or is not worthy of heaven and effect that decision in what they refer to as ‘the twinkling of an eye.’

“Has this same loving god come back two years later to rub it in?  He expresses his anger to those unfortunates he left behind by laying waste their world and killing off a huge percentage of them?”

Carpathia smiled condescendingly.  “I humbly ask devout believers in such a Supreme Being to forgive me if I have mischaracterized your god.  But any thinking citizen realizes that this picture simply does not add up.”

Why yes, Carpathia, you are right: It does not add up.  It is a gross misrepresentation of what Scripture and the Church really believe about the End Times.  And the books, to this point, still have not given a sufficient answer to this question.

In Book 1, Chloe asked similar questions, but it seems they just vanished after her conversion to Christ–er, her conversion to premillennial dispensationalism–despite her never receiving an answer.  It seems that we are to just accept such questions as being from the Evil One.

On page 274, Buck tells his friend and pilot Ken Ritz that:

“It’s becoming pretty clear now, wouldn’t you say?  This whole period of history, this is it.  Just a little more than five more years, and it’s all over.

“I can see why people might not have understood what was happening before the Rapture.  I was one of them.  But it’s come to one giant countdown.  The whole deal now is which side you’re on.

“You’re either serving God or you’re serving the Antichrist.  You’ve been a supplier for the good guys.  It’s time you joined our team.”

How is it so easy now to understand what’s happening?  Maybe if you’ve heard of premillennial dispensationalism, you’ll understand it.  But even then, what about those who are horrified by all the destruction, blame God for it, and don’t want anything to do with it because no one ever answered why a loving God would be so vindictive?

Consider how only the children under 12 and Christians of a certain stripe got raptured.  Now all the rest of mankind is being mowed down no matter who they are, even Christians, or the reasons why they were not Christians.

Wouldn’t that lead many decent people to reject this book’s version of God?  How does that make them automatically on the side of the Antichrist and Satan?

John Cassian, a fourth-century monk and theologian and one of the Desert Fathers, speaks of the difference between following God’s precepts out of fear of punishment, and following them out of love of virtue: The fear of punishment and “greed of reward” is for beginners, and is a mark of servility.  But God wants us to pass on from that to “the fullest freedom of love, and the confidence of the friends and sons of God.”

Here the Christian fears not punishment, but a slight injury to God’s love, such as you find in any human relationship (friends, siblings, spouses, son and indulgent father) in which there is love, and no fear of being beaten.  This is true godliness and love of God  (Conference 11).

The converts in Left Behind, however, do not seem to be motivated by true love of godliness.  It may seem that way on the surface, when we read about their “hunger for the Word” (i.e., the Bible) and their claims to love God.  But remember that it took the Rapture and, for many of the converts, various Tribulation punishments to convince them to become Christians:

In chapter 4 of the next book, Apollyon, the character Jacov–who has been wavering for some time–is finally convinced to convert when he tries to drink a bottle of water, and finds it full of blood.

The Two Witnesses, Eli and Moishe, have just performed a Moses-like plague in which all water found in Jerusalem is either cold, pure and refreshing for Christians, or blood for non-Christians.  So anyone who is not a Christian is punished with this bloody drink, including and especially the Antichrist.

Jacov fears being “no better than Carpathia” the Antichrist, says the Sinner’s Prayer, and all of a sudden, his water is pure and refreshing.

So while the writers keep trying to convince us in various ways that the Tribulation converts are lovers of God, we see their conversions coming about because they fear the punishments of non-believers, because the preachers (such as Bruce Barnes and Tsion Ben-Judah) explain that the many plagues and earthquakes are the judgments of God on unbelievers.

In the theology presented in these books, preaching the Gospel turns into preaching vengeance on unbelievers.  Salvation means to escape Hell.

Even though the authors try to tell us that the god in their books is loving, the one they present actually comes across as arbitrary and vindictive, only sparing those who have done their salvation “transaction.”  Sign here on the dotted line and I won’t destroy you–at least, not in the next life.

(After all, even Christians are killed in some of the Tribulation afflictions.  But at least they won’t go to Hell!)  Alexandre Kalomiros eloquently describes the results on society of such preaching:

But why do men hate God? They hate Him not only because their deeds are dark while God is light, but also because they consider Him as a menace, as an imminent and eternal danger, as an adversary in court, as an opponent at law, as a public prosecutor and an eternal persecutor.

To them, God is no more the almighty physician who came to save them from illness and death, but rather a cruel judge and a vengeful inquisitor.

You see, the devil managed to make men believe that God does not really love us, that He really only loves Himself, and that He accepts us only if we behave as He wants us to behave; that He hates us if we do not behave as He ordered us to behave, and is offended by our insubordination to such a degree that we must pay for it by eternal tortures, created by Him for that purpose.

Who can love a torturer? Even those who try hard to save themselves from the wrath of God cannot really love Him. They love only themselves, trying to escape God’s vengeance and to achieve eternal bliss by managing to please this fearsome and extremely dangerous Creator.

Do you perceive the devil’s slander of our all loving, all kind, and absolutely good God? That is why in Greek the devil was given the name DIABOLOS, “the slanderer”.

…The “God” of the West is an offended and angry God, full of wrath for the disobedience of men, who desires in His destructive passion to torment all humanity unto eternity for their sins, unless He receives an infinite satisfaction for His offended pride.

What is the Western dogma of salvation? Did not God kill God in order to satisfy His pride, which the Westerners euphemistically call justice? And is it not by this infinite satisfaction that He deigns to accept the salvation of some of us?

What is salvation for Western theology? Is it not salvation from the wrath of God?

Do you see, then, that Western theology teaches that our real danger and our real enemy is our Creator and God? Salvation, for Westerners, is to be saved from the hands of God!

How can one love such a God? How can we have faith in someone we detest? Faith in its deeper essence is a product of love, therefore, it would be our desire that one who threatens us not even exist, especially when this threat is eternal (from Parts I and II of River of Fire).

Some may accuse Kalomiros of attacking a straw man.  It is probably true that he paints too broad a brush when he refers to “Western” theology, but the teachings he attacks, do indeed exist in many parts of the Church, in one form or another.

Some lean more toward “love that wants us saved” than toward “desire to torment sinners,” but there is still talk of “offended holiness” and “justice,” satisfied only by the Ultimate Sacrifice which you must accept or burn in Hell for all eternity.

I grew up and spent most of my young adulthood in Protestant Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, and I am quite familiar with such teachings.  In fact, here they are in the Left Behind books!

Here you find the lyrics of a song, “Fear in Your Eyes” by :wumpscut:, based on such teachings.  (In the beginning you hear, “I don’t believe in God, but I’m afraid of Him.”)

When I think of the term “saved,” despite being in the Orthodox Church for a few years now, I still automatically think, “saved from burning in Hell for all eternity,” without including “saved from sins” or “saved from ourselves” or “perfected, made righteous.”

I am very familiar with being taught about the Rapture and how you want to get saved and be a true Christian, or Christ will snatch away the Church and you will be left standing there on Earth, alone, left behind, looking around wondering where everyone in your church went, and despairing that you will now go through the punishments of the Tribulation even if you repent immediately after the Rapture.  (This video sums it up quite well.)

I am quite familiar with the concept of the Wrath falling on all those left behind.  If, for example, a peaceful, loving Buddhist is left behind and Wrath pours out on him, it’s because he followed the Devil’s deception instead of Christ, and never said the “sinner’s prayer.”

But can we really expect every single person on Earth to know without doubt that Christianity is the correct religion?  Is it truly right and proper for a Christian to determine who is saved and who is not, simply based on whether or not they chose correctly?

Isn’t judgment for God alone?  Is it up to us to determine that a pious Muslim woman who never hurt anyone, is condemned to Hell along with a sex slaver?

Left Behind: Eternal Forces, a controversial game which came out a few years back, inspired me to read these LB books for myself, to find out just what they really say.  I had read the criticism on the Talk 2 Action blog in 2006, and since it was so condemning, I had to see if it was really true.  Was it really “convert or die”?  From the game’s FAQ:

Are guns used by Christians against non-Christians? Why or why not? 

The storyline in the game begins just after the Rapture has occurred–when all adult Christians, all infants, and many children were instantly swept home to Heaven and off the Earth by God.

The remaining population–those who were left behind–are then poised to make a decision at some point. They cannot remain neutral.

Their choice is to either join the AntiChrist–which is an imposturous one world government seeking peace for all of mankind, or they may join the Tribulation Force–which seeks to expose the truth and defend themselves against the forces of the AntiChrist.

Note the description of the Antichrist as “an imposturous one world government seeking peace for all of mankind,” against which the Tribulation Force must defend themselves.  Er–How is peace for all mankind “Antichrist”?  This is supposed to inspire gamers to fight the Antichrist?

Ken’s response to Buck (p. 274, see above): “I know, Buck.  I’ve never seen anything like how you people take care of each other.”  Have we truly never seen anyone besides Christians take care of each other this way?

Later on, he says, “So once I join up I get the secret mark on my forehead?”  Earlier, Buck said, “It’s time you joined our team.”  What’s with the sports terminology for matters of faith?  Salvation is not a football game or business paradigm!

Starting on page 302, Chloe and Buck get into a little tiff: She was badly injured in the earthquake–er, the Wrath of the Lamb–and has been recovering at home, ever since Buck sprung her from that evil Global Community hospital.

She’s still not quite well yet, but her spunk has returned.  She insists on going to Israel with Tsion and Buck, but Buck insists that she stay home.

Buck also makes a few cracks such as, “Forgive her.  She’s going through a twenty-two-year-old’s bout with political correctness.”  Buck quickly gets into hot water for this, of course.

As they argue over whether or not Chloe can go to Israel, she finally says,

“Don’t parent me, Buck.  Seriously, I don’t have a problem submitting to you because I know how much you love me.  I’m willing to obey you even when you’re wrong.  But don’t be unreasonable.  And don’t be wrong if you don’t have to be.

“You know I’m going to do what you say, and I’ll even get over it if you make me miss out on one of the greatest events in history.

“But don’t do it out of some old-fashioned, macho sense of protecting the little woman.  I’ll take this pity and help for just so long, and then I want back in the game full-time.  I thought that was one of the things you liked about me.”

It was.  Pride kept him from agreeing right then.  He’d give it a day or two and then tell her he’d come to a decision.  Her eyes were boring into his.  It was clear she was eager to win this one.  He tried to stare her down and lost.  He glanced at Tsion.

“Listen to her,” Tsion said.

“You keep out of it,” Buck said, smiling.  “I don’t need to be ganged up on.  I thought you were on my side.  I thought you would agree that this was no place for–”

“For what?” Chloe said.  “A girl?  The ‘little woman’?  An injured, pregnant woman?  Am I still a member of the Tribulation Force, or have I been demoted to mascot now?”

Buck had interviewed heads of state easier than this.

“You can’t defend this one, Buck,” she added.

“You want to just pin me while I’m down,” Buck said.

“I won’t say another word,” she said.

Buck chuckled.  “That’ll be the day.”

“If you two chauvinists will excuse me, I want to try [reaching] Hattie again.”….

Er, um….Go, Chloe!  Except for the part where you say you’ll obey.  Even if you’re wrong, Buck’s not your “boss” or “daddy” telling you what you can or can’t do!

Oh, wait, or is he?  Even Chloe doesn’t seem quite certain about this.  I’ve heard and read plenty of Evangelical preachers/authors explain that a wife’s “submission” is NOT the same as “obedience.”  Yet here we see that LaHaye and Jenkins obviously connect “submission” with good little wifely “obedience.”

Somehow, in her conversion, Chloe has been turned into everything a domineering man might want in a wife–except, of course, that she argues before finally obeying.  But at least she’s standing up for herself!

Well, except that Buck gets to make the final decision.  She’s still spunky: She fights first, THEN submits.  And won’t be, er, bitter about it, even if it means she misses one of the greatest events in history, darn it!  (Does anybody else detect a little passive aggression in this?)

The passage goes on:

“I want to try Hattie again.  We’re going to have a telephone meeting of the weak sister club.”

Buck flinched.  “Hey!  You weren’t going to say another word.”

“Well then get out of here so you don’t have to listen.”

“I need to call [Ken] Ritz anyway.  When you reach Hattie, be sure and find out what name she was admitted under there [at the reproductive clinic].”

Buck went to follow Tsion up the stairs, but Chloe called out to him.

“C’mere a minute, big guy.”  He turned to face her.  She beckoned him closer.  “C’mon,” she said.  She lifted her arm, the one with the cast from shoulder to wrist, and hooked him with it behind the neck.  She pulled his face to hers and kissed him long and hard.  He pulled back and smiled shyly.  “You’re so easy,” she whispered.

“Who loves ya, baby?” he said, heading for the stairs again.

“Hey,” she said, “if you see my husband up there, tell him I’m tired of sleeping alone.”

Er, um, what?  What happened?  “Easy”?  How is he “easy”?  And why is Chloe kissing him all of a sudden?

On page 313, Chloe says about Ken Ritz, “Find out if he wants to arm wrestle.”  Buck’s response: “Aren’t you getting frisky?”  Frisky?  Who the heck says “frisky” in the younger generations?  Besides, I can’t hear that word without thinking of Mrs. Cunningham on Happy Days saying that Mr. Cunningham is “getting frisky.”  As in, for you younger ones who may not know about 70s pop culture, he wants to get his wife into the bedroom.

Which leads us right into page 314, when Ken Ritz enters the room, and everyone begins talking about the little crosses that have been popping up on the foreheads of believers, visible only to other believers.  Ken says, “Maybe it shows on my forehead.  I can see yours.  Can you see mine?”  Ooooh, I’ll show you mine if you show me yours!

On page 317, Tsion leads the group in a prayer:

Lord God Almighty, your Word tells us the angels rejoice with us over Ken Ritz.  We believe the prophecy of a great soul harvest [hence the name of the book], and we thank you that Ken is merely one of the first of many millions who will be swept into your kingdom over the next few years.  We know many will suffer and die at the hands of Antichrist, but their eternal fate is sealed.

We pray especially that our new brother develops a hunger for your Word, that he possesses the boldness of Christ in the face of persecution, and that he be used to bring others into the family.

And now may the God of peace himself sanctify us completely, and may our spirits, souls, and bodies be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We believe that he who called us is faithful, who will also do it.  We pray in the matchless name of Jesus, the Messiah and our Redeemer.

Ken Ritz’s response: “Ken brushed tears from his cheeks, put his hat on, and pulled it down over his eyes.  ‘Hoo boy!  That’s what I call some prayin’!'”

OUCH.  So, apparently becoming a Christian also makes you corny.

Oh, and then Tsion goes to fetch “a dog-eared paperback book called How to Begin the Christian Life.”  So that’s where everybody is learning Christianese!  That explains, for example, Tsion’s above prayer, full of New Testament phrases heard countless times in prayers, by anyone who has spent years in Evangelical or Fundamentalist churches.  This from a guy who not long ago was Jewish.

On page 318, Tsion tells Ken, “I must clarify that the Scriptures do not refer to us who become believers after the Rapture as Christians.  We are referred to as tribulation saints.  But the truths of this book still apply.”

Setting aside the theological counterargument that the Scriptures don’t refer to a Rapture in the first place, let alone those who become believers afterwards–I never heard this one before.  I grew up hearing about the Rapture, but never heard that “Christian” only applies to pre-Rapture believers.

In fact, in these books I keep coming across new interpretations that I never heard of in all the years I believed in the Rapture.

This part freaked me out a bit: “Tsion, nearly a foot shorter than Ken, put an arm around his waist.  ‘As the new elder of this little band, allow me to welcome you to the Tribulation Force.  We now number six, and one-third of us are pilots.'”

Around his waist?  If Buck had trouble initially with man-hugs, why does Tsion think he can put his arm around another man’s waist without trouble?

And the part about pilots reminds me of the vampire Caleb Morley greeting all the Port Charles characters whom he has trapped behind bars: “Nice to see you, too, Doctor, and you, Doctor, Doctor, all you semi-doctors, friends of doctors, lovers of doctors, and well, just all the little people.”  (See here at 1:35.)

On page 323-4, Tsion states on his Internet blog,

Eons ago, God the Father conceded control of Earth’s weather to Satan himself, the prince and power of the air.  God allowed destruction and death by natural phenomena, yes, because of the fall of man.  And no doubt God at times intervened against such actions by the evil one because of the fervent prayers of his people.

What????  Where did Satan get this kind of power?  God is the author of creation; he put the natural forces into place for the order of the planet; He can overrule these natural forces wherever He wills.  I have read writers (such as John Piper) who go so far as to say that while Satan does not control the weather, if God does not stop destructive forces, then He is the cause of them.

But so far as I can find, Orthodox teaching does not agree with this, any more than it agrees that God is the cause of evil, as some Calvinists claim.  (You can also find more articles on this controversy here and here, from a Calvinist author.)

This article on the EWTN website shows that God is not the cause of evil, and

if men wish to rail against the fact that men die in earthquakes and other natural disasters, let them blame men. It was the moral evil of sin that brought the great physical evil of death into the world.

So that would mean that neither God nor Satan is responsible for the death and destruction caused by the weather, but the sin of man!

Tsion says that the very idea of a one-world government, currency or faith is from the pit of hell.  Really?  Why?

I can understand why a person would feel that way about a one-world faith that does not allow for individual religious convictions.  I wouldn’t want anyone telling me I have to be something other than an Orthodox Christian or Else.  We don’t have a one-world faith, but we do have national governments which try to impose one religion on everyone, and persecute the dissenters.

But one-world government and currency?  What on earth is specifically demonic about those?

While lamenting in his blog about the filth on the airwaves (now no longer kept in check by times or special channels because there are no more children to protect from it), Tsion notes that only five percent of TV programming is “as inoffensive as the news.”  Not only is there sex, but there is witchcraft and channels with real murders and torture 24 hours a day.

The very thought of the news being inoffensive is laughable, though I suppose, if you’re comparing it to 24-hour-XXX programming, it might seem inoffensive.  After all, it’s just about murder, wars, accidents, the occasional announcement from the Antichrist, bloody pictures from the latest bombing, that sort of thing, not graphic sex scenes.

Though I have a hard time believing that all anybody wants to see on TV is sex and violence.  American TV programming today is even looser than it was in 1998 when this book was published, but you still don’t see all-sex-and-torture all the time.  People still want plot, character, drama, intrigue, fantasy (as in fairy tales or vampires or ghosts, not sex), comedy.

Why would that change just because all the children are gone?  Why do the authors suppose that the Rapture would cause millions of people left behind to suddenly want to see live tortures and murders on television?

Do they really think there is no decency or goodness in anyone of other faiths (or no faith)?  What about the proponents of the global One-World Faith–wouldn’t they be against the very idea of a 24-hour torture channel?

Tsion then complains that the message in his blog would never be aired now, that soon it will probably be considered a crime against the state.  He writes, “Our message flies in the face of a one-world faith that denies belief in the one true God, a God of justice and judgment.”

Justice and judgment?  No, that’s “a God of love.”  Justice and judgment are necessary for the same reason we need to discipline our children, but we do that out of love.

Love is over all, not justice and judgment.  The authors seem here to have exposed their vision of God in a kind of Freudian slip: a god not of love but of striking down all those who oppose the beliefs of the (as Slacktivist terms it) Real True Christians.

On page 386, Bucks asks, “You take the predictions literally then?”  Tsion replies,

My dear brother, when the Bible is figurative, it sounds figurative.  When it says all the grass and one-third of all trees will be scorched, I cannot imagine what that might be symbolic for.

Um…okay.  I prefer to leave my determination of “literal” and “figurative” up to the Church, because it’s far too easy for each person to have a different idea of what “sounds figurative.”  And the Church seems to have determined that much of Revelations is figurative.  Oh, wait, that means Orthodox Christians will get Left Behind, doesn’t it?

On page 390 I got confused: Hattie, who was poisoned by the Antichrist, has lost her baby and is on her deathbed.  She doesn’t feel worthy of salvation by Christ, and says, “Just let me die.”  Chloe responds, “No!  You promised to be my baby’s godmother.”  Later on, Chloe says, “You’re my friend, and I want you for a sister.”

Sister?  Godmother?  I’m not sure how being a godmother makes you the mother’s “sister.”  If she means spiritual sister, wouldn’t that apply to a daughter of Chloe’s godmother?

And godmother–isn’t this verboten in the branch of Christianity represented by these books?  You get to be a godmother by being the sponsor at a baby’s baptism.  Tim LaHaye is a Baptist.  Baptists are opposed to baby baptism.  So how could Hattie be Chloe’s baby’s godmother (or Chloe’s sister, for that matter)?

To try to find an answer to this, I tried searching for Jerry Jenkins’ affiliation, but could not find it.  Still, premillennial dispensationalism tends to be doctrine among the branches of Christianity which reject baby baptism; the mainline churches which do practice baby baptism, tend to reject dispensationalism in favor of amillennialism or postmillennialism.  So Chloe’s comments about a godmother, make no sense to me.

When Chloe says, “I want you for a sister,” Hattie says, “I’m too old to be your sister.”  Oh, come on, Hattie–You’re less than ten years older than Chloe!  Siblings can easily be that far apart in age, even farther, in fact (my eldest brother is ten years older than I am).

Buck then whispers with “his lips near her ear”: “You want Jesus, don’t you?”  Come on, baby, you know you want Jesus!

On page 400, after hearing from Hattie that Nicolae had Bruce poisoned, Buck ponders murdering Nicolae.  Rayford also has such thoughts periodically, such as on page 416.  These violent thoughts are quite disturbing, especially when these are supposed to be born-again Christians who are taught by Christ to love their enemies.  I can only hope the characters will be properly chastened later.

Page 406 shows the problem inherent in any story which is supposed to represent the future: Tsion decides to run his computer on batteries during a storm, but remain connected to the phone lines.  What, no cable modem, DSL or wireless router?

On page 410, in the middle of a divinely ordained hailstorm, “plummeting tongues of fire” begin coming down, then showers of blood.  From the sky.  Not only does this scene (like many others) strain plausibility, but Rayford’s response to the blood is “a peace flooding his soul.”

But this show, this shower of fire and ice and blood, reminded him yet again that God is faithful.  He keeps his promises.  While our ways are not his ways and we can never understand him this side of heaven, Rayford was assured again that he was on the side of the army that had already won this war.

That’s an odd reaction to fire and blood showering down from the sky!  Does he feel no repulsion, or even concern for the people and animals who might get caught underneath the hail, fire and blood?  Also, what about understanding for why people still may not turn to the book’s version of God, since they don’t know what’s going on or why God is treating them this way?

Tsion’s reaction is, “Here comes the blood.”  (Cue Sammy Davis Jr.’s “Here comes the judge!“)  Then he shouts,

Praise the Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth!  What you see before you is a picture of Isaiah 1:18: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

Eh?  For one, how did he connect the hailstorm with Isaiah 1:18, and for two, why is he praising for this?

More of the same is on page 417, when the news reports a massive comet on its way to a collision course with Earth.  This comet is expected to cause unknown devastation–possibly even split the earth in two.  And what is Rayford’s response?  “It’s happening!…This is going to be some ride!”

The comet finally hits, followed by a meteor called Wormwood.  (I guess that means LaHaye doesn’t follow the school of thought which says “Wormwood” refers to the Chernobyl disaster.)

We follow the edge-of-your-seat action as–Oh, wait, there is no edge-of-your-seat action, because the whole thing is summarized in about three pages tops.  Then a few pages later, the book ends.

There is suspense in the question, Was Amanda, Rayford’s new wife, a double agent for the Antichrist?  I keep hoping that she is, because it would provide a twist to make the books far more intriguing than they have been so far.

But in the hands of a better writer, we would have seen the comet’s devastation as it unfolded, and felt worn out from the tragedy as now Wormwood threatened the earth.  And the writer teaches other people how to write?

[August-November 2009]