Sunday, June 17, 2012

On finishing Left Behind, the novel

During my week-long travel last week to the International Shelby Conference and back, I read Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. It may surprise some that I have never read it before now, but I am not a millenarian, and I therefore do not have a predisposition of interest in a book that describes millenarian vision of the end of the world -- a particularly pre-millennial vision at that. Having been pressed to read the book by a fellow member of my congregation, I decided to finally do what so many others have done and read the book. Surprisingly, I found that I agreed with a few observations made in the story; however, I don't think I was supposed to agree with them. And there are a few comments made in the "study notes" after the story that I definitely disagree with. I thought I would take this post and document some specific examples of each.

Comments with which I agree:
Chapter 1: In a flashback, Rayford Steele remembers a dialogue with his wife in which she says at one point "I've told you and told you. Saved people aren't good people, they're --" "Just forgiven, yeah, I know," [Rayford] said, feeling rejected and vulnerable in his own living room." I think some Christian truisms have become catch-phrases that alienate non-believers rather than embrace and encourage them. Instead of catch-phrases, we need heartfelt compassion. We Christians need to become the vulnerable ones.
Chapter 6: In a flashback, Rayford Steele recalls that his wife Irene "didn't want Raymie [their son] even knowing that his daddy still drank." "That's dishonest," retorts Rayford. I agree with Rayford. It is dishonest, and I believe it has been shown that children of parents who drink responsibly are more likely to drink responsibly themselves or be teetotalers by choice than are children of parents who drink irresponsibly or are teetotalers. So it would be in the best interest of their son to be completely frank rather than hide the liquor.
Chapter 9: In a dialogue with his daughter Chloe, Rayford expresses his belief that the Rapture is the explanation for the sudden disappearance of many people on earth and the subsequent tragedy and chaos that ensues. Chloe says, "Daddy, what does this make God? Some sick, sadistic dictator?" "Careful honey," Raford responds, "You think I'm wrong, but what if I'm right?" "Then God is spiteful, hateful, mean. Who wants to go to heaven with a God like that?" I have to say that if the rapture were to take place as described in the book, I would agree with Chloe.
Chapter 23: Bruce Barnes, a pastor whose Christianity only becomes sincere post-Rapture, tells Rayford and Chloe, "I've also been thinking about a smaller group within the core. I'm looking for people of unusual intelligence and courage. I don't mean to disparage the sincerity of others in the church, especially those on the leadership team. But some of them are timid, some old, many infirm. I've been praying about sort of an inner circle of people who want to do more than just survive." I don't condone this line of thinking, but I sense the veracity of the sentiment. There are stripes of "Christians" who want to categorize people and define "levels" of spirituality. They are only too willing to make "inner circles" within the church, groups of those who are "in the know" in a way that others are not. Gnosticism first introduced this sort of hierarchical notion to the Christian world view, and it has so far been impossible to eradicate completely. I prefer to leave all such judgments to God, who judges the heart and not as man judges.
Comments with which I disagree:
Russia = "Rosh" in the Bible. Last I checked, "Rosh" is a Hebrew word meaning "the head" or "the beginning," and does not mean "Russia." The similarity of phonics is pure coincidence and is termed a "false cognate" by linguists. 
"Since the demise of Rome fifteen hundred years ago, no other world government has arisen." Really? What about the British Empire? "The sun never sets on the British Empire" was once a proverb that was nearly literally true. What about the Soviet Union? I haven't checked to make sure, but it seems to me that the USSR covered more square miles than did the Roman Empire. The author allows that many have tried to be world powers but all failed. Well, Rome fell, yet it still counts. Just because the government fell doesn't mean it wasn't legitimate during its tenure as a government with world-wide influence.
"You can be sure that any city mentioned seven times in two chapters, as is Babylon in Revelation 17 and 18, will be a literal city." Huh? Just because something is mentioned often, that means you can ignore the context of the source as a visionary, symbolism-rich genre? I don't think so.


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