Listening To Left Behind, Part 1

On Feb. 15 a meteor struck Earth. Just like in “Left Behind.”

Left Behind listening log: episode 48, “The Power of God.”

russianmeteor_02.15.2013I actually began my Left Behind series listen-through (read my Prologue here) by cheating: I started by hearing at the very end of the dramatization of book 4, Soul Harvest. It was a chilly Friday evening when I had some driving to do, and somehow on that day (Feb. 15) I had been thinking about asteroids colliding with Earth.

Can’t imagine why.

A brief note whose relevance will later be clear: also in the news that week was a disabled cruise ship whose passengers had been going through quite an ordeal.

Naturally I thought of Left Behind dramatic audio episode 48, which had been of my favorites when the book-4 episodes first released. Here the story follows a particular interpretation of Rev. 8: 8-11.

In the Left Behind book series, authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins presented one of God’s judgments as a literal “burning mountain” that was hurled into the Atlantic Ocean, generating enormous waves and horrible weather and many other special effects that seem to predate a certain 1998 disaster film featuring Morgan Freeman. Second, the authors wrote that giant meteor’s less-disastrous sequel, a meteor named Wormwood, which merely falls and poisons a third of all Earth’s waters.

The authors explained Wormwood’s odd poisonous-water fraction by having the meteor shatter in the atmosphere and fall in fragments. For some reason they had kind of, well, ignored the first comet’s prophesied result that “a third of the sea became blood.”

My greatest disappointment with the Soul Harvest novel (released in 1998, soon after the Deep Impact film) was that the authors condensed the meteor details so much. I hadn’t seen any meteor-oriented disaster films, and at the time this was my only “chance.” Did they not want to appear to copy the disaster movie, even though the Left Behind series, nay the book of Revelation, came first? Did they not have time? Or perhaps were not able to do the research?

I didn’t know. But while I can appreciate the series’s focus on characters during the Tribulation, many of the books would spend, say, 5/6 of the story detailing Buck Williams’s efforts to rescue the latest damsel in distress, then another 1/12 on another rescue mission, then the final 1/12 or so describing a global natural disaster prophesied (as the authors believe) in the book of Revelation.

cover_soulharvestaudiodrama

Buck wears a Stetson now.

Anyway, I enjoyed this dramatized episode especially because the adaptation by Chris Fabry and Todd Busteed greatly expanded on the disaster narrative. So listeners hear:

  • A news anchor and in-studio science consultant, though perhaps speaking too calmly for what could be coming, overviewed the disastrous scenarios should a “burning mountain” of that size actually split planet Earth apart.
  • Incredible sound effects and chilling (mostly synth-atmospheric) music as first one meteor, then the other, do their work.
  • The best major-motion-picture-style disaster I’ve ever experienced in digital media without seeing a single CG-visual of it.
  • Oh, and one other detail: the audio version added one story element to take listeners directly to the ocean’s center, a few dozen miles where where the burning mountain strikes. That would be a disabled cruise ship, whose passengers went through quite the ordeal. Sadly, none survived, but they quite literally received an altar call right before the shockwaves overwhelmed them.

Altogether it was not a bad way to spend an evening driving around on a cold night. But of course, this was my first time hearing a Left Behind episode in many a year, so I couldn’t help noticing things I may have missed before:

1. Hang in there until the Rapture evacuation.

Is it possible much of the LB series’s appeal to Christians was in assuring them they just need to hang in there and enjoy their lives — while of course evangelizing, tithing and participating in church — until the Rapture happens? I know this observation has often been made about the series. Yet it struck me how much I would have held these same views during my years of LB fandom.

2. Jews are cooler than Christians.

Per the LB scenario, the Church is pretty much off the hook. We’ll get evacuated before the End Times. Then the real action can begin, featuring the Jews — the real plan all along — and the, ah, Church 2.0?

(No one is sure what to call literal-Tribulation-era Gentiles; the LB series tries the label “Tribulation saints.”)

Either way, they are the cool ones, the paramilitary sorts who kick the Antichrist’s serpentine tail and get people saved and never, ever need to bother with apologetics because, why go into all that detail about creation/evolution, when you can instead predict today the meteor that nearly splits Earth apart tomorrow?

3. Bother not with thorny ethical issues.

The LB series never really figured out the ethical issues of when you should storm in with futuristic weapons to rescue your spiritual brother captured by the one-world Global Community government, and when you should give in and surrender to persecution.

Some of the series’s most poignant moments were deep explorations of suffering for Christ’s Name’s sake. Yet it would have helped to explore a firmer distinction between when to practice dystopian-style self-defense, and when to lie down and take a guillotine blade on the neck for Jesus.

4. “God loves you” and “wants to get your attention” — so He sent this huge comet to smash you.

I can’t help but be somewhat amused by the cruise-liner altar call, when the Christian on board the ship’s PA is pleading with people to repent and believe Christ. “I can tell you that there’s a God in Heaven, and God loves you,” he says, with genuine compassion, just before the meteor whomps the ocean and generates hundred-foot-high waves that wipe them out.

Regardless of one’s end-times views, I think it’s clear to viewers of all end-times beliefs that the book of Revelation includes all these disasters to demonstrate God’s wrath more than His compassion.

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Paul Lee
Member

4. “God loves you” and “wants to get your attention” — so He sent this huge comet to smash you.
I can’t help but be somewhat amused by the cruise-liner altar call, when the Christian on board the ship’s PA is pleading with people to repent and believe Christ. “I can tell you that there’s a God in Heaven, and God loves you,” he says, with genuine compassion, just before the meteor whomps the ocean and generates hundred-foot-high waves that wipe them out.

Careful.  That remark sounds uncomfortably like what a “your-god-is-evil” atheist might say.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Possibly. Yet in this case I think the Left Behind authors incidentally left themselves open to the charge, by (sometimes) insinuating that this Gospel works mainly in a pre-cleaned world with pre-cleaned characters — such as two post-Rapture virgin adults who fall chastely in love. If God saves such people but judges others, the critic could reasonably say, isn’t God evil for condemning someone who was “basically good,” only without Jesus? That’s what happens when Christians squirm about any concept of “total depravity,” or rather, our deadness in sin apart from Christ.

Overall, though, after those first few volumes, the Left Behind series portrayed some nonbeliever characters’ views in a fairly accurate light — going so far as to take years of story time before someone would “get saved,” while in the meantime that same character displays non-stereotypical, common-grace goodness to our heroes.

Kirsty
Guest

I thought the whole virgin thing was really, really silly. Maybe just possible for Chloe, as she’s only 21 (though a non-Christian away from home? Unlikely). But buck – come on, he’s 31, it ‘wasn’t out of a huge sense of morality’ and he ‘ran in some fast circles’ (so it’s not like he was socially awkward or anything.) Is it therefore remotely plausible?
 
It’s really unhelpful, as it implies the gospel is for good clean people. (I know you’ve just said all this, but it was irritating me).
 
Although, saying that, I do remember later on a group of people who live in an underground church or something, who came from all kinds of alternative lifestyles and take 1 Cor 6:9-11 as their motto. So it’s not all bad.