Left Behind?

Left Behind™: A Novel of the Earth’s Last Days by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins

The volume appeared in our church library, so I checked it out.

Some Christians read the Book of Revelation (from the Bible) as a road map for the end of time (instead of a highly symbolic message to 1st century Christians suffering under the persecution of Rome). The literal reading of Revelation as prophecy results in a framework where the Left Behind™ novel is set. I read the book to get an insight into the mind of those Christians who believe in these things, but what I didn’t expect was to get sucked into the story and actually care about the characters.

The story starts with a transatlantic airline flight where passengers suddenly disappear, leaving their clothes, most of the other passengers, and the flight crew behind. We later learn that all of the world’s children plus all (real) Christians have also suddenly disappeared. The novel’s characters are then those who are LEFT BEHIND.

If people who believe in the Left Behind™ theory were sincere, I would think their first step would to try to get an FAA rule passed that one member of every flight crew must not be a Christian. When both airline pilots are Christian and both get snatched away, the plane crashes (and presumably everybody left behind on board goes straight to hell) and that’s exactly what happens in the novel.

I wondered how the novel would treat a world that was suddenly and completely devoid of Christians. This was my first complaint. The world didn’t seem to change much. You have people acting badly, as some do with every disaster, but there are friendly, helpful people too. Christians, who are supposed to be salt and light to the world, apparently don’t make much difference, according to the novel. The sole exception seems to be that California, while not featured in the story, seems to be a bigger mess than most places for some reason.

I wondered who would be left behind. There were no statistics, but it appears that most everyone involved in news reporting was left behind. Liberal Christian churches were generally untouched as well as marginal members of any church. Those that were snatched away were mostly evangelical types who believed in a literal view of Revelation, non-denominational churches, missionary schools, and people who listened to Christian radio.

But back to the story. For me, the most interesting character was Rayford Steele, an airline pilot who was left behind by his wife and young son. (His older daughter was left behind too.) Rayford was one of those marginal, uncommitted, not really Christians. Probably the high point of the book occurs right in the middle when Rayford accepts Jesus as his savior. The one who I would have thought would be the main character, God, does not make an appearance. When Rayford Steele accepts Jesus, he does it completely on his own–because of love for his wife, the overwhelming evidence of people disappearing, a personal sense of guilt, and his logical evaluation of the truth of the Bible. What Holy Spirit? Left Behind™ makes salvation something very much akin selecting a condo.

I was interested to see that those who were left behind could still accept Jesus. Of course, with no real Christians to guide them, they have to rely on books and videotapes left behind.

The book jacket says: “More intriguing than Clancy and Grisham.” Well I beg to differ. The book is not all that well written. The plot is obviously contrived in places, such as the “greening of Israel.” It’s a big stretch to make all the apocalyptic elements in Revelation (and Daniel) make sense in any real setting, and this is evident in Left Behind™.

After Rayford’s daughter accepts Jesus, I pretty much lost interest in the book. The characters I cared about were taken care of. The part about the antichrist character at the UN was just too contrived and I turned the book back in.

I would not recommend this book purely as a work of fiction. There are many better. I would not recommend it as a tutorial for the end of the world either; this, after all, is just a novel. If you are an evangelical that believes the Left Behind™ theory, then perhaps you’ll get some satisfaction fantasizing what it would like to be to be proven right (of course you wouldn’t be here to enjoy it). If you would like to know how the folks in that little Bible Church down the street think, then Left Behind™ might just be for you.

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