The Message of Left Behind

The Message of Left Behind May 8, 2015

I just watched the Left Behind movie with Nicholas Cage. I won’t bother summarizing the film since most people are familiar with its premise and plot. Instead, I’d like to offer some observations about what I think the story is trying to accomplish.

First, I have to note that the characters who are left behind ask perfectly reasonable questions early in the film about natural disasters and how this relates to faith in God.

That is the starting point for what the movie then does. There is no rational answer to why a good God would send/allow a tsunami, and then bury a woman and child who survived it and who thanks God for their survival in a subsequent landslide.

And so the movie adopts the stance that John Hick called “eschatological verification.” But it does so in a manner which lacks all the philosophical rigor of Hick’s own articulation of that approach. It says, in essence, “we sound like we are out of our minds and have no good answers to your questions, but just wait and see, and we will be proven right.” And then it makes a movie to try to shortcut the process, hoping that cinematic realism will give the impression that their view corresponds and will correspond to reality.

In fact, the Rapture’s only apparent function is to prove the premillenial dispensationalists who believe in it right. It serves no other useful function, except to exempt those who believe (and wear kitschy Evangelical jewelry) from a particular period of suffering, in a way that believers have never, ever been exempted from suffering at any point in history. There is no adequate rationale provided for what unfolds after they are gone, either. There will be seven terrible years – but why has God ordained that things should become so bad?

And so the Rapture, as depicted in the movie, is just one more problem, and not a solution. It may “prove dispensationalists right,” but it doesn’t cause their beliefs to make sense any more than they do in the present.

And the movie tells at least one outright lie, claiming that these things – millions of people disappearing leaving their clothing behind, etc. – are found in the Bible. That is simply not true in any way, shape, or form.

The movie also depicts almost everyone who disagrees with this Rapture dogma as fundamentally immoral. People start looting as soon as the disappearances have occurred.

Those raptured include children up to a certain age, who have every bit of what makes us human in them. And yet they are all automatically forgiven, while adults are blamed. It makes no sense – and I say this as someone who used to accept these things.

And so this is the message of Left Behind, although not its intended message: the fundamentalist worldview doesn’t have answers, and believes in a future which makes as little sense as the things it asserts in the present.

Left Behind shows that fundamentalism of the sort that believes in a “Rapture” is an incoherent story. They imagine a terrible future which they simply assume will happen, even though it isn’t even Biblical, much less reasonable. Then they irrationally assume that by depicting it in a movie, it provides the basis for saying now “see, we told you so” that they believe they will say from heaven when the Rapture actually occurs. But they come across throughout the movie as mean-spirited, uncaring, and delusional. And with respect to those attributes, they have made God in their own image.

Turning it into a movie helps make that clear. And it makes me repent once again of ever having believed such things myself.

Did you see Left Behind? If so, what did you think of it?

For a more detailed critique of the book on which the movie is based, see Fred Clark’s great blog series.

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  • John Thomas

    I just saw the trailer and got the gist of the movie and did not want to see it. The idea of rapture never made any sense to me (for that matter eternal punishment in hell). The only concept that makes sense to me is what mystics speak about the bliss of mystical union with God or self-realization and peace that comes along with it for those who seek God through practices like contemplation and meditation.

  • mhelbert

    I read the books. All of them. Sheesh! I, too, used to walk hand-in-hand with the dispensational crowd. Then, seminary. All the doubts that I had about the fundagelical rapture ‘n such were affirmed. It was utter nonsense. Just like the eschatology of LaHaye, et al. I won’t subject myself to the film adaptation. Unless, I find myself in need of a good laugh.

    • I’ve been reading them vicariously through Fred Clark.

    • AliKat

      This one is too boring to laugh at very much, so you’re best sticking to the decision not to watch it. If you ever have the urge to watch a rapture movie for the laughs try either the Kirk Cameron 2000 release of Left Behind or try the Thief in the Night series-they are true Fundamentalist sci-fi horror b movies. Thief in the Night 3 (Image of the Beast) is the most entertaining-it has an antichrist computer, locusts from the pit, and other weirdness. I am pretty sure you can find them all on youtube, so it is also cheaper.

  • Narcis Grama

    If I am not mistaken, the theory that some will be taken and others will be left behind, the first thus being saved and the last doomed, is taken from Matthew 24. The problem is that in that passage the image is reversed. Those taken are the ones that have had it terrible, while the ones left behind were the only one saved, as those taken in the days of Noah were taken by the flood… So how come in the immediate next verse, where it says that one will be taken and the other one left behind, the interpretation is opposite to the one given by Jesus Christ?

    • Indeed, as you point out, the “Rapture” interpretation ignores the context, in which people being taken away is compared to the way the flood came and took away people in Noah’s time who had ignored the warnings of judgment and thus were not on the ark.

  • Shiphrah99

    Word.

  • Jon Hendry

    Don’t forget, Fred Clark’s writings on Left Behind (or a large first chunk of them) are available as an ebook on Amazon.

  • D Rizdek

    I think the message of the movie is what many many Christians believe. Do you think it matters much to the “believe-in-me” God that there are likely thousands or even millions of Christians who (seem to) believe the wrong things about this? I’m not casting aspersions at the topic, it’s interesting to be sure. I’m asking a serious question. To put it another way, for those [people who are] certain [the makers of the movie] have the wrong idea about this, do you loose sleep (figuratively speaking) considering what if they have it right and I don’t?

    [ ] represents edits for clarification

    • I used to hold that viewpoint, and so I wrestled with it a lot and resisted a lot before changing my mind. And so I no longer feel the need to, although I regularly look again at these subjects because, having changed my mind before, I am open to doing so again if I encounter evidence which suggests that I ought to, or that I changed it previously in a way that now turns out to likely have been mistaken.