L.B.: God’s battered wife

Left Behind, pp. 188-199

Meet Loretta. The only parishioner left behind at New Hope Village Church:

"Hello," an older woman said from behind Rayford and Chloe. She stood in the doorway of the church offices sunken-eyed and disheveled, as if she'd come through a war. After pleasantries she retreated to a desk in the outer office.

Like most of the people in this story, Loretta has lost everything. But unlike most of the people in this story, Loretta seems to have noticed. "Loretta there looks like I feel," Bruce Barnes says. "We're shell-shocked and we're devastated." (In Bruce's defense, I think Loretta was out of earshot when he said this.)

Later, Bruce tells a bit of Loretta's story:

She's the only person in her whole clan who is still here. She had six living brothers and sisters, I don't know how many aunts and uncles and cousins and nieces and nephews. They had a wedding here last year and she must have had a hundred relatives alone. They're all gone, every one of them.

Every one of them gone. Loretta is undergoing the trials and travails of Job. In the first chapter of the Book of Job, four messengers arrive, one after another. The first three tell of how all of his possessions — his cattle, sheep and camels and all the servants who tended them — have been carried off or killed. The fourth brings even worse news:

"Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother's house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead …"

This all occurs very quickly in the opening chapter because the story of Job, unlike Left Behind, is more interested in Job's response to this hardship than in the details of the suffering itself.

Job's entire family (except his wife), just like Loretta's, has been taken away from him by the very hand of God. LaHaye and Jenkins would insist that the two situations are very different, since Job's children are all dead while Loretta's relatives have all been "raptured." But again it's hard to see why this distinction without a difference should mean anything either to Loretta or to her loved ones. They have joined the choir invisible. They have met their maker. This occurred in the twinkling of an eye, suddenly, irrevocably and without a trace — just as if they had all been feasting together and the roof had fallen on them.

Both Job and Loretta believe that God did this — that God is responsible for the departure of their loved ones. Job is baffled. He tries, and fails, to make sense of it. He tears his clothes and shaves his head in mourning, yet, the narrator tells us, "In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing."

Job does, however, concede that this is what the evidence seems to indicate. The sudden loss of all his children and all his possessions at the hand of God seems to show that God is cruel and capricious. Job rejects that explanation, even though he and his friends can't come up with a better one. So Job is baffled. Eventually, Job demands answers from God and an explanation for the "ruthless attack" on him and his family. And, despite what the narrator says, Job spends the better part of five chapters charging God with wrongdoing.

But Loretta is never baffled. To her it all makes perfect sense. She has watched God "reward" all of his faithful with sudden slaughter without ever questioning what this might say about the character of such a God. She asks no questions, has no questions, and demands no explanation.

Instead, as Bruce Barnes explains, she blames herself:

She tells me it was pride and embarrassment that kept her from Christ. She was a middle child in a very religious family, and she said she was in her late teens before she even thought seriously about her personal faith. She had just drifted along with the family to church and all the related activities. As she grew up, got married, became a mother and a grandmother, she just let everyone assume she was a spiritual giant. She was revered around here. Only she had never believed and received Christ for herself.

Just eight pages earlier, Barnes made it sound like Loretta was single, and now he mentions her children and grandchildren. And how is it that her fellow parishioners had come to revere this unbeliever as "a spiritual giant"? (Apparently, in L&J's theology, it is possible to act like a good person without actually being a good person. So what on earth does "good" even mean?)

Loretta is "shell-shocked" and "devastated," but not over the loss of her family. She's upset because she wasn't taken with them. She never asks, as Chloe did a few chapters back, "how this fits with a loving, merciful God."

She just takes it and blames herself.

Loretta is dealt a horrible blow by the hand of God so she rushes off to the church to apologize, to say she's sorry for what she made him do and to promise that she'll never make him lose his temper like that again.

Loretta is God's battered wife.

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  • Shell

    Dang, this is an old thread, but I have many things to say about it. First, I’d like to hark back – way, way back – to the Left Behind stuff to which this thread is a response. First:
    No, it is not ludicrous that someone be accepted as saved – and even as a “spiritual giant” – who was not, although maybe “spiritual giant” is hyperbole, which one would expect from writers as sorry as this.
    I might just mention my mother’s story: Long line of believers – sect unspecified, I’d suspect Southren Baptist but y’know people can surprise you – this generation in particular children of the Depression and then WWII. My mother was the youngest of six children, born in 1942. She told me that although she had attended church all during her childhood and adolesence, she always viewed her older siblings who claimed to be believers as LIARS – prima facie liars. She thought they were faking piety the whole time; she never felt any religious belief whatsoever and so she thought that her older brothers and sisters were just faking – as she would have had to do if she was to “pass” as Christian. She could easily have “passed” her whole life, doing what was called for conventionally, with no belief in religion whatsoever, instead of escaping (as she did) from the entire lot with nothing but gratitude for her unbelief. She might have arranged her ethics in any number of ways for any kind of reason, but without specific Christian reference she surely wouldn’t be Rapturized, eh? Despite being good, and meaning good, and in fact doing those good things without any belief in a god that would punish her if she didn’t. Still the PMDs would leave her behind, yes? Thus Loretta might have passed, and passed well, and still be here after the rapture.
    As far as my other comments, I guess I will boil most of them down into a complete inability to make sense of grace as being anything but arbitrary. If we all deserve death and only escape by god’s grace, how is that anything but arbitrary? If what we do has *some* effect, how can only some of us be saved by grace without arbitrariness? And if what we do has *no* effect, then it can only be *completely* arbitrary, and why do we worship at all? It doesn’t make any difference then, right? In my mother’s example: I asked, so, did you ask your brothers & sisters about this? And she said yes, mostly they said they always believed, they always felt the presence of God; but I never did, so I figured they were just lying to be self-righteous & pious. So I ask yall, did God decide who feels the presence and who doesn’t? and if so, whose fault is the resulting unbelief? And if God doesn’t decide that, who or what does, and why does God blame the victims?
    I dunno, I must admit that these seemingly senseless arguments about the exact wishes and properties of an unevidenced, contradictory being don’t make me feel any closer to belief than when I was five and realized that although I’d never seen Santa, I’d certainly seen (and heard) Papa with a toolchest and a string of expletives, putting together the bicycle.
    Is there a reason besides “I wish it were so” or “other people have felt the presence of God” for me? Or anyone else without the direct experience?

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  • Rubyfruit

    The title, the subject matter, and the closing line: “Loretta is God’s battered wife”–they all fit so well, and I can relate in a way.