The first attempt to describe the full scale of the Rapture in Left Behind comes to readers third-hand. We’re told about the description of the global chaos as described by a passing pilot who is relaying the description he received from someone in the control tower at Paris Orly Airport. Here, as always in these books, Jerry Jenkins’ insistence on Tell, Don’t Show blunts the immediacy and the impact of what he’s hoping to convey. Even stranger, it paints Paris as a hotbed of fundamentalist Christianity. And we learn that the oppressed minority of real, true, Bible-believing Christians makes up 50 percent of the global elite flying aboard the Concorde.
Left Behind, pp. 25-27
“If you’re a seeker and you need a guide, someone to counsel you so you can find your way forward into a spiritual realm. And you’re on an airplane. Don’t look in first class.” — John Patrick Shanley in Joe Versus the Volcano
Our heroes, isolated from the world aboard their transatlantic flight, have thus far received no news from the outside world, and are still unaware that the mysterious disappearances are a global phenomenon. That changes when, “Finally [Rayford Steele] connected with a Concorde several miles away heading the other direction.”
Left Behind was published in 1995, so the authors’ failure to foresee the end of commercial Concorde flights is understandable. Compared with their other bizarre predictions and otherwise miserable record of prognostication, this is a minor failing.
The Concorde pilot informs Steele that he will not be able to land in London, and should turn around and head for Chicago, one of the few places he still might be able to land. Airports are closing because of the chaos following the mass disappearances, which the Concorde pilot says are “all over the world.”
“We lost nearly fifty,” passengers from the Concorde, he reports.
Keep in mind that this is the Concorde we’re talking about, a plane that catered exclusively to the literal jet-set. This was one of the priciest tickets in the air — one available and availed of only by those with swollen bank accounts and a swollen sense of self-importance. This super-elite carrier of the overclass seated an even 100 passengers.
LaHaye and Jenkins would have us believe that nearly 50 born-again, evangelical Christian millionaires were visiting Paris and were willing and able to spare no expense to return to New York City as fast, and in as much luxury, as humanly possible. This seems unlikely.
It also contradicts L&J’s insistence that evangelical Christians are a marginalized and persecuted minority. If they’re such a despised and disenfranchised group, how did they come to comprise nearly 50 percent of the super-elite passengers on the Concorde?
The Concorde pilot is at least thinking straight. He compares the disappearances to:
… the old Star Trek shows where people got dematerialized and rematerialized, beamed all over the place.
It was about time somebody mentioned this. Even if you’re not Jim Trafficant or a fluent-in-Klingon obsessive, if you see people everywhere suddenly beam up and disappear, one of your first mental reference points is going to be remembering those transporter scenes from Star Trek. Your next logical thought should be that this would seem to imply someone, somewhere, doing the actual transporting and you might start scanning the sky for the mothership. No one in Left Behind does this, however, because as already noted, all the characters in this story have read the book jacket and they know they’re in a story about the Rapture.
“What do we do now?” the Concorde pilot asks Steele:
“Not a blessed thing.”
“Good choice of words, Pan Heavy. You know what some people are saying, over?”
“Roger,” Rayford said. “Better it’s people gone to heaven than some world power doing this with fancy rays.”
Who, one has to ask, are the “some people” who have been saying this? So far, Rayford — whose wife seems to have committed the collected works of Hal Lindsay to memory — has thought this, but even he hasn’t actually voiced this opinion. And everyone else on his plane seems to have accepted the mass disappearances with a bovine incuriosity — they haven’t speculated at all let alone speculated about this being “people gone to heaven.”
More about this later, but it’s worth noting here that there’s another phrase we often use for people who have gone to heaven. We say they died.
Rapture enthusiasts stake their hopes on being whisked off to heaven like Enoch or Elijah. Technically, I suppose, that patriarch and prophet didn’t “die,” but this seems a rather fine distinction. L&J’s raptured saints have taken their mortal coils with them, but they have still shuffled off; they have met their maker; they have joined the choir invisible; their earthly life has ended and they rest in peace. L&J cling to the hope that there is a shortcut from life to resurrection without that messy step in between.
Anyway, the Concorde pilot provides us the first description of the global scope of the disappearances and of what awaits our heroes back on the ground:
People everywhere have disappeared. Orly lost air-traffic controllers and ground controllers. Some planes have lost flight crews. Where it’s daylight there are car pileups, chaos everywhere. Planes down all over and at every major airport. …
L&J seem to be setting the scene for the chaos and catastrophe our heroes will encounter in the pages ahead. But if you’re wondering how they will face this scene and respond to all this carnage and suffering, you’re in for a disappointment. Our heroes actions once they touch down are astonishing, but not in the way Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins seem to intend.