Originally posted April 14, 2006.
Read this entire series, for free, via the convenient Left Behind Index. This post is also part of the ebook collection The Anti-Christ Handbook: Volume 1, available on Amazon for just $2.99. Volume 2 of The Anti-Christ Handbook, completing all the posts on the first Left Behind book, is also now available.
Left Behind, pp. 211-217 (take one)
It was a lump in the throat. It was an itching in the feet. It was a stirring in the blood at the sound of rain. It was a sickening of the heart at the sight of misery. It was a clamoring of ghosts. It was a name which, when I wrote it out in a dream, I knew was a name worth dying for even if I was not brave enough to do the dying myself and could not even name the name for sure. Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you a high and driving peace. I will condemn you to death.
— Frederick Buechner, in The Alphabet of Grace
Remember that American Cancer Society PSA with Yul Brynner? The King of Siam recorded the ad shortly before dying of lung cancer. He appeared gaunt and death-haunted, looking directly into the camera, “”Now that I’m gone I tell you: Don’t smoke.”
It may have been the creepiest public service announcement ever. And precisely because it was so creepy, it was very effective.
Part of the problem with the Rev. Vernon Billings’ In Case of Rapture video is that, again, it’s not creepy enough. This video is, after all, a kind of message from the great beyond, a voice from the other side. Yet it doesn’t seem to occur to Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins that such a message ought to be a little bit creepy, a little bit eerie, maybe even a little bit numinous.
Instead, the ICR video is entirely didactic and expository. It’s about as eerie and numinous as a PowerPoint slideshow or a corporate training video. Actually, for L&J, it is a corporate training video. It’s a how-to instruction guide that will result, in a few short pages, in Rayford’s conversion.
For L&J, this conversion does not seem to require or involve anything numinous. They’ll use words like “spirit” and “supernatural,” but these terms seem detached, clinical, powerless. Rayford encounters the infinite and it merely seems definite. His experience plays out as something therapeutic, not something transcendent. It comes across like one of those psychological breakthrough scenes that Mel Brooks parodied in High Anxiety — “It’s not height I’m afraid of — it’s parents!”
Rayford’s conversion scene fizzles, in other words, for the same reason that Billings’ video falls flat — because it’s not creepy enough.
I probably shouldn’t be using the words “creepy” and “numinous” interchangeably like this — the words have different meanings and different connotations. But at some point I’m sure you’ve sat alone in a room reading a better book than Left Behind and you’ve read something that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up, something that made you look up from the page and glance around the room because you were no longer quite so sure you were alone. Whether you were reading Stephen King or Julian of Norwich, the physical sensation is the same.
These pages of LB should probably be about two-parts Julian and one-part King. They ought to make your skin crawl, yet they don’t. You can sit alone in a room and read this account of Rayford as he sits alone in a room and never be troubled by the sense that anyone or anything else is lurking nearby either one of you.