Originally posted May 18, 2010.
You can read this entire series, for free, via the convenient Left Behind Index. The ebook collection The Anti-Christ Handbook: Volume 1, is sporadically available on Amazon for just $0.99. “Fraud Guaranty,” though. Volume 2 of The Anti-Christ Handbook, completing all the posts on the first Left Behind book, is also now available. Volume 3 is coming someday.
Tribulation Force, pp. 218-219
Jimmy Borland is like the scornful colleague from a thousand disaster movies.
You know the guy — he appears shortly after the opening credits to mock the quixotic hero for foolishly believing that the experiment is too dangerous or that the long dormant volcano just discovered beneath Los Angeles is about to awaken. By the third reel, of course, the scornful colleague will be consumed by raptors and/or lava as the hero watches in horror after trying in vain to save him.
It’s a familiar trope and a fairly serviceable one, but Jerry Jenkins botches it here by forgetting to introduce the scornful colleague until after the monsters have already escaped from the lab and the lava is already flowing down Santa Monica Boulevard.
If they had introduced him pre-Event, Jimmy Borland — a designated religion expert for the liberal media establishment — might have served as a recognizable parody of those Tim LaHaye feels slighted by. Jimmy says just the sort of thing LaHaye sometimes hears. “Rapture nuts,” he says, suggesting such people don’t need to be taken seriously. Or this:
“Wait a minute, Buck. You’re not one of the suckers buying into the prophetic, apocalyptic, all-this-has-been-foretold-in-the-Bible theories, are you?”
I don’t doubt that LaHaye has heard exactly that sort of thing from some of his more exasperated critics.* Nor do I doubt that this is how he perceives even the gentlest, most patient, questioning from those who fail to embrace his prophetic framework. So in another context Jimmy Borland’s sneering dismissal might be an understandable portrait of those LaHaye views as his foes.
In this context, though — three weeks into the End of the World — it makes Borland seem delusional.
LaHaye & Jenkins seem to miss that Jimmy’s context here in Tribulation Force is significantly different from the context of the skeptical contemporaries of theirs they’ve intended him to represent. Jimmy just lived through the Rapture and the rise of the Antichrist is occurring before his very eyes, yet L&J portray him as talking about these things no differently than people here and now speak of them.
Imagine a fringe cult who believes that the play Hamlet is meant to be read as a coded prophecy of the Coming Day when every hamster on earth shall rise up on its hind legs and begin to speak, begging us to listen to their great prophet who will bring enlightenment. (This isn’t quite as silly as what LaHaye et. al. are actually asking us to believe, but I can’t think of anything sillier.) Unbelievers would view this as laughably preposterous and would probably wind up calling the true believers unkind names like “hamster nuts” and “suckers” and even much crueler things.
But once all that was foretold had come to pass — three weeks after the Coming Day, after the great golden-haired teddy bear prophet Fortinbras had squeaked forth his message of wisdom — you would expect the skeptics to have changed their tune at least a little bit.
That’s what this is like here. Three weeks later (yes, we’re nearly 700 pages into this series and only three weeks have passed), Jimmy Borland is still discussing the Rapture as if it were still some unlikely future event.
At the very least, he ought to have noticed that the “Rapture nuts” he’s complaining about have been replaced by an entirely different roster of brand new Rapture nuts. He ought to have noticed that every single Rapture nut harping about this stuff a month ago was now gone — vanished in the twinkling of an eye along with every child and infant on the planet.
Borland was also introduced here to play the part Skeptical Chloe briefly played in the first book — before she was replaced with Obediently Dim Chloe. Just like Chloe did earlier, Jimmy will raise a few common objections to L&J’s prophecy scheme, and just as before the authors will pretend they have dealt with those objections by allowing them to be mentioned. Buck will sidestep and ignore Jimmy’s questions just as Bruce did earlier with Chloe’s.
“Doesn’t sound to me like something God would have done.”
“You’re allowing that there is a God.”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“God is in all of us, Buck. You know my view.”
“Your view hasn’t changed since the disappearances?”
“Was God in the people who disappeared?”
“So now part of God is gone?”
“You’re way too literal for me, Buck.”
If we look past the parts of this designed to make Jimmy look like a moron compared to whom Buck appears intelligent, he’s allowed to express some substantive concerns. His first objection is rather insightful. LaHaye’s prophecy scheme, he notes, seems incompatible with the character of God.
The authors dodge the issue, dismissing his objection on the grounds that as some kind of New Agey agnostic Borland lacks the legal standing to raise questions about God’s character. But that ruling leaves the question unsettled, and it’s a good question. Based on what we know or can know or think we know about God, is this the way we would expect God to behave?
That’s not a question LaHaye can answer with a just another mish-mash of proof-texts ripped out of their context in Daniel and Revelation. It requires a panoramic survey of all that scripture has to say about the nature and character of God and of God’s intentions and desires for humanity. In particular, it requires an assessment of the life, mission and teaching of Jesus Christ, whom we Christians believe is the final, authoritative revelation of the character of God.
L&J seem to believe that the wrath and devastation described in their fictional apocalypse does, indeed, “sound like something God would have done.” Their image of Jesus would thus seem to be yet another cliché from a thousand movies: Jesus walks calmly toward the camera in slow motion silhouetted by the flames of the exploding building behind him. He casually lights a cigarette and, with an Eastwood squint, croaks, “Let ’em burn.”
I have a hard time reconciling that image with the Jesus of the Gospels. But then again, the character named “Jesus” who eventually shows up in these books isn’t someone I recognize at all either.
Jimmy Borland’s statement that “God is in all of us” is meant, I think, to be seen as a bit of vacuous New Age piffle. And Buck’s retort — “So now part of God is gone?” — is meant to be seen as rendering Borland speechless before the splendor of Buck’s cutting wit.
The problem here is that Buck’s comment describes something that LaHaye actually believes will occur in the Rapture. Part of God departs so that the Great Tribulation can start.
Real, true Christians, he believes, are imbued with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Rapture of the saints won’t just remove all RTCs from the earth, it will also recall the restraining presence of God’s Spirit. That absence is what permits the indiscriminate outpouring of wrath that LaHaye imagines will follow. This world will be left like Sodom without five righteous men and it will suffer a similar fate.
This idea of God withdrawing from the world, abandoning it to destruction, ought to be chilling. A dozen not-very-good movies have tapped into this idea to conjure a fearful sense of dread and doom. The absence of any such dread here is yet another way in which these books are Not Creepy Enough.
In part this is because LaHaye simply enjoys all this wrath and destruction too much to find it ominous or dreadful. He and Jenkins are too busy oohing and ahhing over each lethal sequence of seals and bowls as though they were watching fireworks on the Fourth of July. Since the authors don’t perceive all this doom and destruction as grim, they can’t portray it as such.
But part of the problem is also the centrality in these books of the “Tribulation saints,” as the authors refer to post-Rapture converts like Buck, Rayford and the rest. Their presence here confuses things. When Buck “asks Jesus into his heart” and receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, doesn’t that mean that the Holy Spirit is back at work as a sustaining presence and a restrainer of evil? With all these newly righteous men living in Sodom, shouldn’t God be putting the indiscriminate judgment back on hold?
The authors don’t seem to have worked through this point.**
“You’re way too literal for me, Buck. Next you’re going to tell me the treaty proves Carpathia’s the Antichrist.”
Odd thing for Jimmy Borland to say. Outside of the small circle of self-appointed “Bible prophecy scholars,” the idea of “the Antichrist” refers to an imagined embodiment of evil. Damien in The Omen, Hitler, Stalin, that sort of thing. And for most people, bringing peace to the Middle East isn’t really viewed as a diabolical scheme.
The only reason Borland would imagine that someone might make this connection — “the treaty proves Carpathia’s the Antichrist” — would be if he were intimately acquainted with the details of premillennial dispensationalism, so immersed in its strange world that he has come to share its reflexive peacemaking-equals-evil logic.
This seems to be another example of the authors’ assumption that every non-RTC, non-PMD — every atheist, lapsed Presbyterian, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew or Amazonian shaman — not only knows every detail of LaHaye’s belief system, but secretly knows it to be true, rejecting it only out of a perversely prideful refusal to kneel and accept how right LaHaye has been about everything all along.
They never come right out and say this, but so much of what they write doesn’t make sense unless this is what they’re thinking. (It also goes a long way toward explaining why LaHaye is so gleeful to witness his own fictional depiction of his detractors’ slaughter.)
“You’re way too literal for me, Buck. Next you’re going to tell me the treaty proves Carpathia’s the Antichrist.”
How I’d love to convince you, Buck thought. And someday I’ll try.
Yes tomorrow, or the next day perhaps, Buck would love to share with Jimmy the soul-saving magic-words prayer that can save his colleague from eternal damnation. But Buck can’t try to convince him of that today. Today he’s too busy suckering Jimmy into trading him three prestigious assignments for one.
Backstabbing today, soul-saving tomorrow.
– – – – – – – – – – – – –
* I suppose I’m probably one of those exasperated critics. And I do believe that LaHaye’s followers have been suckered, swindled and conned. To the extent that he has fallen prey to his own shell-game, I believe LaHaye is, himself, a sucker too.
Generally, though, I try to avoid words like “sucker.” Such terms tend to reinforce the defensive shame-response that makes it so difficult to persuade anyone who’s being swindled that they’re being swindled. It’s a very delicate business. Suggest that someone is being had and they’re likely to respond as though you’re accusing them of being gullible or greedy. And it’s tricky to convince them that’s not what you’re trying to say since, let’s face it, they probably are being greedy and gullible — that’s what made them such choice targets for the con artist in the first place. (This is why state lotteries — an utterly indefensible, harmfully corrosive and predatory policy — are nearly impossible to argue against.)
But anyway, I’d suggest that what distinguishes my ridicule of LaHaye from Jimmy Borland’s is that where he has chosen to ridicule LaHaye’s views before giving them a fair hearing, I have given those views my full and exhaustive attention and concluded after doing so that ridicule is the most apt, just and honest response. More than that, I’ve concluded that failing to ridicule those views would be inaccurate, un-just and dis-honest.
** Deep in the weeds of premillennial dispensationalist infighting, this turns out to be a matter of great contention. It all has to do with a fight over a passage in 2 Thessalonians which PMDs believe is about the Antichrist during the Tribulation even though it never mentions either of those things and seems to be about something else entirely. LaHaye’s position in this dispute seems to be that God really, really wishes he could just kill everybody and destroy everything because that’s what God really, really wants more than anything, but that God is held back from doing so by the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church. The Holy Spirit, he says, will still be present in the Tribulation saints, but they don’t technically count as “the church,” so God still gets to kill everybody.
In the internecine squabbles with his fellow PMDs, he’s angrily adamant on this point, which makes me wonder why he and Jenkins didn’t rename Bruce’s congregation “New Hope Village (Gathering-of-Believers-in-Whom-the-Spirit-Dwells-But-Who-Technically-Aren’t-Part-of-the-) Church.”
Like I said, I don’t think LaHaye has really thought this through.