You Can’t Take It With You

When I was in high school, I started reading a series of books called the Left Behind series, which was written by two guys named Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. This writers of this series took the prophecies of the Bible and used them to tell a story about the last seven years of human history. The series encompasses 12 books in all, but only the first three had been published when I started reading the series in high school. At the time, I was under the impression that those three books were the entire series, so when I finished the third book and discovered that there were more books to come, I lost interest for a while.

Part of the reason was that the writing contained a number of clichés, and the characters were somewhat generic and boring. In addition, as I grew older and studied the Bible more, I began to disagree with LaHaye’s interpretations of Biblical prophecies. (Namely, his belief that the Rapture will happen at the beginning of the period known as the Tribulation. I believe it will happen partway through.) Plus, the books were expensive, and I just didn’t want to spend that much money. So, many years went by, and I never did find out what happened after the end of the third book.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I just randomly decided that I was going to finally read the entire series. The library at my church has all 12 books, and I’d known that for some time, but it seemed like a pretty large project, and so I just kept putting it off. But towards the end of this past summer, I finally decided to go for it. And you know what? They’re really not that bad.

The first book begins with an airline pilot named Rayford Steele flying a commercial flight from London to New York and contemplating cheating on his wife with a beautiful flight attendant named Hattie Durham. He decides that he’s going to go through with this idea, and he leaves the cockpit to go tell her. When he finds her, though, she tells him that about a third of the passengers on the flight have just disappeared. Rayford quickly discovers that this phenomenon has happened all over the world. Rayford’s wife and son are Christians, and when he discovers that they both are among the missing, he realizes that they and all the other missing people were raptured, and he decides to accept Christ himself.

The story then follows the adventures and trials of Rayford, his daughter Chloe, and Cameron “Buck” Williams, a world-famous journalist who was on the plane that Rayford was piloting at the time of the Rapture, as they struggle to survive in a world that rapidly becomes highly antagonistic towards followers of Jesus Christ. These three characters, who are joined by an ever-growing cast of fellow believers, find themselves pitted against the evil rule of Nicolae Carpathia, a charismatic leader who rises to prominence in the wake of the Rapture. Carpathia quickly assumes control of the United Nations, renames it the Global Community, moves its headquarters to Babylon for some reason (which is cleverly renamed New Babylon – more about this later), and requires that all the nations of the world destroy 90 percent of their weapons and turn the remaining 10 percent over to the GC. Eventually Carpathia declares himself to be a god and requires that all the people of the world worship him. Refusing to do so results in death, meaning that Christians must go into hiding in order to survive.

There’s obviously a lot more to this story, but that’s the brief synopsis. As I mentioned earlier, it’s quite a bit better than I anticipated, based on my teenage memories of the first three books. That’s not really a fluke, though. The first three books are quite a bit weaker than the rest of the series. It’s almost as if it took the writers a while to get warmed up.

I do have a few quibbles. The characters aren’t all that wonderful. Near the beginning they are very generic and cliché. That gets better as the story goes along and they get more fleshed out. But then towards the middle a lot of the characters get really touchy and easily offended. It seems a little unrealistic that people living in hiding from a totalitarian world government would spend so much time whining over little things. But this does get better towards the end of the series.

Another thing that annoys me about the series is a relatively minor thing, but I want to point it out anyway. I alluded to this earlier, when I mentioned how Carpathia moves the headquarters of the United Nations/Global Community to New Babylon. For the most part, the events of this story that are couched as fulfilling Bible prophecy make sense within the context of the story. For example, there is one prophecy that LaHaye interprets as foretelling an invasion of Israel by Russia. In the story, the reasons why Russia attacks Israel are totally believable and you could imagine that it might actually happen that way.

But New Babylon is an exception to that. There is no reason given why the new ruler of the world would move the capital of the world to the middle of the Iraqi desert other than “the Bible says it will happen that way,” which is certainly up for debate. I found it a little distracting that there was no context given to this event, but ultimately that’s a pretty minor gripe.

The real, and surprising, positive thing about this series was how much it strengthened me in my walk with God. It’s one thing to say that I have faith in God and to say that I believe that God can do anything, but it’s another thing to actually believe it. Reading through this series of books, I was struck with just how powerful and amazing God really is. There is one scene in particular where one of the main characters is captured by the GC, and they use various methods to try to coerce her into revealing the location of her companions. They starve her, they drug her, they deprive her of sleep, but no matter what they try, the power of God sustains her and keeps her from revealing anything. Even when they finally execute her, she goes to her death fully confident that she is about to see Jesus face-to-face.

Even though this is a fictional story, there’s no doubt in my mind that God could and would do the same thing in real life. This is the brilliance of the Left Behind series; the authors do a fantastic job of representing the awesomeness and faithfulness of God through an incredibly dark and horrific period of history. And when Jesus returns in the end, all of the pain and suffering that the characters have endured is washed away. It is a fantastic ending to a surprisingly fantastic story. I highly recommend it to anyone who is a Christian or anyone who is curious about how the prophecies of the Bible might ultimately play out.

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