Led astray by Jenkins and LaHaye

Tuesday’s release of “Glorious Appearing,” the 12th book in Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ “Left Behind” series, caps off the 40-million selling account of the Christian apocalypse. This “final” installment (there might still be a prequel and sequel) could well be the best-selling book of the year. As such, it merits attention and, at least for me, poses some soul-stirring snacks for thought.

For the uninitiated, the New Testament book of Revelation is a complicated prophetic account of the Earth’s final days. Basically, the world is ravaged by famine, disease and fiery disaster under the seven-year global reign of a demonic despot (or Antichrist). The evil leader brings humanity to the brink of oblivion before Jesus returns in the “glorious appearing” to usher in an eternal merging of heaven and Earth. At some point during this terrible period (called the tribulation), “true believers” in Jesus as Christ are taken to heaven (a process called the rapture) and the remnant of humanity (those “left behind”) must resist the machinations of the despot while maintaining their newly found faith in God to achieve eternal life in heaven.

While the exact timing of the rapture in relation to the tribulation is debated among biblical scholars, LaHaye and Jenkins write that believers will be taken in the rapture prior to the tribulation. The remnant of humanity, according to the authors, must then contend with the most horrific period in human history using only the Bible, instructional videos and regretful but theologically savvy converts to help them. The thousands of pages penned by the duo to this point have entranced and frightened millions of readers, but have raised some practical questions for consideration.

Anyone who saw LaHaye’s appearance on “60 Minutes” several weeks ago knows that he (and other Christians, according to recent polls) is almost gleeful in anticipating the imminent rapture and tribulation. LaHaye believes he and like-minded fundamentalist believers will be taken away by Jesus and avoid the cataclysmic suffering imposed on those “left behind.” It appears the crux of the entire series, and the authors’ own beliefs on the matter are the avoidance of natural death and/or extreme persecution via the rapture – a nice reward for a job well done. This bothers me.

Given that the days of death and destruction, according to the authors, will be the most trying in the history of the world, wouldn’t “true believers” want to remain on Earth, caring for their starving, disease-plagued neighbors and comforting an entire civilization as it collapses on itself? This lack of perspective and neighborly compassion on a grand scale is disturbing.

In the politicized environment of contemporary Christianity, “winning” and “being right” seem to have superseded the very simple mandate, attributed to Jesus, to love God first and love your neighbor as yourself (“On these two commandments hang all Law and the Prophets,” Matthew 22:36-40). LaHaye’s eagerly anticipated absence seems to fly in the face of this simple order. In light of this, LaHaye’s moral majority as a representative of contemporary evangelical doctrine itself becomes suspect.

According to the New Testament, the existing church of God at the time of Christ’s first appearance on Earth was an organization made up, in large part, of overly self-righteous men who believed more in their misconceived fundamentalism than in fundamental kindness. This body of Pharisees in ancient Judea looks much like the body of modern-day zealots in contemporary organized movements such as the moral majority and the ambiguous “religious right.” These church leaders were the targets of Jesus’ anger and intellectual correction, and they responded by pursuing and killing him.

What makes Christians such as LaHaye think anything would be different today with men such as himself, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and a host of others at the helm? Would today’s church, like the one in Jesus’ time, fail to recognize its own Lord and, subsequently, hunt the very people fulfilling the Bible’s true mandates of love and kindness to all people?

It’s a scary thought, but LaHaye and Jenkins might represent the very thing they are warning the world to avoid (see Matthew 24:11). “Left Behind” is a good moniker for LaHaye’s opus, but instead of spreading the word about a sudden disappearance and quick escape, he should pine to be left behind, to be present at the world’s time of greatest need, to live in today’s world of famine, disease and war as if the tribulation has already begun.

Aaron North welcomes comments at [email protected]