Okay so this is the last post I'm going to make on Left Behind and then I'm done with the whole sordid mess and can take the books back to the library before I rack up a fine. The last book, Glorious Appearing, covers Jesus' triumphant return to Earth, his defeat of the Antichrist and the beginning of his thousand year reign. In a word, it's evil. It's so evil it makes the earlier books seem almost benevolent. Jesus comes back, kills tens of thousands with His voice, then teleports everyone on Earth to Jerusalem, forces them all to worship Him, then kills all the unbelievers. Then His thousand year rule over the few survivors begins, with Jesus the Ultimate Dictator scrutinizing not only their every action, public and private, but even their every thought. He's in their heads, responding to their thoughts before they are formed. Not one moment of privacy, even in your own mind. The End.
The Jesus of Left Behind isn't the lamb of peace they taught us about in Catholic school. He's really into vengeance, punishment, smiting His enemies. And the punishment for being the Antichrist is identical to the punishment for being taken in by the Antichrist, is identical to the punishment for resisting the Antichrist but not being Christian, or not the right kind of Christian.
This passage, from the final book, bothered me more than anything else in the entire series:
"Then the Great White Throne Judgement, at the end of the Millenium, is the final one?"
"But it doesn't sound like there will be much to judge. People either received Christ as their Savior, or they didn't."
"Right, but we believe that God, being wise and fair and wanting to demonstrate how far men and women fall short of His standard, will judge them based on their own works. Obviously, all will fail to measure up. This will show that the punishment is deserved, and as I have said, they will be sent to the lake of fire for eternity."
They are saying (and the speaker is a "leading theologian" character who sermonizes often, so I think it's safe to assume that his opinions are those of the authors) that God has set up an impossible standard for salvation, which He will apply selectively in order to get rid of whomever He wants. A sort of heavenly kangaroo court. It shocks me that the authors, who claim to love God so much, would attribute such meanness, such weasely legalistic tricks to Him. I don't believe in Jesus Christ but after reading that, I think I have more respect for Him than they do.
I suspect that what's really going on is they're trying to explain away Revelation 20:12-13, which says that in the final judgement: "The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books....each person was judged according to what he had done." This is problematic for Lahaye and Jenkins who firmly adhere to the "faith, not works" approach to salvation. (A concept I first encountered in a Jack Chick publication in which a bank robber murders a nonchristian who lived an exemplary life. The murderer repents and accepts Jesus just before being shot to death by the cops, and goes straight to his heavenly reward. The victim? Demons and pitchforks for him!)
I clearly remember a priest telling me (in religion class; I think it was Morals) that atheists who lead good lives will be pleasantly surprised when they arrive in heaven, because they were "Christian in deed if not in word." In retrospect, I doubt this was orthodoxy. But Lahaye and Jenkins seem to have gone to the opposite extreme: in their world faith is the only thing that matters, deeds not at all. Further than that, salvation depends not on faith but on "praying the prayer," saying a specific formula of words. In Left Behind these words are given the power of a magical incantation. Once the prayer has been said, salvation is apparently guaranteed. I never got the sense from these books that I did from Catholic school, that a life of faith would be spent striving to be worthy of God's love. Instead you pray the prayer, say the magic words, then wrap yourself up forever in the snuggly blanket of knowing you are saved. No matter what happens, no matter what you do, once those words are said you are heaven-bound.
They say over and over that "the mark of God" is irrevocable and that everyone who wears it is saved. While reading I tried to figure out if they meant that once you prayed the prayer and got the mark, you could go on a raping and killing spree, and you'd still be saved. But I think they meant that once you accepted God, you would be incapable of sin. Which shows such a profound lack of understanding of human nature that I have to think I misunderstood or they were being disingenuous.
To be fair, Lahaye and Jenkins never suggest that this state of grace, immunity from sin, is possible now. In fact they never say outright that it happens to the believers in the end times. They mostly avoid the subject of sin committed by believers. There are a few minor conflicts among them, and heroic asshole Rayford Steele has a period in one of the middle books of being more of an asshole than usual. But for the most part none of the believers ever commit misdeeds (at least, nothing that the authors apparently see as misdeeds).
And while I'm on the subject of the mark of God, I have to say that a really ugly thought occurred to me while I was reading this final book. Much of what they accuse the Antichrist is also true of God, at least as they portray Him. The Antichrist puts a mark on the forehead of everyone in the world who is loyal to him; so does God. The Antichrist kills those who refuse his mark; so does God. The Antichrist tricks the condemned into thinking they can save themselves by taking the mark, then executes them anyway; Jesus forces the unbelievers to worship Him, then casts them into eternal fire anyway. Perhaps if I were Christian I wouldn't see it this way. But from where I'm standing, the Antichrist of Left Behind doesn't seem so bad compared to the God of Left Behind. At least the Antichrist couldn't get inside your head; you could feign loyalty but still have the freedom of your thoughts. In Christ's thousand year reign, even that is taken away.
The quote above, that bit of hand-waving around judgement by deeds, is followed up by this:
"But what about the goats [unbelievers] in the coming judgement? Where do they go? And will they also be judged again at the great white throne a thousand years from now?"
"Yes. For now they will be sent to hades, apparently a compartment of hell, where they will suffer until that final judgment, and then they will be cast into the lake of fire."
"Yes, it is. Very. And yet I believe all these judgements will demonstrate to the whole world God's justice and righteousness and will finally silence all who have scoffed."
That last sentence, I believe, is the thesis of the series. All of you who scoff at us Evangelicals, you are so going to get it. They haven't convinced me of God's justice and righteousness, but they sure got the last part. Throwing everyone who doesn't see things exactly your way into eternal fire ought to silence them, all right.