26 November 2010

Left Behind: Glorious Appearing

Read all my reviews of the Left Behind books!
1. Left Behind, 2. Tribulation Force, 3. Nicolae, 4. Soul Harvest,
5. Apollyon, 6. Assassins, 7. The Indwelling, 8. The Mark,
9. Desecration, 10. The Remnant, 11. Armageddon,
12. The Glorious Appearing, and 13. Kingdom Come



Wow. Well, we're finally here at the twelfth book. It's been a long and difficult road.

Glorious Appearing continues where Armageddon left off, right at the climactic battle. The Antichrist is attacking the Jews in Jerusalem and the believers in Petra. Then Jesus shows up and saves the day, punishing the wicked and rewarding (sort of) the good.

And that's the book.

Nothing unexpected happens, because nothing unexpected could happen. I guess there's some question about when the Great White Throne Judgment will occur, but unless you have a deep interest in Christian eschatology, you are going to be quite bored with just watching them arrange events. This is particularly so because the sequence of events is utterly meaningless. Who cares in what order people will be judged, or how long Jesus will take to consecrate a new temple? It has no bearing on the story and no bearing on our lives, and it's not even particularly philosophically interesting.

Even further cutting down on the interesting content, and perhaps in deference to the authors' own slackening creative powers, a huge amount of this book is direct quotation from scripture or other sources. When Jesus wants to reassure someone, it's always "I am the stone the builders rejected." Jesus really likes to repeat himself. And at one point the authors just cut-and-paste in the whole of a sermon by S.M. Lockridge, breaking in only to describe how each new paragraph is received by the audience.

But despite the dearth of original material, there are still some serious problems in Glorious Appearing. Let's talk about two general problems, and then we'll get the incredibly bizarre storyline and some strange quotes.


Drama?

When you're writing a book, you often try to create some drama. The reader might not know what's going to happen, and they might dread bad things happening to the protagonists they've come to love. We want to see the hero rewarded for his efforts, and the villain punished. But this feeling of participation in the drama can't happen in this book. There are several reasons:

  • We don't care much about the characters, who are wooden, stereotyped, or impossible to relate to. It doesn't matter very much to us if they succeed or all die.
  • Any possible danger is negated by the continuous intercession of an omnipotent deity, who leaves no doubt as to the rules of his intervention. If you leave Petra, you can be shot. So they all pretty much stay there, and we know they're invulnerable there.
  • In previous books, there was a chance the characters might suffer setbacks or injury.  Now Jesus protects and heals everyone on the planet.
  • The crazy one-sidedness of the conflict makes us sympathetic more to the poor mortals that constitute the villainous Global Community.

Better writers than these authors have had the same difficulty, and have discovered that you can compensate for some of these problems. If you can't make your audience shiver with dread, you can make them tingle with awe. That's really all you can do, actually, in a situation where God Almighty is a character. The Prime Mover and King of Kings is bopping about righting every wrong and punishing every evil, so to involve your audience you have to try to make them feel some of the awesome power and humility experienced by the characters in the face of this immensity.

The authors fail. They are at their most descriptive when relating how the enemies burst apart in showers of blood. The awe of a character, on the other hand, is most often expressed by, "He was overcome with awe." The might and glory of a living deity is described in terms usually just taken directly from scripture, never in a way that makes us feel anything new.

Compare these two excerpts. The first is from when Jesus is striking down the bad guys in Jerusalem:


The riders not thrown leaped from their horses and tried to control them with the reins, but even as they struggled, their own flesh dissolved, their eyes melted, and their tongues disintegrated. As Rayford watched, the soldiers stood briefly as skeletons in now-baggy
uniforms, then dropped in heaps of bones as the blinded horses continued to fume and rant and rave.

See, there's some pretty vivid description right there. It's a little brief for such a shocking image, but that could be purposeful. But here's the whole of the description of Jesus and the divine armies at their first appearance.


Jesus' eyes shone with a conviction like a flame of fire, and He held His majestic head high. He wore a robe down to the feet so brilliantly white it was incandescent and bore
writing, something in a language wholly unfamiliar to Rayford and something else he easily understood. On His robe at the thigh a name was written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. Jesus was girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow. His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace. Jesus had in His right hand seven stars, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. The armies of heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.

It's almost entirely cribbed from scriptural language, which is very nice but remarkably uncommunicative. What are the armies like? What is Jesus' face like? Does he have a strong nose? He has white hair and brassy feet, but what does this mean in terms to which we can actually relate?

It's pretty much like that. A living god, descended to the planet to dispense justice, and all it ends up reading is like someone repasted together some shredded Bible scraps.


Knowledge

Another problem is the bizarre choices made by the villains. This is partly not the authors fault, because they were trying to base their book on their clumsy interpretations of the Bible.

But firstly, when the Ancient Israelites put together their Tanakh, they did it over the course of a long time. Books that were orally transmitted were then committed to paper, and during the few hundred years before Christ a selection of these books were then recognized as legitimate. To preserve their integrity, many came with warnings not to change the text (Deuteronomy, as an example) and they often echoed each other, both because there were certain common phrases ("flowing with milk and honey") and because the repetition increased their apparent legitimacy.

For all that there's some great stuff in the Old Testament, it also reflects the profound ignorance of a nomadic tribe from the years before the current era. The geography, for example, reaches little further than the areas nearest to Mesopotamia: Mount Carmel, Egypt, Sinai, and so on. The science is also limited, miscalculating pi as 3 and having a misunderstanding about the nature of celestial bodies.

Over the next few hundred years in the current era, the New Testament was written - including Revelations, the apocalyptic book upon which the Left Behind series is based. We see a little broader world, with places like Rome being included, but this is because Rome had arrived on the Jewish scene at that point with their expanding empire.

My point, of course, is that nothing in the Bible or especially Revelations exhibits much of anything that would point to a divine hand in the work. The depicted world is sadly limited and dated. People ride horses in Revelations. They use swords as their weapons. God's plagues are earthquakes, locusts, poison, boils, and so on. The chosen people are the Jews - a tiny fraction of mankind - and the chosen city is Jerusalem - mighty at the time and central to their world.

Like a child's drawing of his world, Israel's people and house loom large while the physical laws are only roughly approximated.

So when Nicolae Carpathia attacks the forces of good in Armageddon and Glorious Appearing, he leads an army of horsemen, not tanks. They carry swords, not rifles. They invade by land, not by air. And all major events occur in the penny-ante lands known to an ancient nomadic tribe. Megiddo is of no importance to anyone in the modern era, because if Egypt wanted to attack Assyria it would use bombers and then cargo planes. But Megiddo was important to ancient Israel, so for no good reason the characters of Left Behind have to gather there for a conflict - going out of their way to get there, as if for an appointment. It would be like a prediction about a future Anglo-American war being fought in Lexington and Concorde. It's bizarre and silly.


Storyline
PLEASE NOTE: For the duration of this post, I will note all supernatural powers with their X-Man equivalent.

As you might recall, the Antichrist is attacking the Jews in Jerusalem and the believers in Petra. Jerusalem is overrun by the millions-strong army of bad guys, despite the fact that the bad guys are courteous enough not to use any of their heavy armament. When you have an army of a few thousand against an army of millions, it's not surprising that the bad guys are winning. What is surprising is that the Jews have managed to hold off the Global Community from the Old City not just for an hour, but for more than a day. How? Why? It's not explained. But eventually, the Global Community is forced to use artillery instead of a battering ram.


We will shell the enclave in such a way that there will be no escape through the Lion's Gate to the east. Survivors will be pushed north toward Herod's Gate, and we'll be right behind them. The gate they have so
ferociously held since yesterday they will now open themselves."

If you have artillery, then how come they could hold a gate at all? Shoot the goddamn gate!

But whatever. Meanwhile, in Petra, the bad guys attack but all of their bullets and missiles are passing harmlessly through the believers. The believers make a big show of encircling Petra and getting their own guns ready and so on, but there's no point: they end up being able to walk freely through the enemy ranks, ignoring the bad guys entirely. Rayford, badly injured in an ATV accident, is magically healed and gets a second ATV to go follow around the Antichrist to eavesdrop.

In the midst of the "attack", Jesus appears on a white horse with a bunch of angels. Jesus can fly, much like Archangel, and he hovers there for a while, quoting himself so much he sounds like a Bible Mad Libs.

"[NOUN FROM REVELATIONS] has sinned against [NOUN FROM GENESIS] by [VERB FROM ISAIAH]. But yea verily, [POETIC IMAGE FROM SONG OF SONGS]."

But Jesus has to get into some action here. And he's not here to turn the other cheek. He's here to beat some bitches down by, um....


"Silence!" came the response in a voice so phantasmagorically piercing and awful that it made Mac recoil and want to cover his ears.

Let me perfectly clear: Jesus makes the bad guys explode.


Rayford watched through the binocs as men and women soldiers and horses seemed to explode where they stood. It was as if the very words of the Lord had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skin.
Tens of thousands of foot soldiers dropped their weapons, grabbed their heads or their chests, fell to their knees, and writhed as they were invisibly sliced asunder. Their innards and entrails gushed to the desert floor, and as those around them turned to run, they too were slain, their blood pooling and rising in the unforgiving brightness of the glory of Christ.

Well, that is kind of gross. It also is the power of Gambit.

So Jesus starts quoting scripture, and at every word he kills tens of thousands in an extremely graphic way. There are no guns to describe in this book, so the authors are deprived of one fetish and go even further overboard with their gore-lust. For pages and pages, people are exploding and falling into chunks. The amount of blood reaches waist-high and the Antichrist's car gets stuck in the rising blood soup.

It is not pleasant to read.

Adding to the fun, Jesus has also started raining down hail on the bad guys. Just like in Revelations, it's "up to the weight of a talent," which Glorious Appearing tells me is 100 lbs. but which is actually 130 lbs. But however much they weigh, this is some big hail. It is also the power of Storm.

Things get very gross.


As Rayford slowly made his way down to the desert plains, though he had to concentrate on missing craters and keeping from hitting splayed and filleted bodies of men and women and horses, Jesus still appeared before his eyes—shining, magnificent, powerful, victorious.

I'd be flattering Jesus a lot too, as I drove around "filleted bodies" of the dude's enemies.

So Jesus now starts to ride/fly to Jerusalem, along with all the believers. He's going there to save the day, and he's taking his sweet time. Worried about keeping up with the deity, Rayford and some buddies get a Hummer to follow and in the process demonstrate that the authors are terrible dicks who don't understand how calling shotgun works.


The only downside of having Abdullah drive the Hummer was that Rayford would have to trade off with Mac for the privilege of riding shotgun. That transported him back to college when he and his fraternity brothers would compete to call the favored seat, sometimes as much as twenty-four hours before a trip.

You have to be in sight of the car, you jerks! This is the unkindest cut of all.

As it turns out, they didn't need a Hummer at all. Jesus magically makes everyone able to run really fast without getting tired. He gives them all the power of Quicksilver.


Hannah didn't know who first got the idea of walking faster, but suddenly a laughing and smiling group was pushing them. They stepped along as quickly as they could, then began jogging, trotting, and soon they were in a full sprint. Hannah felt light as air, and while it wasn't that she was actually off the ground, it felt that way. Each step carried her farther and farther, and soon she was running faster than she ever had.
To her amazement, she was not out of breath. Her strength and endurance remained, and so, apparently, did that of the old and the young alike. When the group caught and passed a speeding Hummer, Hannah knew they were running at miraculous, supernatural, superhuman speeds.

On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus has to stop to blow more people up. At this point I was actually kind of interested, because I thought a tank or a jet would try to fight Jesus. And I thought that might be cool and was wondering what would happen. But it seems every single soldier is either on foot or on a horse. They probably forgot their keys or something.

When they move on, Jesus takes the time to personally speak with every believer running along with him. He reaches into all of their minds simultaneously, a feat of mental power only equaled by Professor X.


As they traveled, they followed Jesus now riding horseback on the ground, His army above and behind Him, and the Jewish remnant running along en masse. Again, they covered more than seventy miles in an hour, and the whole way Jesus spoke to them as if to each individually.

Let us pause here for a moment to appreciate what is probably the greatest line ever uttered by a narrator's voice. This isn't the work of a character or someone partisan, it is the words of the narrator. They conclude a chapter, are written with apparent utter seriousness, and are seemingly entirely unaware of how ludicrous they sound.

Are you ready?


Ride on, King Jesus!

Just take a moment and absorb that. Drink it in.

So anyway, at one point we also witness the voice of God from the heavens. Jesus has been a serious chatterbox, but this is the first time we hear the thunderous, magnificent voice of God the Father. It's a serious opportunity to showcase descriptive skill and an appreciation for the majesty of an omnipotent deity. But nope!


Suddenly another voice cascaded from heaven, and Sebastian knew immediately it was God Himself. "Behold!" He said. "My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I have put My Spirit upon Him, and He will declare justice. "
Then Jesus again: "The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth come through Me. Now, George, may the God of peace who brought Me up from the dead and made Me the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight. Amen. "

"Then Jesus again." Wow. Really straining ourselves, aren't we boys? Also:


Rayford followed his gaze to see the temple of God opened in heaven, and the ark of the covenant plain as day. Lightning flashed and thunder roared, and the earth began to shift.
WHAT DOES THE ARK LOOK LIKE? WHY WON'T YOU DESCRIBE ANYTHING   Sheesh.

Jesus proceeds with his plan, and causes a massive global earthquake, in a manner like that of Avalanche.

Rayford slapped his palm over his earpiece and plugged his other ear to hear reports coming in from all over the world. The earthquake was global. Islands disappeared. Mountains were leveled. The entire face of the planet had been made level, save for the city of Jerusalem itself.

This is a pretty big event. It's way bigger than a bunch of people exploding. Jesus has essentially destroyed the planet. But is it discussed? Do people mention about what happens to all the buildings? Does it appear to effect the other characters elsewhere in the world? Nope! Sorry, we have people to explode! So Jesus does more of that, and eventually wins (as if there was a contest).

Then there come the judgments.

You can almost hear the drip of anticipatory slaver from the authors and some readers. The Rapture was pretty good for them: "We're right and you're wrong and we're going to Heaven." But it's been a dozen books since then, with a lack of ideological assurance. Let's punish some people who disagree with our beliefs... yeah, there they go, right into hell.


Rayford watched, horrified despite knowing this was coming, as the "goats" to Jesus' left beat their breasts and fell wailing to the desert floor, gnashing their teeth and pulling their hair. Jesus merely raised one hand a few inches and a yawning chasm opened in the earth, stretching far and wide enough to swallow all of them. They tumbled in, howling and screeching, but their wailing was soon quashed and all was silent when the earth closed.

Yeah, hahah! That'll show you guys for taking prayer out of schools! My pastor is right! Yeeeeeah!

And then come the rewards. Jesus judges all the good people and tells them he knows about their sins but still loves them. And here comes the thing: Jesus is still kind of a jerk. Throughout the book, he never lets anyone finish their damn sentence.


"I knew your name before the foundation of the world. I have prepared a place for you, and if it were not so, I would have told you. "
"But, Lord, I—I—"
Jesus took Rayford by the shoulders and gently pushed him back and cupped his face in His hands. He stared into his eyes from inches away, and Rayford could barely hold His piercing gaze. "I was there when you were born. I was there when you thought your mother had abandoned you. I was there when you concluded that I made no sense. "
"I am so sorry. I—"
"I was there when you almost married the wrong woman. I was there when your children were born. I was there when your wife chose Me and you did not.
"I was there when you nearly broke your vows. When you nearly died, before you knew Me. I was there when you were left behind. And I was waiting when finally you came to Me. "
" Oh, Lord, thank You. I'm so—"
"I have loved you with an everlasting love. I am the lover of your soul. You were meant to be with Me for  eternity, and now you shall be. "

Jesus just interrupted Rayford like three times in one conversation! And he does this all the time! Jesus has no manners at all.


There are now some extra-special judgments. Leon Carpathia, the right-hand man to the Antichrist, is judged.


You pitted your will against Mine and became the False Prophet, committing the greatest sin known under heaven: rejecting Me as the only Way to God the Father.

That's right, the greatest sin. Somewhere there's an abused woman, or a resurrected murder victim, or some other victim out in the crowd, saying, "What? Come on, that's the greatest sin?!"

And then Jesus judges Lucifer. One serious strike against the Great Enemy: Inherit the Wind.


Jesus continued: "For all your lies about having evolved, you are a created being. "

I'm not going to go into all that judgment stuff. It takes a long time and is immensely self-satisfied. Let's get on to Paradise!

So it seems that what will happen is that everyone on the planet has to leave their homes and come live in Israel. This is probably a good thing because everyone's homeland has been crushed into a pancake. People don't have to worry about getting to Israel, because God has it under control:


"I will transport you. You need not trouble yourselves. "

Jesus is Nightcrawler.

The new folks don't need to worry when they get to the devastated city, as there's lots of things to eat.


"Are you all seeing what I'm seeing?" Rayford said, studying the landscape and the people and the animals as Abdullah steered through the happy crowds. All the animals were docile. Sheep, dogs, wolves, critters of all types roamed everywhere. Shops had already reopened and butchers were working in the open air. Trucks delivered fresh fruits and vegetables from nearby groves.
...
"You will not believe it, Chaim, but fattened animals, ready for slaughter and butchering, milled about the place as if volunteering! Cows, sheep! Imagine! I found my tools and got to work immediately. What do you need?"

And even better, Jesus cleaned up all the houses in Jerusalem:


As Rayford followed him about the place, Chaim said, "I am tired of my own disbelief. I must simply once and for all accept that God is the author of all this. He can do anything, and He has done everything. I had heard that the GC took over this house as a command center almost three years ago. Can you imagine, Captain Steele , what it should look like after dozens of different men have lived and worked in it? I expected the stench of tobacco, garbage, a mess. Yet look. "
Rayford was looking. It was as if a cleaning crew had swept through the entire place. Floors, walls, ceilings were clean. Furniture was in place. Rayford wouldn't have been more surprised if there had been slipcovers draped on each piece. But there didn't need to be. He couldn't find a speck of dust anywhere.

I know I've been doing this thing with the X-Men, but these are such tame powers that no one ever had them. Jesus is churning out fatted animals to eat and cleaning up all the dust in town. I guess if you're omnipotent, you might as well, but it seems pretty weird. And Jesus doesn't neglect any details.


Gentlemen, can you believe the food is still steaming as if we hadn't left it out here for several minutes?"
"The fruit looks crisp and fresh too, " Razor said. "And no flies."

Uh...
Well anyway, Jesus has also begun keeping in constant communication with everyone, answering each prayer as it is asked.


And Rayford had the strangest experience. As he prayed along with Chaim, thanking God for the privilege of witnessing what they had seen that day, for the food He had provided, and for the move-in-ready home He had preserved, it was as if Jesus answered audibly and immediately and personally.
"You're welcome, Rayford, " He said. "It is My delight to shower you with love in tangible ways. " And before Rayford could pray for Kenny, the Lord said, "I know of your concern. He will be reunited with his parents, as will you, very soon. "

Dear Jesus, I pray that you will one day let me actually speak without interrupting me in anticipation of what I was going to say.

After a while, Jesus gets to resurrecting the dead. These include some pretty famous people. Actually, they include some of the most famous people ever to live. But are you curious about them - how they looked or how they acted or some hint of humanity? TOO BAD!


Enoch was intrigued to finally get a look at these famous men and women. As they came to Him one by one, Jesus said, "Without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to My Father must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. "
There was Noah, humbly kneeling, receiving his reward. Jesus said, "By faith, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, you moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of your household, by which you condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. "

But now finally comes the minute we've been waiting for: the reunion of the wives.

See, Rayford was originally married to Irene. But Irene was Raptured. A couple of years later, Rayford married Amanda. Amanda died. But now all three are going to be reunited! Weird! But as it turns out, it seems that all interpersonal relationships are nullified in the light of the love of Jesus.


"I was so afraid this would be awkward, " Rayford said.
"Not at all, "Irene said. "I didn't begrudge you a good wife and companionship. I was so thrilled that you both had come to Jesus . You're going to find that He is all that matters now. "

That is kind of sad, to me. I understand that the Christian line is usually that being one with God is the fullness of human happiness, bliss beyond compare. But having everyone's individual bonds become meaningless in the face of the One Love seems like a serious loss. For all the poverty of the human experience when compared with this hypothetical ideal, it has a fragile beauty and majesty that would make a single omni-love appear a lessening.

But this is, I suppose, one of the problems of theodicy - trying to explain the works of a god to men. Especially if you try to be as literal as possible with an allegorical book written by an ancient tribe. You end up getting obscenities like an "all-merciful God" forcing people not to choose him.


God had, in the meantime, hardened many hearts. And when these unbelievers changed their minds—or tried to—they were not even capable of repenting and turning to God. That had seemed unfair to Leah at first, but as the years rolled by and the judgments piled up, she began to see the logic of it. God knew that eventually sinners would grow weary of their own poverty, but His patience had a limit. There came a time when enough was enough. People had had way more than enough information to make a reasonable choice, and the sad fact was they had made the wrong one, time and time again.


It is here we leave off. It's been a magical journey through terrible writing and profound ignorance.  What have we learned?

  • Jesus is kind of a jerk who is always interrupting.
  • If you are a woman or if you know how to use a computer, you will have a short lifespan.
  • Neither God's voice or Jesus' face merits description, but at least fifty pages must be devoted to people being ripped into giblets.
  • God delivers groceries when necessary.
  • It is very important to make at least one phone call and one international flight per chapter, whenever possible.
  • Satan talks like Mary Poppins and Boris Badenov.

But most of all:

  • If you are Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, people will buy any kind of crap you spew out.

3 comments:

  1. I can't believe you slogged your way through all of these books. Laughed my ass off at all of your reviews. GOOD SHOW OLD CHAP

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  3. I enjoyed the series up until this book, and then it took all of my willpower to slog through the clearly padded plot that should've just been an extra 40 page epilogue to Armageddon.

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