Friday, July 12, 2013

Glorious Appearing: The End of Days

This is it, the final volume in the Left Behind series! Except, of course, for the three prequel novels. And the novelizations of the Gospels. Oh, and the final, final novel set 1,000 years after the events of this one.


Okay then, how about this - at the time of its publication, Glorious Appearing was meant to be the concluding chapter in the AntiChrist vs. Tribulation Force story. The Seven Year Tribulation - and its accompanying curses, plagues, disasters, soul harvests, improbable human-headed scorpion locusts, and other assorted trumpet and bowl judgments – comes to an end, and we finally witness the Second Coming of the Son of Man of the Hour, Jesus the Christ.

And boy oh boy, does the Prince of Peace ever let them sinners have it! Jesus quotes the Bible at them, and His Voice acts like a death ray:

“And with those very first words, tens of thousands of Unity Army soldiers fell dead, simply dropping where they stood, their bodies ripped open, blood pooling in great masses.”

“With every word, more and more enemies of God dropped dead, torn to pieces.”

“Rayford watched through 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.”

“…and writhed as they were invisibly sliced asunder. Their innards and entrails gushed to the desert floor… their blood pooling and rising in the unforgiving brightness of the glory of Christ.”

And it actually gets worse from there. Jesus leads no less than four separate campaigns against the AntiChrist’s army, one after the other, before finally chucking AntiChrist Nicholae Carpathia and his False Prophet sidekick Leon Fortunato into Hell. Why, you might ask, does the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (which is actually written on his robe! For real!) need to go to all that trouble? Couldn’t HE just, I don’t know, blow them all up and be done with it?

No, HE can’t. That’s not what the Bible says. Or, at least, that’s not what authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins say that the Bible says. They say that the Bible says that Jesus fights four battles with the AntiChrist’s army, so HE has to fight all four battles. Wouldn’t want to contradict Biblical prophecy, now would you?

And that is one of the main problems with this book, and indeed the entire series; every Biblical I is dotted, every Gospel T crossed (see what I did there?). If it’s in the Bible it has to be accounted for, no matter how small or silly or detrimental to the plot.

For example, in the middle of Jesus’ slaughter of Nicky’s troops, there is a storm of giant hailstones. As if the poor guys didn’t have enough to worry about, what with the whole getting annihilated by GOD HIMSELF. These great chunks of ice crush several more unbelievers and then melt, and Nicholae’s humvee gets stuck in the ensuing flood. Leon Fortunato has to get out and push, a situation that becomes fraught with comical hijinks.

Comical hijinks? Seriously?!?

Yes, seriously. The AntiChrist and the False Prophet are played largely for laughs in this book, most of it due to Leon’s clumsiness and Nicholae’s cowardice. Are these two really the same guys who kept the world in a state of terror for seven years and eleven previous volumes? For the reader, this is less than satisfying.

But that isn't nearly as bad as the hand that’s dealt to our plucky Trib Force heroes. Things start off interestingly enough – we witness the death of Buck Williams, and the scenes involving the search for the wounded Rayford Steele contain genuine tension and pathos. The others wait at Petra for the AntiChrist’s imminent attack…

…but the moment Jesus appears in the sky, all of them become useless. They follow Jesus and the AntiChrist and watch the remaining prophecies unfold, allowing readers to witness those events through their eyes... and that's it. None of the characters that readers have journeyed with up until that point have any kind of important role, any plot-resolving function, any longer.

So, having usurped the role of Main Character for HIMSELF, what does Jesus the Christ do with it? He obliterates his enemies in his infinite mercy – we’ve covered that. Otherwise, he has two roles to play, which I’ll call Nice Jesus and Mean Jesus. Nice Jesus gives comfort to his flock, speaking to and hugging each of them, assuring them they have done well. Mean Jesus divides the entire population of the planet into Saved and UnSaved, and sends all the UnSaved people to Hell. It’s hard to believe they are the same deity.

The Trib Force characters don’t care. They’re delighted when their Lord adds their names to a bit of Scripture-quoting, and all of them have a Wayne’s World-esque “we’re not worthy” moment. They happily (and passively) sit back and watch the Lord do his stuff.

The last quarter of the novel is like an Academy Awards Ceremony for the faithful, with Old and New Testament guys like Moses and Paul getting their pats on the back for jobs well done. We are told that Rayford et al suffer no weariness or boredom during the event. The same cannot be said for this reader!

I’d like to point out here that the book The Paperback Apocalypse: How the Christian Church was Left Behind by Robert M. Price does a far better job of critiquing Glorious Appearing, and the rest of the Left Behind books, than I ever could. If you like my reviews, do pick this book up, you won’t be sorry. I won’t go into detail about most of the points Price raised, because I didn’t think of them before reading his book. I am trying to limit my reviews to my own impressions, and I won’t go and pass his thoughts off as my own.

I will, however, discuss one of his excellent observations: Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins don’t present Jesus as being all that different from Nicholae Carpathia. Both demand worship and loyalty, both make grandiose claims about themselves, both punish those who fail to obey them, and both plan to rule the world - in Jesus’ case, with an iron rod: Revelation 12:5 ‘She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron.’
“That rod of iron sounds like He’s going to take no baloney from anybody, doesn’t it?” says a character too unimportant to be worth naming. I find the similarities between Nicky and J.C. both hilarious and disturbing, and I wouldn’t want either of them to get their hands on my eternal soul.

Neither, I suspect, would any secular reader. Then again, if a non-believer has been willing to read all the way to book 12, I have to concede their conversion is a possibility, if not a very big one.

Glorious Appearing is billed as 'The Final Chapter of Those Left Behind', but it shouldn’t have been. The battle of Armageddon in the previous volume would have made a more exciting climax, with Jesus’ return relegated to the final few chapters. If LaHaye and Jenkins had been willing to condense things a bit and leave one or two details out, they might have achieved a much stronger and more interesting conclusion to their series. Just because you have enough prophetic material to fill an entire 400 pages doesn’t mean you should.

Who would have thought the Second Coming would be so boring?

Glorious Appearing: The End of Days
Likely to Convert - 1
Cover Art - 4
Ability to Hold Interest - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 5
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 8

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