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More Bible passages ignored by the Left Behind books.
It’s particularly ironic that the judgment scene in Kingdom Come, the 16th Left Behind book, quotes verbatim from Matthew 25, in which Christ sends those who do not help the hungry, the naked, the sick, or the stranger to hell. A priority on helping the sick was nowhere in evidence, say, when protagonist Buck was responding to the huge cataclysms featured earlier. After the giant earthquake, for example, Buck makes a very brief attempt to help one victim, then decides to be a Bad Samaritan, keeping “his eyes straight ahead as despairing, wounded people waved or screamed out to him” for help (and never repenting of this later).
With regard to the hungry, the Left Behind protagonists also flout Matthew 25:
“… the Bible predicts inflation and famine – the black horse. As the rich get richer, the poor starve to death …”
“So if we survive the war, we need to stockpile food?”
Bruce nodded. “I would.”
In other words, if you see your neighbor hungry, build yourself bigger barns. Later, authorial mouthpiece character Tsion Ben-Judah offers his huge flock “practical suggestions for storing goods.” The image of middle-class Christians stockpiling while the poor starve is all too close to today’s ugly reality – so the storyline avoids the problem by skipping virtually any mention of famine (in sharp contrast to the other three horsemen).
The Left Behind books do make a big deal of a threat that can fit into their paranoia about government: the economic boycott of those without the mark of the beast. But this boycott isn’t so literal either: when I left off reading the books, the heroes were planning to circumvent it by creating a food co-op selling to “a market of millions of saints,” from which they would take “a reasonable percentage, and finance the work of the Tribulation Force.” It’s hard not to see this as a thinly veiled metaphor for the Left Behind franchise itself – and even harder to see this as having anything to do with Matthew 25.
Worse still, the body of Christ is not just seen as a market, but reduced to an audience. TheLeft Behind books I’ve read have surprisingly little use for church except as a place for one-way transmission of information. And, after the giant earthquake at the end of book three destroys the sanctuary of Buck and Rayford’s church, the church community just disappears from the story, without explanation (they can’t all be dead)! So much for meeting together to encourage one another, all the more as we see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:25).
Instead of group worship, we get the image of Ben-Judah, hiding in an underground shelter, beaming his prophetic interpretation out via a Web site that grows to be “ten times more popular than any other in history.” “Pretty much every … believer in the world” logs on – apparently, if folks in the global South, or poor neighborhoods near you, can’t afford DSL, they might as well not exist.
The novel repeatedly shows the protagonists exulting as the Web site’s visit counter registers higher and higher numbers – a perfect image of the Body of Christ reduced to an impersonal mass market. Later, the antichrist inexplicably lets Ben-Judah MC a huge conference in a stadium, broadcast to “the biggest TV audience in history.” But, while you focus on those onstage, there’s no need to relate to the brother or sister next to you. Even at the last judgment, in Kingdom Come, God stage-manages things so that you only hear the “well done, good and faithful servant” of biblical celebrities and your personal friends, not “strangers.”
So go ahead, Left Behind, be literal: tell me to dig up the lawn (if I had one) because Revelation 8:7 says all grass will be burnt up, even though grass still exists in Revelation 9:4. But don’t tell me that, because Jesus is coming soon, I should act arrogant, hoard belongings, and ditch my local church community. That’s just literally unbelievable.
Elizabeth Palmberg, assistant editor of Sojourners, recommends Sojourners’ discussion guide on apocalypse and the other contents of www.sojo.net – but definitely not as a substitute for participation in your local faith community..