A Critical Analysis of the “Left Behind” Series (3): Tribulation Farce

You must be certain of the Devil ‘cause he knows your name / You must be certain of the Devil ‘cause he’s counting on your shame / You must be certain of the Devil ‘cause he’s master of the game / You must be certain of the Devil right now.

~ Diamanda Galás, ‘You Must Be Certain of the Devil’ (1988)

TribulationFarce

In the Left Behind series, several attempts are made by the small army of Christian believers known as the “Tribulation Force” to fight the Antichrist and thwart his plans. But there is a fairly obvious catch-22 inherent in the notion of a task-force of Christian believers fighting against the Antichrist’s agenda. If their efforts were successful, they would by definition stop the Antichrist’s plan and thereby prevent prophecy from being fulfilled. Are they not trying to change a fixed future and thwart what is already predicted by the very Holy Scriptures they fight for?

The authors have something of an explanation for this. The reason the Tribulation Force protagonists keep on trying to either kill the Antichrist or disrupt his plans is not to actually prevent the prophesied calamities that God is dishing out to a supposedly deserving world via the Antichrist, but rather to convey the point to unbelieving people that this man, who is not being affected by their attacks, really is the Antichrist and not to be trusted. The protagonists know full well, for example, that “if Carpathia was indeed the Antichrist – and most people except his followers thought he was – he wouldn’t stay dead anyway. . . . Nicolae would come out of it more heroic than ever [1].” They are aware that when Carpathia is scheduled by ancient prophecy to die from a severe head wound three and a half years into the Tribulation, he will rise again. At his resurrection he will be indwelt by Satan and become more powerful than ever. But a number of Christians in the story still want the honor of being the assassin anyway (since “it had to be done anyway” [2]), if only to make a symbolic point to Carpathia’s lost followers:

“Tell me, Captain Steele. Do you still believe that a man who has been known to raise the dead could actually be the Antichrist?”

Rayford hesitated, wishing Tsion was in the room. “The enemy has been known to imitate miracles,” he said. “Imagine the audience in Israel if you were to do something like that. Here are people of faith coming together for inspiration. If you are God, if you could be the Messiah, wouldn’t they be thrilled to meet you?”

Carpathia stared at Rayford, seeming to study his eyes. Rayford believed God. He had faith that regardless of his power, regardless of his intentions, Nicolae would be impotent in the face of any of the 144,000 witnesses who carried the seal of almighty God on their foreheads [3].

But this reasoning does not work. The problem with wanting to shoot bullets at Carpathia just to prove to the world that he is the Antichrist is made apparent in the story itself. At the end of the seventh book, Carpathia declares himself to be God in the flesh after returning to life from a death he ended up suffering at the hands of a nonbeliever [4]. Thus, it turns out that even if it had been our pious butt-kickers who had carried out the assassination in an attempt to force Carpathia to display his demonic powers, this would only have further supported his claim to divinity.

But LaHaye and Jenkins can be credited with providing us a thought-provoking idea, although unintentionally on their part. If evil people can perform wonders and miracles, how does one know that what he or she thinks is God’s wonders and miracles does not actually come from an evil source? If one believes that the performing of signs and wonders are an indication of an evil being, or even that they can potentially be the sign of an evil being (which is something almost all fundamentalists affirm), upon what grounds can that person say that Jesus must be the good Son of God simply because he validated himself through signs and wonders? In his own critical analysis of the Left Behind series, atheist Bible scholar Robert M. Price makes the following salient observation:

It is striking that the books (especially The Indwelling) set up the resurrection of Antichrist Carpathia in the very terms evangelical apologists wish they had and claim to have for Jesus: his resurrection was seen by many witnesses, including hostile ones, and is even recorded on tape! And yet there is the realization that there will always be “skeptics” holding out. The attested resurrection is offered as confirmation by the Risen One of his own deity. Should not Rayford . . . and the others, if they were raised on evangelical apologetics, convert to belief in Carpathianism? And if they shouldn’t, why should skeptics not reject belief in Jesus, for whom the same sort of claims, though much weaker, are made? [5]

Jesus is reputed to have said to his disciples, “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:24; cf. Mark 13:22). But just how can one distinguish between good miracle-working entities from evil miracle-working entities, especially when the miracle-worker under scrutiny is of the kind that comes as a standard-bearer of peace to the world like Carpathia? Is it not true that the Pax Romana in the first and second centuries of the Common Era accomplished exactly what Carpathia did in these novels?

Some Christians will respond by saying that God has warned us in the Book of Revelation not only that the Antichrist is coming, but also what actions he would take and how his attributes will be conducive to conquering through peace. But what if the Book of Revelation was actually written by an evil antichrist as a way of thwarting the good divinity and turning us against it when the end came? That would be highly problematic, but I doubt most (if any) Christians have considered that possibility. And it’s a possibility which is no more or less plausible than the alternative given a supernaturally-oriented worldview.

NOTES

1. Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Assassins: Assignment, Jerusalem, Target: Antichrist (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), p. 5.

2. Ibid.

3. Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Soul Harvest: The World Takes Sides (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1998), p. 424.

4. Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, The Indwelling: The Beast Takes Possession (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2000), pp. 363-368.

5. Robert M. Price, The Paperback Apocalypse: How the Christian Church Was Left Behind (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2007), p. 292.

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About Nathan Dickey

I am a freelance writer trying to finish my degree in Journalism. I attended Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon. My interests are many, and include investigative reporting, science, philosophy, history, classic rock music, and pop culture analysis. My motivation in writing is to contribute what I can to the promotion of science and skepticism among the public. My goal is to use my journalism training to be active in the skeptical and freethought movement, analyzing dubious but popularly-believed claims involving the supernatural, the paranormal and religion.
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