(The post formerly known as http://oldmaid.jallman.net/entry.php?id=25 )
Volume 1 (Left Behind) was published c1994, reissued 1995 and successive entries.
This section added November 2006 by popular request
Spoiler: As the novel opens, what are the major characters doing?
Answer: Rayford “Rafe” Steele, Hattie Durham, and Cameron “Buck” Williams are aboard a Pan-Con 747 that is traveling from Chicago to London. Flight attendant Hattie is making the rounds of the plane. Rayford the pilot, a married man not married to Hattie, is thinking of what he would like to do with her. Buck, a reporter, is on a business trip to cover assorted “one world” and/or “Jewish” conferences.
Off-screen characters include: Chloe Steele (attending Stanford University in California), 12-year-old Raymie Steele, their mother Irene (Rayford’s wife); a junior pastor named Bruce Barnes; Buck’s father; Buck’s brother Jeff, sister-in-law Sharon and their children; Loretta and her “clan of almost 100 people.” Raymie, Irene, and Mrs. Barnes and her three children are Raptured out of their beds. Sharon and her children vanish. Loretta loses every single one of her relatives. Rayford, Chloe, Hattie, Buck, Buck’s father and brother, Bruce, and Loretta are “left behind.”
Spoiler: In the novel, what amazing world events have already taken place before the Rapture?)
Answer: 1. Buck won a Pulitzer Prize and the Hemingway award. His most recent famous article was about an Israeli scientist named Chaim Rosenzweig.
2. Chaim invented a fertilizer so potent that it made the Israeli desert bloom.
3. This formula has made Israel very wealthy. When it became sufficiently wealthy, Israel “achieved peace with its neighbors.”
4. Russia and Ethiopia became displeased that they did not have the fertilizer formula. Therefore they both dropped every nuke they owned on Israel … at one time … and nothing happened to Israel, because God neutralized all the nukes before billions of witnesses, including Buck. Other than that sort of thing, Israel is “at peace with its neighbors.”
5. The United Nations is a respected and efficient organization.
6. The U.N. ordered all nations to abolish their own currencies and to acknowledge only the three currencies of the American dollar, the German mark, and the Japanese yen. Many nations protested, but all nations obeyed. (2016 edit: reprints now include the euro.)
7. Nicolae “Jetty” Carpathia, the unrevealed Antichrist, has become leader of Romania. He plans to speak before the United Nations. People are awed by these developments. Chaim and Buck avidly follow his career. (Chaim says that the study of Romanian lower-house politics is one of his hobbies.)
8. At around the same time, several secretive groups will be meeting to discuss … well, Buck doesn’t know what they are discussing, but he is suspicious and he intends to find out. (Note that the disappearance of all earth’s children and the gridlocked transportation system apparently did not disrupt any of those meetings. Hence Buck’s concern that he will arrive too late to cover them.)
Spoiler: Who is the first character to notice that all children have vanished?
Answer: Hattie (page 37). She “sobs” this fact to Buck, but he never responds to it. (He’s single, and rather single-minded about missing his planned ten-day business trip.) Hattie broods on the subject and immediately notices that it has happened to children on the ground as well (pages 92-3).
Spoiler: When Hattie informs the reporter that the children are missing, what is Buck doing?
Answer: He is trying to hotwire his laptop computer into a seatback airphone to send and receive his e-mail. Hattie tells him to stop pulling out the plane’s internal wiring this instant. When Buck holds her hand, calls her “beautiful Hattie,” and promises to e-mail her relatives, she relents and lets him finish what he was doing (pages 32-34).
Spoiler: Are other characters upset that the children are missing?
Answer: Aside from Loretta, the most unhappy background character is Hattie’s sister (pages 266-8). Sis works in an abortion clinic. (Hattie assures Rayford that, “They only do wanted abortions.”) When all the unborn children were Raptured, the workers lost their jobs. Hattie hopes that people will be able to get pregnant again so that her sister can go back to work; Sis has bills to pay, after all. Rayford asks, does Hattie really hope women can get pregnant so that abortions can be performed again? Exactly, says Hattie. What else would her sister do for a living?
Spoiler: What does Chloe do when she gets home from college?
Answer: She “spends hours in her little brother’s room, and then in her parents’ bedroom, picking through their personal effects to add to the box of memories her father had put together. Rayford felt so bad for her. He had secretly hoped she would be of comfort to him. He knew she would be eventually. But for now, she needed time to face her own loss” (page 159).
Spoiler: What does Chloe think she might do, now that her mother and brother are gone?
Answer: She wonders if she should drop out of Stanford University for a semester and take a few classes locally (pages 187, 288, 442).
Spoiler: What happens when Rayford and Chloe go to Irene’s church?
Answer: They meet “visitation pastor” Bruce Barnes, one of the lower men on his church’s rolls. They get a glimpse of Loretta, “disheveled and looking like she had gone through a war.” Bruce tells the Steeles that he thinks this is the Rapture. He mentions that the senior, prophecy pastor prepared a videotape to be distributed in times like these … a tape that Bruce himself had not previously viewed. Bruce is relieved that he is in a Rapture story in which he can be saved after the Rapture. He had grown up hearing a stricter version and thought he was now eternally lost. Billings’ videotape reassured him and showed him how to get saved.
Rayford is impressed, Chloe less so. She sarcastically asks if God “called” Bruce, does that mean God called him on the phone? (That’s an inside joke. The characters spend a lot of time on the telephone.) Bruce replies that that an actual phone call from God would have been less “traumatic” for him than this (chapter 11).
Spoiler: Aside from losing Irene and Raymie, what happens to the Steeles?
Answer: Their house is robbed (pages 259-61). The police observe that Rayford’s street has quite the neighborhood-watch system in place: the Steeles got robbed, and the neighborhood watched. (Apparently a carpet-cleaning truck pulled up to the door and the thieves loaded it for a leisurely half-hour.) The thieves ignored the Steeles’ cars (three in the garage). But they took electronics, Raymie’s four-wheeler and bicycle—why? all the children are gone—and the good china. (Trivia alert: Raymie’s personal computer is still in his bedroom in Volume 2.)
Chloe mentions that they’ll need another copy of Billings’ videotape. Suddenly she bursts out laughing. The tape was still in the machine. Maybe the burglars will watch the tape themselves!
Spoiler: Buck Williams travels the globe, thus introducing the reader to assorted world players. What are his early adventures in the States?
Answer: His plane, over the Atlantic Ocean, returns to Chicago as the nearest open airport. The plane has to park where it can and the passengers walk. (Buck makes it to the terminal first; page 54.) Buck rechecks his e-mail. His boss tells all staff to begin thinking about the causes of the disappearances. But Buck gets a private e-mail ordering him to get to New York by any method and expense (page 55). Steve Plank (Buck’s editor) wants Buck to: 1. “head up the effort to get at what’s behind the phenomenon”; while simultaneously 2. investigating two “conferences of Jews” in New York, plus 3. investigating some excitement at the U.N. about some “Walesa/Gorbachev” wannabe named Carpathia.
Buck persuades a private pilot (one Ken Ritz of Waukegon, IL) to fly him toward NYC. (Price of trip: U.S. $1,500.00; page 115.) Ken gets him as far as Easton, PA. Buck takes a cab from there to an indeterminate train station in PA or NJ. “Two hours later” he is dropped off in Manhattan, where he must walk another “15 miles” to work. There he learns that his secret news tips are common knowledge; Steve is better informed that he is, somehow. An American banker named Stonagal [pun on Rockefeller] is trying to implement a single currency, with the British exchange seconding the motion (which is what Buck’s contact tried to tell him). Wondering if his contact is safe, Buck gets permission to fly to Britain as soon as he can get another plane.
Spoiler: What are Buck’s adventures in Britain?
Answer: Buck meets with another friend, a mid-level Scotland Yard man named Alan Tompkins. Alan tells Buck that their mutual friend and contact, Dirk Burton, is dead. The death is most suspicious, and clearly not part of the disappearances. (Dirk was left-handed but was shot by a right-handed person. Also, the killer, Joshua Todd-Cothran, told Alan he did it.) Alan has been threatened by his own co-workers. When he tried to go around Scotland Yard and discuss the matter with Todd-Cothran (Dirk’s boss at the London Exchange), Todd-Cothran threatened him too. Therefore Alan warns Buck to drop the matter.
Buck and Alan happen to be discussing the matter in their usual dining establishment. The villains find them there (off-screen) and put a car bomb in Alan’s car. Buck excuses himself to make a phone call while Alan goes out to check the car. Alan is killed (off-screen). Buck hastily tosses his passport into the flames—he keeps a spare, fake passport on him for just such emergencies—and flees the scene. By the time the villains figure out that there is a missing body, Buck intends to be in the air going to Frankfurt, Germany.
Spoiler: What are Buck’s new adventures in the States?
Answer: From Germany, Buck calls his family and editor to inform them that he isn’t actually dead. His fake passport gets him back into JFK Airport in NYC. There he calls Steve again. Steve roars, “You renegade! Do you know who wants to talk with you?” It’s Carpathia. Chaim remembers Buck from their interview. Chaim liked Buck. Chaim is touring with Carpathia these days (answering his phone and booking his appointments, mostly); Chaim “sang [Buck’s] praises” to Carpathia; and Carpathia promised to do something about those “bullies and dirt” threatening Chaim’s good friend (page 217). “Buck hung up [the phone] and clapped.”
Later (page 257), Steve argues that Stonagal probably had nothing to do with this murderous British stuff. Buck isn’t so sure. He wonders if pretty Carpathia is old man Stonagal’s pawn (page 258). Then Buck hears that Scotland Yard might be framing him for the deaths of Dirk and Alan (pages 264-5). Buck won’t return to Britain voluntarily. He and Steve switch identities and make a run for NYC’s Plaza Hotel, where Carpathia is staying (page 283). Buck gets in, only to get wrapped up in conversation with Chaim (who remembers his name because Buck “bucks the traditions and the trends and the conventions”: page 289).
When Carpathia speaks, Buck feels “a sense of peace” that makes Buck trust him. Then Carpathia says that he “will arrange to have the London tragedies revisited and re-evaluated, exonerating you” (page 294). How, wonders Buck. Carpathia says smoothly, “I can make this go away for you … I will deal with them in due time” (page 306).
Soon, Buck is “cleared of everything overseas;” it was a “simple misunderstanding.” But the magazine’s owner scolds him for throwing his passport into the crime scene, because it gave his pursuers “ammunition.” Steve then announces that he has accepted a job as Carpathia’s press secretary. Buck is to succeed him at the New York bureau, if Buck will take the job (pages 317-8).
Spoiler: Rayford watches Vernon Billings’ videotape right away. When does Chloe finally decide to watch the tape?
Answer: She watches it off-screen after attending a meeting at church (also off-screen). The meeting was advertised as an opportunity for skeptics to ask questions of thoughtful believers. Since the meeting is off-screen, we don’t know why Chloe walked out, or whether the meeting helped (or drove away) anyone else (pages 229-30).
Spoiler: What does Bruce Barnes want Rayford to do?
Answer: Bruce wants Rayford to join his “leadership model team.” This team will study to keep ahead of other new believers and guide them. The team includes Loretta and “a few old men” who hadn’t been to church in a while and came back (page 222). Later (page 419), Bruce asks Rayford and Chloe to form “a smaller group within the core … people of unusual intelligence and courage” who are not timid, old, or infirm. This inner core will become the Tribulation Force. (Buck later joins the TF over the phone; page 468.)
Spoiler: What does Rayford want to do after he is saved?
Answer: 1. He wants to convert Chloe. 2. He wants to convert Hattie. 3. He decides to tell Chloe that he had been lusting after Hattie. 4. He wants to invite Hattie to the house for dinner (strictly to tell her how to get saved, of course). 5. He wants Chloe to be quiet! (Rayford has a temper.)
Spoiler: Quiet about what?
Answer: Chloe berates him for keeping a not-mistress; for remembering Hattie’s favorite foods—Chinese take-out—and for being selfish in general. Is Rayford trying to keep Hattie in his life “for future reference” because he “feels like [he is] available now”? Did it occur to Rayford that Hattie might not take “come to my house; my wife left me” as a platonic gesture, says Chloe. Did it occur to Rayford that Hattie would find his confessions humiliating? “Why should it impress her that you care about her soul when she thinks you used to be interested in her as a person?” Chloe even gets Rayford to admit that, when he would complain about his wife, Hattie made “supportive” and “sympathetic” remarks about Irene. If Hattie was experimenting, to see if she had a chance with Rayford, “she might have wanted to be sure you were the one putting the wedge between yourself and Mom, not her,” says Chloe (page 330).
Chloe contends that the almost-affair was primarily Rayford’s fault. (He doesn’t mind admitting it, but it’s another thing for anyone else to say it.) Rayford dreads the thought that Chloe had become “so antagonistic and close-minded that she had become an ally against him with Hattie” (page 382).
This fight is in addition to the existing, ongoing fight about when Chloe will get saved and why can’t she just take Rayford’s word for it. Rayford finally tells her to stop being so “bratty” about Hattie (pages 237-9).
Spoiler: Chloe is right that Hattie would be humiliated. What happens when Rayford tells Hattie he was lusting after her but never actually liked her?
Answer: From page 371: “Hattie buried her face in her hands and cried. ‘I wasn’t going to do this,’ she said. ‘I wasn’t going to give you the satisfaction.’ Rayford spoke as tenderly as he could. ‘Now you’re going to offend me,’ he said. ‘If you take nothing else from this conversation, you must know that your tears give me no satisfaction. Every one of them is a dagger to me. I’m responsible.’”
Hattie, not agreeing with Rayford’s assessment that she is in a position to offend him, walks out. “Rayford dug out Irene’s Bible and quickly scanned some passages. He had decided not to sit talking to Hattie with the Bible open. He didn’t want to embarrass or intimidate her, despite his newfound courage and determination” (pages 371-2). But he did embarrass and intimidate her. And when Hattie finally comes back, “still puffy eyed” and looking “as if ready for more punishment,” Rayford admits, “I need to tell you that Chloe advised against getting into this [second argument about your salvation] right now” (page 375).
Spoiler: Rayford gets into the second argument about Hattie’s salvation anyway. What happens?
He witnesses to Hattie for half an hour. “Nothing in her body language or expression encouraged him, but he kept going.” Finally she acknowledges him. “That’s sweet, Rayford. It really is. I appreciate your telling me all that.” She says that she never heard such things in her church, and she will think about it. She asks if Rayford will make the same speech to Buck. Rayford replies, “Word for word.” Hattie chuckles. “Wonder if any of it will find its way into his magazine.” Rayford says, “Probably along with space aliens, germ gas, and death rays” (page 377).
Spoiler: What is Carpathia’s explanation for the disappearances?
Answer: He suggests that it is a natural phenomenon (pages 254-6). He claims that the Cold War use of nukes—he never mentions the hundreds of nukes over Israel—and nuclear power plants released an undiscovered subatomic particle. One day, the mixture of these particles and “some confluence of electromagnetism in the atmosphere” came to be “ignited or triggered.” (A character asks if this is like striking a match in a room filled with gasoline vapors.) Carpathia concludes lightning probably triggered a case of mass spontaneous combustion. He has hired Chaim (the botanist) to look into it.
Characters ask Carpathia why this phenomenon affected only children and specific adults. He proposes that “certain people’s levels of electricity made them more likely to be affected … Their electromagnetism was not developed to the point where it could resist whatever happened.” In answer to a question about whether it could be the Rapture, Carpathia smiles “compassionately.” He will not criticize any sincere believer’s beliefs. But, “I do not accept that theory because I know many, many people who should be gone if the righteous were taken to heaven.” He says this phenomenon is too “capricious” to have anything to do with God. But, if anyone might be interested in Carpathia’s personal beliefs about “millenarianism, eschatology, the Last Judgment, and the second coming of Christ,” they can hear him give a speech at “the upcoming ecumenical religious confab.” (There is a vacant chair; the pope is among the missing.)
Spoiler: What clues suggest that Carpathia will be the Antichrist?
Answer: He meets at least three of Bruce Barnes’ criteria: mass attractiveness, key words and phrases, and quest for power.
Carpathia’s charisma is evidenced by his conquest of a celebrity-oriented culture. He is “handsome as a young Robert Redford” (page 232). He has turned a Nobel Prize winner (Chaim) into his secretary/sports agent/science expert/groupie. Carpathia appears (off-screen to the reader) on “The Tonight Show” (page 352) and “Nightline with Wallace Theodore” (page 269). People magazine elects him the “Sexiest Man Alive,” although the one-year “term” of the sitting SMA has not expired (pages 270-1).
Next, Carpathia reminds Bruce Barnes of key words and phrases that Bruce attributes to the Antichrist. Carpathia “humbly” speaks of seeking the public good through “peace” and “unity” (page 243). He desires “disarmament” and ecumenicalism (pages 413-4). But Bruce warns that there will be no peace after the Rapture. By definition, says Bruce, anyone who chants, “peace, peace” after the Rapture is a legitimate Antichrist candidate (pages 426-7).
Secondly, Marge Potter and her husband bicker over whether that “Roman kid,” that is, the Romanian “kid” allegedly told people that “he’s a full-blooded Eye-talian” (page 272). (The novel repeatedly asserts that Carpathia resembles Robert Redford, an actor with strawberry blond hair and blue eyes.) Moreover, Carpathia is 33 years old (page 233).
Thirdly, Carpathia seconds (page 380) Stonagal’s semi-secret project (page 358) to rebuild “New Babylon” (a Biblically infamous word in any denomination).
Fourthly, random elements are coming together to suggest that the U.N. will sign a seven-year peace treaty with Israel (pages 306-8). Israel is “vulnerable” because “the world resents their prosperity.” Israel has deputized Chaim to negotiate the peace treaty because he is the sole owner of his secret formula. “The world will be content to grant them peace” in exchange for Chaim’s fertilizer. Soon Carpathia’s (hypnotized) admirer Chaim will share his secret formula with the world, while Carpathia charms the world into surrendering some of their weapons.
Carpathia’s quest for power will be revealed at the end—but it is Hattie who unknowingly obtains the first tangible proof. Carpathia flirts with her and gives her a card with his private phone number. Buck looks over Hattie’s shoulder and memorizes the phone number on the card. He then calls a friend at the telephone company. “Alex” says the phone number traces back to, “New York, U.N., administrative offices, secretary-general’s office, unlisted private line, bypasses switchboard, bypasses secretary” (pages 338-40).
Carpathia is giving out this number to Hattie because Carpathia will be in command of the U.N. in a few hours. The sitting Secretary-General Mwangati Ngumo of Botswana is resigning. Purportedly Ngumo is a “hero, the first leader to gain access to the Israeli fertilizer formula.” But when Ngumo actually appears on television, he does not carry himself like a hometown hero. With “eyes downcast and his expression carefully masked,” he says he has been ineffective as a world leader and would have resigned anyway (pages 412-3).
In a show of charisma, key words and phrases, and power all together, Carpathia “is catapulted into reluctant leadership” of the U.N. by making several motions during the nomination process, “in what appeared an effort to gracefully decline the position” (page 412). This charmed the people all the more, and they essentially drafted him.
Bruce concludes that Carpathia will still need a show of strength “to entrench himself so solidly that no one can oppose him” (page 427). This will happen at the final meeting.
Spoiler: Where, when, and how do the characters get saved?
Bruce and Loretta get saved off-screen. It is presumed that they said the “sinner’s prayer,” but this isn’t explicitly stated.
Rayford watches the videotape prepared by Vernon Billings. As he watches television, Rayford feels God’s presence. Rayford then prays the sinner’s prayer by reciting after Billings. He is now saved (page 216).
Chloe gets saved on a plane. Rayford is flying a plane home to Chicago and Chloe is a passenger. Chloe has been wondering “if God answers prayers before you’re actually a born-again Christian.” After arguing with her father for weeks, she decides to pray for a sign. She asked God to “show me personally that he cared, that he knew what I was going through, and that he wanted me to know he was there.” Chloe insists she did not specifically pray that Buck “would wind up next to me on the biggest day of my life. I wasn’t even sure I’d ever see you again. But it’s as if God knew better than I did that there was no one I would rather see today than you.” Therefore, when Buck boards her plane, of all planes, and sits next to her, of all seats, Chloe considers this the sign for which she prayed. She then sends word to her father the captain that she has “extremely good news” for him. This news is that she has prayed and been saved (off-screen). See pages 400-408.
Buck is not ready to pray with Chloe. (He was on his way to Chicago to meet Bruce, and “Sitting next to Chloe had been only a bonus.” Fortunately he does not say this aloud.)
Buck meets Bruce Barnes. He hears Bruce’s testimony and Rayford’s testimony. Bruce marks a Bible for Buck, which Buck reads on the plane to New York (page 440). He mulls the facts of world events. He concludes that Bruce, Rayford, and the Bible have satisfactorily explained the disappearances and Moishe and Eli’s appearance at the Wall. Buck still is uncertain that there is a charismatic Antichrist with mind-wiping powers. He thinks that if there is such a thing, it is either Carpathia or Stonagal. Buck still thinks it’s Stonagal (page 441).
But should Buck get saved before meeting these men again? “There was only one reason to make the transaction, he decided—if he truly believed he could be forgiven and become one of God’s people” (page 441).
As Buck approaches Carpathia, Buck feels a panicky, paralyzing dread that makes his gait “slow and unsure” and makes his pulse race. Silently Buck prays, “God, be with me” (page 444). He flees to a men’s room and bars the door with a janitor’s bucket. “And he prayed as he believed … He didn’t specifically pray the prayer he had heard others talking about, but when he finished he had covered the same territory and the deal was done” (pages 446-7). Buck is now saved. He is still very nervous in the presence of the evildoers, but God protects him from Carpathia’s brainwashing powers.
Hattie is not saved in this novel.
Spoiler: Why has Buck been reluctant to convert?
He thinks “those kinds of people” (meaning “born again” Christians) are freaks. He has even written about them. He realizes that if he converts, he would be writing something else: “to educate the world on what that confusing little term really meant” (page 396).
Spoiler: Who first sees that Buck and Chloe could become a couple?
Answer: Hattie. She suggests that Buck should meet Rayford’s daughter. Buck says, maybe he can interview her. Hattie says dryly, “Yeah, good approach” (page 363). Hattie and Chloe visit a beauty salon before dinner (page 381). Buck notices that Chloe “look[ed] five years older in a classy evening dress.” Rayford, however, thinks that, “Clearly this Williams guy was too old for her.” Later, Chloe comments to Buck that “all [Hattie] cared about was trivial stuff, like trying to matchmake you and me” (page 404, possibly 390).
Spoiler: What are Buck and Chloe’s pet nicknames for each other?
Answer: Old Man and Little Girl. (He’s 30 and she’s 20; page 373.)
Spoiler: What will become their personal couple’s joke?
Answer: Speaker 1: “Do you feel like a cookie?” Speaker 2: “Why? Do I look like one?” (page 367) The Steele family likes cookies, so this is a foreshadowing that Buck will fit into their family.
Spoiler: Who are the “two witnesses,” and what are they doing?
Answer: They are Moses and Elijah (using traditional spellings of Moishe and Eli; page 300). They quote Scripture at the Western Wall (called the Wailing Wall in the novels). No one can harm or stop them. As they witness beside the Wall, they are converting some of the “144,000 Jewish evangelists” who will appear in future book volumes (page 346).
Spoiler: Who actually names the Tribulation Force?
Answer: Chloe (after she converts, of course). She calls it the “cause,” “a sort of Green Berets … something not just to die for but to live for” (page 420). Their job will be to identify the Antichrist and his minions and speak against them in public.
Spoiler: How does Hattie end up working for Carpathia?
Answer: Hattie saw Carpathia on television. How handsome he is! she gushes. When Rayford declines to fly her to New York (where Carpathia is staying), Hattie calls Buck, who will be interviewing this man.
From pages 332-7: “When Buck had originally promised to introduce [Hattie] to Nicolae, he hadn’t thought it through … he felt trivial calling to ask if he could introduce a friend, a fan.” Hattie doesn’t see why Buck is so nervous. (“I know how to treat VIPs, you know. I often serve them on flights.”) And indeed “Hattie was appropriate and reserved, though she giggled when Carpathia kissed her on each cheek.” Carpathia gives her his card and private phone number. Hattie then decides to eat at the Pan-Con Club so she can brag about Carpathia in front of Rayford. (They’re still fighting.)
Steve insists that Buck must bring Hattie to Buck’s next interview to entertain Steve’s new buddy “Nick” (pages 431-2, 438). Buck refuses. He’s not a “pimp” (page 417).
Buck tells Hattie to decline any surprise “invitations.” Hattie retorts that she already has been invited and she intends to go. She won’t turn down a date with “the most powerful man in the world.” Buck replies that he didn’t think she was “that kind of girl.” Hattie becomes angrier. She replies that: 1. she is not a “girl.” (She is about his age.) 2. She is not Buck’s girl. (She tried to “shove” him off to Chloe, since it was “obvious” that Buck “didn’t even like” Hattie; page 437.) And, 3. Hattie doesn’t appreciate one stranger (Buck) telling her whether she can visit another stranger (“Nick”).
When Buck sees Hattie again (page 447), her “Nicky” announces that Hattie has left “a stellar career in the aviation industry” to become his personal assistant (page 452). Rayford and Chloe see Hattie and her “Nicky” on television. Rayford immediately mutters, “I hope Buck wasn’t behind that” (page 465).
Spoiler: What happens during Carpathia’s meeting?
Answer: He offers all his guests a job. No one recalls that his offer is formulaic, a form with their names inserted at a verbal blank; Carpathia is using mass hypnosis on them. He kisses them on each cheek. (Buck tastes bile but dares not react.) Carpathia cannot do it to Buck and does not try to do it to Stonagal. He says that Stonagal was a good “teacher,” but now Carpathia doesn’t need him anymore. Carpathia shoots Stonagal dead. The bullet is so powerful that it also pierces and kills the man next to him: Todd-Cothran. Carpathia says that he told Buck he would settle matters with Buck’s pursuers, and now matters are settled.
Except for Buck, all of Carpathia’s companions remember and tell the same story: Stonagal, working with Todd-Cothran, killed Buck’s two friends in Britain. Stonagal couldn’t live with the guilt, so he seized a guard’s gun and shot Todd-Cothran and himself (pages 449-458).
Spoiler: What happens to Buck after Carpathia’s meeting?
Answer: Steve Plank calls out Buck for skipping a major press conference. Buck admits to skipping the press conference, but that was because he left to begin writing his article about what Carpathia just did. Buck knows he was at the pre-press conference meeting. Steve insists Buck was not there either. Nobody recalls Buck’s presence or accurately recalls the same events he saw. Stanton Bailey believes Steve.
Buck must be punished, but Bailey doesn’t want to fire him. He doesn’t want Buck to get a job with their competitors. Buck is demoted to his magazine’s Chicago bureau (pages 461-467). Buck begins by saying he would be pleased to run the bureau (Lucinda Washington having been Raptured). No, Buck is being demoted more than that; he will work for Lucinda’s replacement like a newcomer. Buck gives up trying to explain. At least in Chicago he can see his friends again. They meet in the airport and march, four abreast, into their future.
Discussion topic: Do you believe in the Rapture? If you are a nonrapturist, what flavor are you? (Examples: a-mill, preterist, etc.) If you are a rapturist, what flavor are you? (Examples: in LaHaye, Biblical “locusts” are locusts. In Lindsey, “locusts” are helicopters, etc.) How does Left Behind conform to and deviate from your interpretation of the end times?
Discussion topic: The word “apocalypse” actually means “unveiling,” not “everybody dies” (though it has been known to happen.) The new Christians read many apocalyptic verses. They skim the rest of the Bible. How much time should we devote to prophecy of the future versus the rest of Scripture, such as teachings? What Scripture verses and topics would you recommend to a new Christian?
Discussion topic: The authors use “limited third person omniscient narrative,” sometimes called “effaced narrative.” We hear the thoughts of only Rayford and Buck. We do not hear, say, Hattie’s thoughts, or Chloe’s, or Bruce’s. Rather, we hear what they say and see what they do in the sight and hearing of the narrators, and we are told what Rayford and Buck think of them. Would you like to have heard the thoughts of more characters, fewer characters, or just right?
Discussion topic: Book reviewers have suggested that believing readers would identify with the Raptured Irene or other believers, but non-believing readers would identify with Rayford or other nonbelievers. Do you agree, disagree, or other?
Discussion topic: Techno-thrillers and political thrillers, by nature, are vulnerable to our changing times. (For example, Buck can do something vaguely electronic to his plane without hindrance, but in our world a plane of passengers immediately stopped a man from setting his shoe on fire. In the novels, the UN is a kingmaker, but in our world it is better known for UNICEF pennies [usually works] and sending stern letters [usually does not work].) Previous generations of Rapture novels frequently left the technology and power in the hands of the villains. How many times can you count: 1) celebrity status; and 2) telephones, planes, cars, computers, satellite dishes, et cetera? Do these devices help or hinder your reading? How would you have written the series today?
Bonus activity (and this is fun for many books, episodes, and films): discuss or rewrite incidents in the story as it would be if everybody had a cellphone. Not everyone has Lassie to help them get Timmy out of the well.
Discussion topic: Compare and contrast fictional and real-world events. Examples: In our world, on the day that changed the world, the skies were cleared in three hours. No planes flew until people concluded it (probably) wouldn’t happen again. In Left Behind, only Rayford and Hattie are grounded. (Chloe and Buck keep flying.) In our world, the fictional Sam Gamgee (possessor of a miraculous fertilizer) and Stephen Hawking are separate people; in the novel, they are the same person (namely, Chaim). In our world, Israel already is the prosperous Silicon Valley of the region—but in the novel, Israel becomes wealthy by growing more fruits and vegetables. The novel’s version of Britain appears unchanged by the Rapture, to the point that the deaths of 2-3 men makes the world news. The novels tell us that people dig up graves. Some are mourners. Some are grave robbers. (Why? These are not King Tut’s tombs.) Rayford and Chloe don’t feel personally endangered by the approaching end of the world, but they start trembling when someone burglarizes their house. And Buck wants to write about live Jews and dead friends because “everyone else will be writing about the disappearances.” How would you write an end-of-the-world story?
Discussion topic: This wasn’t covered in the Spoilers section, because the references are scattered and numerous and your host didn’t want to risk taking any of them out of context. Discuss Left Behind‘s interpretation of the past, present, and future of the Jewish people.
Related: Do you agree with the novel’s suggestion that the Church had to be removed from earth because it is somehow “in the way”? Can something that is in “The Way” (the original term for “Christian”) be “in the way”?
Discussion topic: In Caroline B. Cooney’s novel, Flight #116 is Down, assorted minor characters may echo the major characters of Left Behind. “Ty” is a bad-boy EMT who is left behind, so to speak, when he finds himself on the wrong side of a traffic jam, with a plane crash tantalizingly out of reach. Fortunately, Ty’s talent for stealing school buses makes him the right person in the right place at the right time to ferry several dozen survivors to the hospital. “Carly” is a prodigal-daughter passenger who hopes she will not die before she can repent to her family. In Left Behind, it is bad for Bruce and Rayford personally to be left behind, but it proves fortuitous for everyone else, because the Tribulation Force needs teachers and pilots. Next, Rayford and Bruce are prodigal husbands who hasten to repent before it is too late.
But one of the most memorable characters in Flight #116 is Down is “Darienne,” a passenger who echoes Buck Williams’ perception of plane crash(es), uncontrolled fires, and traffic jams as nuisances that require “plotting to beat the new system” (L.B., page 38). Darienne dismisses from mind the blood and bodies, the flaming jet fuel, the racing ambulances. She declines to participate in emergency duty, by reason that it has nothing to do with her determination to get home. Like Buck, Rayford, and perhaps even Hattie and Chloe, Darienne demands a telephone, a television, a bathroom in which to freshen up (like Buck, she spends at least one chapter in there), and ultimately a ride home. An adult observer slams Darienne, along with everyone else in the room. Teenagers, the man says, are no good. The other teens protest. What about them? The man says dismissively that they are the exceptions. But the resident teenager replies that Darienne is the exception. She does not represent them and they have no desire to claim her. They question the man’s motives for what he said.
In Left Behind, the major characters are oblivious to the human suffering at O’Hare Airport. Buck is pleased to be the first passenger on his plane to reach the terminal (page 54). Rayford’s “emergency duty” (page 44) does not prompt him, or prompt Hattie, to do anything for anybody. No character lets the obstacles of multiple plane crashes delay their timely departure from the airport. (Presumably neither does Chloe, since she arrives home only hours after Rayford arrives.) Later, when (the newly-saved) Bruce Barnes begins his first church service, it never occurs to him to take up a collection for the widows, orphans, and disaster victims. (He is correct that churches need money, but his desire to take up a collection for his own expenses seems poorly timed.)
One of the challenges of portraying nonbelievers in Left Behind—or even new believers like Bruce—is to not make nonbelievers look so non-believing as to look non-human. It is possible that we are not supposed to like the characters before they get saved, and so we must see demonstrations of just how unsaved they are. One risk of such stark portrayals is overcompensation, a.k.a. the Darienne Generalization. That is, it is possible that the average nonbeliever would protest that people like Rayford and Buck (maybe Hattie) do not represent them and the average nonbeliever would have no desire to claim them as one of their own. Do you think that Rayford, Hattie, Bruce, and Buck are out of touch by Jesus’ standards, or by any standards? Are they typical of nonbelievers/new believers? Other? Is it simpler than that? More complicated than that?
Discussion topic: Re-read the book of Job. Do you think there is a “Job” in Left Behind? Why or why not? What about the Comforters of Job, Job’s bitter wife—though clearly they reconciled; she had ten more children—or an Elihu?
Related: How do you answer critics’ comments that the novel’s characters have to repent to the humans they ignored—to say the words Job’s friends wanted to hear, “You were right”—as part of the process of repenting to God?
Discussion topic: Rayford starts repenting to Irene (and to God) by mentally reviewing his extramarital escapades. Rayford hints that if he “ultimately defiled the marriage,” eventually it would be with Hattie. Otherwise, in Rayford’s opinion, he has been faithful to Irene. Yet he has quite a guilty conscience. We know that Rayford has been directing his energy outside the marriage, on and off, for at least twelve years. When his wife was ten months pregnant with the now-12-year-old Raymie, Rayford was indulging in a “private necking session”—whatever that means—with a Christmas party girl. To Rayford, this incident and his continuing activities don’t really count as going outside the marriage because it was all above the waist. But above-the-waist is where the mouth is, the mouth that speaks truth, or lies. Above-the-waist is where the mind is, that would find its thoughts turning to the beloved, or not. Above-the-waist is where the heart is. Indeed, above-the waist is where we find many of the things that God desires of us in a relationship. When these elements are missing, the Bible calls it both idolatry and adultery.
When Rayford describes his lustful thoughts about Hattie, with both Chloe and Hattie, is it true repentance, 12-Stepping, an attempt to slake his guilty conscience by burdening everyone else, multiple, or other?
Discussion topic: As our book critics (in posts 1-20) commented, women characters frequently “sit as if expecting more punishment” (page 375), get “put in her place” (page 190; almost word-for-word again in Volume 2, page 191), and get called names (“bratty,” “pseudo-sophisticated,” and several variations on Stupid; pages 237, 239, 267, 328, etc.). Why is that?
Like Rayford, Hattie seems to have no life or friends outside of work. She associates with three consecutive famous, charismatic men (Rayford, Buck, Carpathia). Does Hattie have a self-destructive quality, or is she being conditioned by the company she keeps? Why do you think Chloe is the only person who says anything about her that could be slightly sympathetic? Why does Rayford conclude that if Chloe can momentarily empathise with the unsaved Hattie, then Chloe must as profoundly unsaved as Hattie? Consider: how much do our words and actions influence other people? How much do other people influence us?
When Buck interviews Rayford, Buck asks himself, “What was it with these women? Hattie Durham had been weeping when she and the captain had finished talking that afternoon. Now Chloe” (page 390). The audience knows that both women are crying because they lost an argument with Rayford. What does this say about Rayford? What does Buck’s reaction to “these women” say about Buck?
Rayford and Buck both think they know why Chloe is crying, but neither of them ask her, or ask her or Hattie if they’re okay. Buck is almost moved to tears by Rayford’s testimony, but Buck decides to keep his reactions to himself. Rayford walks away feeling that he has failed to communicate with anyone (pages 389-91). How often do we behave as if we could read minds? How would the story have been different if the characters had been more open and honest with each other?
Discussion topic: This is not intended as a trick question, but its answer is not found in Volume 1. (It is answered in Volume 15, a prequel called “The Rapture.”) What is heaven like? What is happening to Irene and Raymie now? That volume tells us that Irene becomes younger to 32; Raymie becomes older to 32. All are 32. So there is no laughter of children in this version of heaven. The “hoary head” celebrated in Scripture is not found. As the characters on earth become more polarized—good/evil, rich/poor, male/female, adult/child, leader/follower, Jew/Gentile—the characters in heaven become more homogenized. Galatians 3:28 tells us there is no male or female, Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, et cetera in Christ Jesus, but is the series’ heaven quite what the verse meant?
Related: critics compare both the series’ heaven above and the “funeral” below (pages 218-21) to “dull but successful revival meetings.” It simply might be that our human prose fails us. (See 1 Cor. 2:9.) After all, we sing that old hymn “I Love to Tell the Story” by Hankey and Fischer, and we know heaven’s going to be good. What can we describe of heaven with the words we do have?
Discussion topic: Chloe compares the Tribulation Force to spiritual “Green Berets.” Compare and contrast the TF’s “prospectus” with the situation of … not New Testament individuals, though you might be doing that as well … Esther or Daniel and/or his three friends. (Reason: Esther and Daniel lived among political leaders, while the New Testament saints served “a Kingdom not of this earth” and were largely uninterested in politics.)
Discussion topic: The loss of all earth’s children is rarely mentioned. What would it do to economies, to societies, to nations? List at least ten categories of people who would be out of work (including parents and grandparents). List at least ten types of businesses and institutions that would close (including free ones like playgrounds). Describe how television would be different without children’s programming and commercials. Explore a world in which your taxes alone would be so unrecognizable that the concept of buying a house in “a good school district” is meaningless. Imagine a world with no need to buy baby shower gifts, no “World’s Greatest Grandma/Grandpa” mugs, no trick-or-treat candy, no bedtime stories. Billions of children and an uncounted multitude of adults are gone.
Yet the economy is unaffected. Transportation systems resume operation although no one knows why all those planes, trains, and automobiles crashed, or if it might happen again. Stores remain well-supplied, which suggests that not many 18-wheeler truck drivers were raptured. Restaurants, hotels, and private individuals keep taking Rayford and Buck’s credit cards and (paper) cash. The characters live in a world where Buck Williams hangs up the phone on 13-year-old Lionel Washington, the orphaned son of a co-worker, but Rayford’s insurance policy can be expected to pay for the loss of his child’s bicycle: discuss.
Discussion topic: Explore beyond the economic implications. As readers, we know the children are in heaven. Most of the characters do not know this. They may be in shock, but it is arguable that many behave as if the children are gone to summer camp for the indefinite future. What would happen to a community or individual’s morale, physical and mental health, and faith to lose all the children on earth? And there are no graves for parents to visit. There are no bodies for a funeral. The children are gone. How would grieving parents react to a funeral service like the one Bruce held?
Discussion topic: In the midst of these events, the only person who loses her job is Hattie’s sister at the abortion clinic. Rayford cannot believe that he has heard Hattie correctly: “Are you saying your sister is hoping women can get pregnant again so they’ll need abortions and she can keep working?” Hattie insists that is exactly what she meant. She asks Rayford how he would feel if he owned a gas station and suddenly nobody bought his gasoline. Rayford replies, is this like doctors wanting patients to get hurt or sick? Yes, replies Hattie, relieved that he understands her at last. It is merely “supply and demand” (pages 266-8). Set aside impersonal rhetoric or friend-of-a-friend hearsay. Set aside your prepared speech. (Everybody has a prepared speech.) Have you met someone who speaks like Hattie and her sister? Why do you think the authors included this exchange?
Discussion topic: This brings up the question of why, exactly, the children were raptured. What are your views on Original Sin versus Innocence, infant baptism versus adult baptism, and personal accountability? Whether or not you believe in the Rapture, what is your reaction to the Rapture of children, born and unborn?
Discussion topic: What are your views on baptism? on Holy Communion? Why do you think the novel is silent on these subjects?
Discussion topic: Early in the novel, Chloe expresses anguish and anger toward God (page 166). She says, “When I went to church, I got tired of hearing how loving God is. He never answered my prayers and I never felt like he knew me or cared about me. Now you’re saying I was right. He didn’t. I didn’t qualify, so I got left behind?” From Chloe’s point of view, she poured out her heart in prayer. God would not speak to her, so she stopped speaking to God. From the novel’s point of view, God is not mocked and knows His own. If Chloe admits that she felt God “never knew” her, then the younger Chloe must not have been a real, true Christian. Do you believe a Christian can experience a “drought” in personal prayer life? Why or why not?
Discussion topic: The “sinner’s prayer” suggested by Vernon Billings and prayed by Rayford is as follows:
”Dear God, I admit that I’m a sinner. I am sorry for my sins. Please forgive me and save me. I ask this in the name of Jesus, who died for me. I trust in him right now. I believe that the sinless blood of Jesus is sufficient to pay the price for my salvation. Thank you for hearing me and receiving me. Thank you for saving my soul.”
It has been noted that there is no specific “sinner’s prayer” in the New Testament, and no follower of Christ (the Twelve, Paul, the women, Titus, etc.) is recorded as having said it. (Doesn’t mean they did or didn’t. It means that there is no record of it.) What is in the New Testament is the first known documentation of a Christian creed, specifically 1 Cor. 15:3-7. (By the way, this is the only place in the New Testament where it is stated that the resurrected Jesus appeared to a gathering of 500 people.) Compare and contrast Billings’ interpretation of the Bible and salvation with your interpretation of the Bible and salvation (with any prayers, creeds, sacraments).
Discussion topic: The novels had an opportunity to address questions such as: What happens to an individual who would be “born again” when he or she was born into the family’s born-again faith? How do children who were “born born-again” enter the faith anew? If a child has never known a time without faith—if he or she has never known faithlessness—how strong can their faith be? Can it survive the transition to adulthood? And how does one make that transition in a church that doesn’t practice baptism, confirmation, or communion? (Bonus: discuss Alissa Quart’s Hothouse Kids: the Dilemma of the Gifted Child, chapter 9 on teen preachers.) Do you think the novels oversimplify these concerns, overcomplicate them, get it “just right,” or other?
Related: In the real world, Paul’s youngest “son” Timothy grew up with God in his life, under the instruction of his mother and grandmother. To our knowledge, Timothy never had a “mountain-top experience” or prayed the “sinner’s prayer.” Compare the fictional characters to Timothy.
Discussion topic: Do you believe in Assurance (God giving you absolute certainty that you are saved, and you know that this certainty has come from God and not from you)? Why or why not?
Related: Do you believe in Scrupulosity? Why or why not? Do any characters illustrate these concepts?
Discussion topic.: Have you prayed for another’s salvation? Has someone prayed for your salvation? Have you prayed for another’s salvation, but at the time, that person was praying for yours?
Discussion topic: The New Hope Village Church has several pastors, including Vernon Billings (senior pastor and prophecy preacher) and Bruce Barnes (visitation pastor). In your church, do you have several pastors, or does one person do the preaching, teaching, visiting, fundraising, and shepherding work of the church? What would you keep or change about your method?
Discussion topic: Bruce Barnes wants charismatic people like Rayford and Buck (and reformed skeptics like Chloe) to lead the “inner circle” of his church. Since Rayford was a celebrity in his old church too, this is the second time that Rayford is catapulted to a position of authority over other “babes in faith.” He is expected to address the concerns of skeptics although he lacks any spiritual foundation: he has no familiarity with the Bible, for example. And although the apostles received spiritual gifts on the first Pentecost, we are not specifically told that Rayford received a similar gift. (He begins by brushing off Chloe’s timeless question of theodicy by saying that Bruce told him that God “left control” of the earth to the devil a long time ago; page 229. Interpret Rayford and Bruce’s Scripture verses, if any.) What qualities should a church look for in a leader? Should charisma (example: Rayford) and/or longevity (example: Loretta) be among those qualities?
Discussion topic: Where do you stand regarding grace, free will, predestination, and so forth? And where do the characters stand? Is salvation very much our choice, a “deal” we make as per some elements in the Left Behind novels? Do you believe that “saved by grace” cannot include that particular kind of decision making, lest it be changed into “saved by works” (where making a decision or saying a prayer counts as “works”)? Is faith something you do, or something that is given to you, or something that is given to you to do, or other? If “Faith without works is dead,” then, even if decision-making and/or saying a prayer is a “work,” does it flow from grace having already activated faith? What do you think about the rabbi’s saying, “We have to use our free will; we have no choice in the matter”? What does “saved by grace through faith” mean to you?
Discussion topic: Do you believe grace manifests itself in Prevenient grace, Sanctifying grace, and Perfecting grace? Many people do not know “prevenient grace” by name, but they would know what it does. It has been described as the grace that “runs ahead” of you, to gently help you recognize the right way, the grace that prompts the soul toward salvation. Rayford in particular does not wear this grace well. He starts trying to convert and save Chloe more than 55 pages before he himself converts and gets saved (on page 216). (Critics have compared Chloe to a canary in the coal mines: discuss.) And Rayford starts this conversion campaign by getting angry (page 164) and telling Chloe to be “careful” of what she says (page 165).
Rayford mentions that “while he didn’t put this on the same scale as dealing with a salesman, he needed time to think, a cooling-off period. He was analytical, and while this [Rapture] suddenly made a world of sense to him, and he didn’t doubt at all Bruce’s theory of the disappearances, he would not act immediately” (page 202). But when Chloe attempts to invoke the same time for rest and contemplation, Rayford becomes angry again and calls her “pseudo-sophisticated” (page 237). Do you recognize grace in their interactions?
Related: address the novel’s insistence upon an immediate decision. (Evaluate both “immediate” and “decision.”)
Discussion topic: Next, consider Rayford’s attempts to wear sanctifying and perfecting grace. Rayford gets saved and intensifies his campaign to convert and save Chloe. Do you believe that humans save and convert others, or do you believe that it is the Holy Spirit, working through us, that converts and saves?
Rayford tries to convert Chloe by—and these are Rayford’s words—letting Bruce “put Chloe in her place” (page 190); asking her to “settle this thing” before next Monday (page 208); feeling temptation toward “badgering” her (page 208) and “bugging” her and “pleading” with her (page 218); telling her about Hattie (page 231; big mistake, by the way); and “[deciding] he couldn’t let those gentilities [i.e., her feelings] remain priorities anymore. He was going to contend for the faith with her until she made a decision” (page 389). When the family dines at a fine restaurant and Chloe and Hattie excuse themselves—presumably to use the toilet, as they return when Rayford is still witnessing to Buck; pages 383-84—Rayford becomes “frustrated, almost to the point of anger” that they did not sit through the whole thing. (If they had been walking out on Rayford’s witness, they would not have returned until he finished.) When Chloe starts crying, Rayford says that he is “profoundly disappointed” with her (page 389-91).
Rayford says he has been “too polite” to Hattie and Chloe (page 344). Is he?
Rayford tells the pastor that he is “going to force [Chloe] to make a decision” and he needs Bruce’s support (page 345). Is Rayford’s behavior brow-beating or merely deep concern? If Chloe yields to Rayford’s “force,” would that be a genuine conversion?
Bruce tells Rayford, “You’re trying too hard” (page 289). Rayford admits that “Bruce had encouraged him just to pray, but he was not made that way. He would pray, of course, but he had always been a man of action” (page 299). Rayford begins to wonder if he “would be responsible for her deciding against Christ once and for all” (page 299). If the gospel is “one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread,” then is this what Rayford is doing? If not, then what is he doing?
Rayford berates himself for being “worried about offending people. I’m liable to ‘not offend’ my own daughter right into hell’” (page 343). Do you believe the gospel has to be offensive? Whether or not you perceive the gospel as a “welcome” to the forgiveness and love of God, have you heard the gospel presented in a way that was unwelcoming? What was the effect?
Discussion topic: When Solomon could receive any miracle from the hand of God, he asks for wisdom. When Chloe could receive any miracle from the hand of God, she asks for a boyfriend. She doesn’t ask to see Jesus, or her mother, or to meet God in a vision. Everyone else is getting industrial-strength miraculous proof; she could have asked for something she didn’t already have. Instead, she asked for something quiet and intimate. Do you think it is appropriate to pray for miracles? Alternately, do you think it is appropriate to pray for and about the quiet, intimate details of life? What do you bring to God in prayer?
Discussion topic: The Bible tells us that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). It also tells us that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Consider the critics’ charge that, in the novels, no one gets saved because they love God and want to serve Him, or because they want to live by Jesus’ teachings. They get saved because God has done something for them or will do something for them. For the characters, God often is the one who will help them see their families again, and salvation often is about avoiding eternal punishment.
Now consider the Pharisees and Sadducees who sought to be baptized (Matt. 3:5-12:, although in Luke 3:7 John the Baptist rebukes the “crowds”). John asked the “brood of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come.” Several motives have been suggested for the Pharisees and Sadducees who approached John to be baptized: it was “cool” or “everyone else was doing it,” or they were just “taking out insurance.” But John mentioned the survival instinct. It is a primitive motive; John lit a fire (of words) and the living thing sought to save its existence by fleeing from danger to safety. His audience’s motives for baptism may have been animalistic, a mere stimulus-response approach to faith—but at least they approached and responded. What was missing from their response was a higher, deeper awareness that God is worthy of glory and honor for its own sake. John wasn’t protesting the survival instinct so much as observing that it is appropriate for animals—but John came to baptize people.
John the Baptist was born by miracle, but the Bible makes no record of John performing miracles (cf. John 10:41). The people had no evidence. They responded to John because they heard. In contrast, the characters of Left Behind have evidence. They saw miracles before the Rapture; they have the miracle of the Rapture; they see miracles after the Rapture. Critics claim that this is not faith so much as “mental assent” or “accepting reality.” The characters now heed the words of Vernon Billings—but they only listen to him because the evidence gives them a reason to listen. Now that they have evidence, the characters are ready to have faith: discuss.
Related: John the Baptist added that those who would be baptized should “produce fruit in agreement with your repentance.” We have already mentioned that the fictional characters don’t get baptized, but what fruits do the characters produce?
Discussion topic: What do you think about the characterization of God in Left Behind?