Sunday, 20 January 2013

Tim LaHaye & Jerry B. Jenkins, "Tribulation Force" (1996)

Subtitle: "The Continuing Drama of Those Left Behind."

Building on the success of the initial volume of Left Behind, LaHaye and Jenkins develop the story of a small band of people 'left behind' after a significant portion of the world's population disappears. The group, who develop confidence in their interpretation that the disappearance represents a collecting of persons by the Christian God, devote themselves anew to their faith, to interpreting scriptural prophecy and advice, praying for guidance, and trying to monitor the activities of the man they presume to be the Anti-Christ, a world leader named Nicolae Carpathia.

Clearly, by the time LaHaye and Jenkins were writing this second volume, they were intent on creating a fairly lengthy series of books. Tribulation Force reads like an episode in a low-quality television soap opera. It depends on knowledge of the preceding volume, but resolves few questions from that book. Sub-plots are introduced and left (seemingly?) abandoned. Few, if any of the core plot questions are resolved or even really significantly moved ahead. In the last few pages, however, the narrative jumps inexplicably ahead eighteen months (after tediously playing out time like grains of sand). The leap is disconcerting at best. While dialogue was a weak aspect of the first volume, in this book it is stilted at best.

Perhaps the most interesting element of Tribulation Force is how LaHaye and Jenkins represent Judaism and Jews. For evangelical Christians, Jews and their faith represent a complex problem. They are God's chosen people, but have denied Christ as the Messiah promised in the Talmud. LaHaye and Jenkins combine tawdry stereotypes of Jewish religious scholars with strange, hard to rationalize conversions of Jews to faith in Jesus, and incorporate two prophets hailing the holiness of Jesus at the Wailing Wall as a central aspect of the second Left Behind book. While reading Tribulation Force, I couldn't help but wonder how American evangelicals would respond if Islamic fiction writers tried the same approach with Christianity.

The utter fantasy of many of the events in the first story are avoided in this volume, but have already 'tainted the pool' of believability. While perhaps inspiring for those who might already have issues with letting their faith slide, the story is highly unlikely to convert non-believers.

For those who have read the story, I am left with several core questions:
1) Why is the group's response to the perceived threat posed by Carpathia to draw closer to him? Wouldn't the logical response be to trust in God's plan, and to concentrate on proselytizing and conversion over surveillance of the Anti-Christ? Does the group believe that they will be the tools of God's will with regard to Carpathia? If so, on what prophecy is their idea based? It seems that their actions are based in egotism rather than faith.

2) Why is the story of the mysterious flower delivery referred to so frequently in this volume, but left hanging? It feels more like a plot thread that was too difficult to resolve, or upon reflection LaHaye concluded he'd have rather left it out and hoped it might just go away.

3) LaHaye's portrayal of the world as simply passively accepting the conversion of the world to one government, one religion, and one unit of money is not believable. If it was intended to showcase Carpathia's ability to win over audiences, then it raises the question of why the Anti-Christ waited so long to do this. If it is a sign of total belief in the values of peace that Carpathia is claimed to represent, LaHaye has not provided solid enough consideration of the multitude of groups whose beliefs would require them to reject - violently - the very kind of peace LaHaye describes as being adopted with nary a whimper.

4) An additional problematic aspect, at least from a theological point of view, is the question of polygamy. At the beginning of Left Behind, the wife of one of the central characters of the first two books Rayford Steele, is presumably taken up to heaven in the Rapture. About two years later, at the end of Tribulation Force, he remarries. I am curious how LaHaye and Jenkins rationalized this remarriage theologically, particularly when they have Steele and his daughter talking about rejoining their wife/mother in heaven. Will they bring along his second wife with them? Will she bring along her first husband, who was also raptured? Does this remarriage not break God's laws? (Matthew 19: 4-6 ESV - "...“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate”).

Bottom line: This book is far less interesting than the first volume, and is not really worth the time it takes to read it unless you plan on reading at least a few more volumes in the series.

If you insist on investigating for yourself, you can read an excerpt from the first chapter of the book at the Left Behind website.

You can also read my review of Left Behind, the first book in the sixteen-volume series of the same name by LaHaye and Jenkins.

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