|Too busy to read my long review? Skip right to the song instead.|
I just knew that something really sick and wrong would happen to me if I wrote Why We Read What We Read. All this knowledge had to come at some serious spiritual cost; and while I knew I looked at books differently than I had before, I didn’t fully realize just how deeply my depraved new mentality had taken hold. Not until the other day when, for absolutely no explicable reason, I found myself checking out Kingdom Come, the sequel to the Left Behind series, from the library.
I am the last person who has any business reading this book. I bitched and moaned through all 12 volumes of Left Behind. I was so happy when Jesus finally showed up in Glorious Appearing, the last book, gutting all the nonbelievers and saving me from reading any more.
And yet there I was with the sequel in my hand.
What I have since come to see is that even when the devil is locked up tight, the world and the flesh still wreak havoc on our tender and temptable souls. (I learned from Kingdom Come that Satan, the world, and the flesh comprise the legs of the “three-legged stool of evil” (51)—a terrifying piece of furniture indeed!) The world got me big time, that’s for sure, taking advantage of the ragingly morbid curiosity that keeps me reading bad books and avoiding my formerly wholesome ways.
But enough on my spiritual decline: A summary/refresher is in order! The Left Behind books are the literary offspring of a minister, Tim LaHaye, and a writer, Jerry B. Jenkins, who teamed up to present their vision of the Rapture—the day that God whisks his Christian faithful to heaven and leaves everyone else to deal with plagues and general persecution. Called the “most successful Christian-fiction series ever” by Publishers Weekly, the Left Behind books have sold about a bajillion copies, converted thousands to Christianity, and pissed off countless others with their hardcore fundamentalist values and unapologetically literal interpretation of the Bible.
The original 12 books of the series detail the events of the Tribulation—the seven-year period between the Rapture and the reappearance of Christ on earth—focusing on a handful of principal characters and a full ensemble cast as they attempt to thwart the Antichrist and turn as many souls to Jesus as they can. Kingdom Come, then—the sequel—covers Jesus’ 1000-year reign of peace after the Antichrist is gone, Satan confined, and nonbelievers snuffed.
You’re probably wondering why a book needs to be written about a thousand-year reign of peace. But the authors have heard this one before and, as always, they have a ready answer:
Do you ever wonder whether this thousand years that precedes the new heaven and the new earth might be boring? Yes, Jesus will be there, He whom we all have longed to see and worship in person ever since we became believers. But with only the like-minded there—at least initially—what will everyone do? Sit around and worship? (xliii)
That’s a good bit of it, but the authors encourage us to “imagine euphoria that shows no sign of abating” as an antidote to the repetition. Still, they seem to realize that endless euphoria does not a novel make. After the characters get settled in the new world—where the rivers literally run with milk and wine, where leopards eat leaves and snuggle with bears, where humans too are vegetarians except for the occasional random festival when Jesus gets a hankering for a hearty rib-eye (38)—the book jumps 95 years later to some (marginally) more troubling times.
Aging works differently in the Millennial Kingdom. Those who were Raptured, or who died during the Tribulation, have “glorified bodies” and forever look their hottest. But those who were still alive when Jesus arrived simply age more slowly. People less than a century old look and act like adolescents, and it is these squirrelly youngsters that cause the book’s main conflict.
See, at this stage God allows all children 100 years to become believers. Anyone who doesn’t will die on his or her hundredth birthday. And yes, even though Jesus is a flesh-and-blood reality for everybody at this point, there are still those who refuse to accept His dominion over their lives. They keep their doubts hidden, forming a secret society called The Other Light (TOL) where they worship Lucifer and hope to pass their message on through the remaining nine centuries—even though they themselves will die—to the day when Satan is released and (they retardedly think) will somehow take God’s spot and bring them all back to life. They spend their remaining few years livin’ it up with drugs and whores.
These are typical Left Behind tactics. Some of the holdouts make good sense, explaining that God offers them no true free will, only a choice that is no choice at all. The authors seem to understand this complaint, but then they can’t resist muddying up its adherents with devil-worship and drug use. Questioning why it’s God’s way or the highway is portrayed as nothing more than teenage rebellion. And, let’s face it, the nonbelievers in this book just look like empty-headed twits. What’s needed here is what’s been missing all along in this series—an acknowledgment that a God who does things like send plagues, viciously slaughter unbelievers, and impose arbitrary time limits for conversion just might not be all that nice a guy. Admitting that doesn’t actually mean one has to worship Lucifer.
But the point of Kingdom Come, ultimately, is not really to explore these questions, or even to tell a compelling story. It pretends to do both, but it honestly offers about half the depth and effort of the earlier novels (and that’s, holy crap, really saying something). On it own, it won’t convert and it won’t entertain. All it can really do is make today’s real-life Christians feel good about 1) themselves and 2) their proselytizing by further simplifying the religious debate, basically eliminating the intriguing emotional struggles that the protagonists experienced in the preceding books. Even Jesus seems lazy this time around: at the end of the Millennium, He vaporizes the billions of devil-worshippers in an instant, rather than spilling their blood by hand as he so enjoyed doing in Glorious Appearing.
So, I gotta say, this is just a book that didn’t need to be written. All of the Left Behind novels lack suspense—mainly because the characters are always telling us what is going to happen—but this one is by far the most wanting of dramatic tension. Nothing happens! Nothing matters! Let’s hope Kingdom Come was exactly what it seemed to be: a final dabble that allowed the authors to say goodbye to these characters and move on. With any luck their future efforts will lie elsewhere, but as long as the three-legged stool of evil is in the world, one can never tell.
(My own closure came in the form of this little parody of “Jesus Loves Me.” Enjoy!)