Tuesday, August 2, 2016

thoughts on Left Behind and the passing of Tim LaHaye

Wow, I haven't been on this blog in forever!! I wouldn't even be on here unless I had started a Facebook post that went to memo on my phone, that then went to this blog post once I realized the length was better suited for this format. I kinda didn't want to post on here, because I'd love to revamp my blog and I hate for everyone to see it in its shabby state, but since that won't be happening until I get into a season where I can write more consistently, here I am.

I have listened to Christian contemporary music for pretty much my whole life, but if you read enough blog posts and listen to enough people, you begin to reject the entire genre as shallow, basic, and meaningless in the life of a "mature" believer. Well I recently went back and decided to listen to the music I grew up on and was pleasantly reminded  that the majority of the stuff I enjoyed was firmly rooted in Scripture, theologically sound, and very edifying. While there were definitely songs that had questionable meaning and pointless repetition (how many times do you need to say "yeah" in a Christian song??), for the most part the music consistently pointed me to Jesus, His attributes, and how to look and live like Him. I was convicted that I had allowed others' passionate stances (though sometimes correct when speaking of specific songs or artists) to shape my view of a genre that God was clearly using to bring glory to Himself. (Sidenote: I don't listen to much Christian contemporary music these days, so I can't speak for much of what is on the radio now, but I know that in my formative years, the stuff I was hearing on the radio was mostly solid.)
Tim LaHaye (left) and Jerry Jenkins,
coauthors of Left Behind series.
Photo courtesy of Google Images.

If you're following that train of thought, let's move on to what this post is about, which is Left Behind. Tim LaHaye, the coauthor of the Left Behind series recently passed away, and hearing about his death moved me. Shamefully, I second guessed posting anything about him on my Facebook page. Allowing the fear of man to take preeminence in my thoughts, I turned over and over in my mind what people in my current circles would think of me if I showed my support of one of the main men behind the best-selling and controversial Left Behind series. Various blogs and Facebook posts that I'd read over the past few years came to mind, all written by believers who scorned the book series and often the men behind it. Similarly to my example with the music, over time I allowed others' views to shape the way I recalled even my own personal experiences, and soon I pushed to the back my mind and then forgot altogether the impact the Left Behind books had on me.

So before The Babylon Bee decides to satirize Left Behind, and before I begin to see negative comments that will discourage me from saying anything at all, I would like to share some (mostly) positive thoughts of how the Lord used these books in my own life growing up. Now, I would like to be clear before I start: though I was once a dedicated reader of all things Left Behind, I no longer encourage the reading of these books. Though what you'll find here is a predominately positive perspective of my experience of how the books shaped my thinking growing up, as you read further on I will explain why I now have a differing view.

Photo courtesy of Google Images.
As a kid, I read nearly all the Left Behind Kids books. There are 40 of them, ya'll. FORTY. I was a young believer and hungry to get in as much of the Word in whatever form I could. From the time I became a Christian, I knew I believed every word of the Word, yet I struggled to understand so much of it. If I was skimming over the book of James because I couldn't understand how faith and works reconcile, you better believe I was nervous about trying to figure out Revelation.

Though I would tell myself to skip over it, I simply couldn't resist reading this final book of God's Word. I was overwhelmed and amazed by descriptions of heaven, the future home of all Christians, those who have repented of their sins and have in faith turned to and believed in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I remember frequently bursting into tears just thinking and reading about people from every tribe, nation, and tongue worshiping before the throne of our Almighty God for eternity (I am tearing up now just thinking about it!). I remember lying on my back in bed, closing my eyes, and literally giving myself a HEADACHE trying to imagine all of the glory that my finite human mind could not and cannot grasp about God and heaven. I was (and am!) humbled and amazed that a holy, perfect God has made a way for broken and unworthy people like myself to be in relationship with Him.

Now, bring in the Age of Left Behind. I don't remember how old I was when I started reading the kids series of Left Behind (early middle school, most likely), but I know that once I started, I was hooked. I thought, Finally someone could tell me [a fictional representation] of what all this stuff in Revelation means! 

I remember getting home from school once and seeing that my parents had gotten me one of the latest books. (Shout out the parents for fostering and encouraging my love of reading! I am cheesing now just thinking about my reaction that day. I was such a book nerd, ya'll.) My face lit up; a smile spread across my face. I absentmindedly kicked off my shoes, and my book bag hit the floor with a thud. I rushed to the kitchen counter and grabbed the book, scanning the bright yellow sticky note that my mom had attached. (I was probably supposed to do chores or something before starting it, but who has time for chores when you have a new book to read??) Once in the living room I dragged the heavy ottoman over to my favorite reading spot, the light brown, leopard-spotted easy chair that my parents own to this day. It had just the right amount of give when you sat down in it--not too hard, not too cushy. I curled up in the seat, and with bated breath, opened the book to enter a world incredibly different than the one I knew. And for all I knew, this was the world to come.

Now like I said before, guys, I was already an avid reader. When I get into a story, it comes to life in my mind, to the extent that when trying to recall it later on, I'll question whether I am thinking of a movie scene or of a book. But reading Left Behind was unlike my experiences with other books. These stories appealed to what I deeply desired as a young Christian: to understand the Word fully, with all mysteries revealed and to know how every line directly applied to me.

Somewhere in the 30s of the series, I started skipping around in the order of the books and eventually went straight to the end. I just wanted to know how it all ENDS!! To be honest, I don't even remember how the series ended. But what I clearly remember to this day are things that I felt--the things the books made me FEEL--as I read them.

I felt amazement at God. This human mind will never be able to fully understand the fullness of who God is, or be able to fully grasp His knowledge or attain His wisdom and understanding. It amazed me that the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New, that He has kept and continues to keep His Word. What He says will be done, will be done. He always keeps His promises; He always fulfills His Word. While I know now that we're not all be on the same page about how the future will come to pass, the details in the books made me marvel at God and His attention to detail in all things, end times-related and beyond. Whether I understand all the details matters less than finding peace and comfort in the fact that He does know all the details, and He will complete His plan.

I felt confused. I didn't get how people were still becoming Christians in the books if the "age of grace'" had ended, in which there was supposedly no longer a chance for people to hear and believe the gospel. If people are able to get saved after the rapture, then maybe it would be better for me to not be saved right now, so that I can maybe be around to share the gospel with people who don't know it if the rapture happens soon! (If you've read the books, then this line of thinking makes total sense.) These were the thoughts floating around in my middle school brain. In a weird way, the books made me feel guilty for being a Christian now, versus during the post-rapture times of the characters. Man, I am getting confused again just writing this. Moving along...

I felt fearful. When is Jesus coming back? Am I really ready? Am I really saved? What if I get left behind? What if friends or family members get left behind? The fear that I am talking about here was not a fear of God that led me to rightly revere and stand in awe of Him. It is one that left me scared and uncertain and questioning everything, including whether God had really even saved me. There were times that I felt more anxiety than anticipation about the return of Christ. But by God's grace, in the midst of all that....

I felt hopeful. For all its flaws, Left Behind made me long for heaven, ya'll. Though I don't believe the series translated into a proper exegesis of Revelation and end times theology, the characters in the kids Left Behind books truly reminded me that Jesus is WORTH living for. Jesus is WORTH dying for. Jesus is WORTH losing everyone and everything because HE. IS. EVERYTHING. My middle school heart knew it, believed it, and wanted it Him! And as a little sidenote/stream of consciousness/rabbit trail, ya know, as a young believer I never quite understood how there can be Christians who are not joyful at the thought of spending eternity with God. I have encountered so many people that seem to falter at the thought of longing for heaven, throwing around phrases like, "Well, when you're too heavenly minded, you're no earthly good!" Well, I don't know about you guys, but when I read verses and sing songs about standing before God's throne, worshiping with His saints in glorified bodies for all of eternity, beholding the face of my dear Savior whose blood ransomed me,  I am hopeful! I am joyful! And even more than that, being reminded of heaven makes me want to serve God all the more while I am here on earth! In God's kindness He used the books to grow in me a greater longing to count all as loss for the sake of knowing Him. They made me want to know Him, and the power of His resurrection and fellowship of His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death. They made me want to spend whatever time I had left on this earth fully to the glory of God and in His service.

My understanding of the end times no longer quite aligns with what I once thought (i.e., Left Behind story line in general, with people evaporating as part of the rapture, literal interpretations of much of the imagery in Revelation and other end times prophecy, etc.), and because of that, I no longer encourage the reading of Tim LaHaye's Left Behind books. While God has certainly gifted so many people to be able to write about and dramatize certain lessons and themes found in His Word which can allow us to better understand and apply the truths found in it, I believe there is great danger when we attempt to take away all the mystery of God and His Word by trying to put it into a form that the human mind can understand. It is a natural thing to try to grasp and understand everything around us. We like to categorize and fit things into a neat little box that can be explained, but something that I have learned and am continuing to learn is that I will never be able to fully grasp the vastness and glory and beauty and knowledge of God and His (perfect and inerrant) Word. Even as I write this, this verse from Psalm 139 popped into my head, and I echo David's sentiments: Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

Another danger, and the main one that leads me to discourage others from reading these books, is that people can begin to form their entire view of what the Word says based on a fictional book. I mean, that's pretty much what I did. I wouldn't have said so, but I realized that as I would read portions of Revelation after reading through the Left Behind series, I would constantly be trying to matching the Bible up to the book, instead of the book up to the Bible. Trying to force man's imperfect thoughts and interpretations onto the perfection of God's Word is not the way we are meant to study and know the Bible. It is both unhelpful and unhealthy. It is best to form our basis of understanding and interpretation of the Word based on the Word itself, not other forms of literature. (That applies to other things too, like going to John Piper first instead of the Word when I want to research something...but I'm just preaching to myself here...) It is true that God can and does use flawed means to draw people to Himself, and I hope that He does do that for the people that will continue to read his books. However, just because God can use it for good does not mean that these are resources we should be pointing people to. The Bible is always the final authority and should therefore be the basis of all things we seek understanding on, both for this life and the next.

Final thoughts: I know many of ya'll are passionate about end times theology (which made me hesitant to write this at all), but before you try to engage me in any sort of debate using words like post- and pre-millennialism, dispensationalism, and more, please, just don't (and I say that with all the kindness in my heart). Remember those headaches that I said I would get when I though about heaven? I still get them. And when you start throwing words like that in there, you can totally expect for my brain to turn to a fog, my eyes to glaze over, and for me to completely zone out from the conversation. This is not to say that I will not study the Word and seek out some general understanding of where I stand on biblical eschatology. Revelation and other prophecy about the end times are in the Word for a reason! I am simply still learning (and open to resources you may want to share!). And wouldn't ya know, there are many awesome, gospel-believing, gospel-preaching, and gospel-living people out there who have varying views on how it all goes down at the end, but the one thing we can all agree on though is that JESUS WINS. He WINS! And He reigns! He IS coming again (come soon, Lord!). I wholeheartedly agree with this quote by John Piper: "Let me stress that the disagreement over pre- and post-tribulationism is not one that I think should threaten our fellowship. It should not be divisive. The things on which we agree are so stupendous as to overwhelm our hearts in common love for the Lord and His appearing. Let us not make the second coming a center of controversy, but a cause for worship and earnest hope."

I don't know much else about the man aside from the fact that he co-authored the Left Behind books, but from what I do know, I believe that Tim LaHaye is in heaven with Jesus right now. And as a fellow believer, we should have some measure of grace for him, whether we agree with his end times views or not.  For whatever he may have wrong, he got the basics right. He believed in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus on behalf of sinners, and that all who repent of their sins and turn to Him in faith will be saved. His faith was evidenced by the life he lived, and what a glorious place he is in now. As for the rest of us? - Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful!

Surely, He is coming soon.

Come soon, Lord Jesus!


Helpful Resource:

Bible Bootcamp on Revelation - It's basically an accelerated study through the book of Revelation. The link is just the outline, but hopefully the audio will be added soon!

Song for Thought:

The Millennium by Shai Linne - Fun fact for ya: This song is the first time I EVER heard or realized that not everyone thinks the same way about the end times. Crazy, right? It is also what got me started on wanting to study and learn more about what the Bible says on the topic.

If you have helpful resources to suggest, feel free to share!