After looking at one of the dilemmas of 20th century literary publishing in my article about the T. S. Eliot Letters, I’ve moved on to Armageddon: I’m studying up on apocalyptic and millennial literature.
I’ve read a number of the Left Behind series (bestsellers in the United States) now but am especially perplexed by one called Glorious Appearing. I was looking forward to this, because it’s Jesus who does the appearing, naturally, and I wanted to see what he would be like.
Sadly, he sounds like a computer and acts like one, too. His speeches are endless and dull, with lots of text straight from the Bible and then more paragraphs of awkward rephrasing. I’m not saying Jesus should be hip or talk in soundbites, but I’d expect something a bit more current from someone paying close attention to our world.
Each follower hears Jesus use his or her name now and then, “Rayford, take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your soul.” But it’s no more personal than that, a kind of divine mail-merge function combined with ESP.
The line above comes straight from the Bible (in an old translation, naturally), but in some places the authors have adlibbed. Thatâ€™s where we get the machine translation effect. â€œI do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.â€ (The amount of bloodshed is quite extraordinary, too: not just death, but people split from head to foot and blood and guts pouring everywhere. Five feet deep across a particular plain in Israel, a narrative construct that took some doing–and some license with gravity and the physical properties of blood–but necessary to fulfill the authorsâ€™ interpretation of a verse in Ezekiel.
The amount of repetition in Jesus’s speeches is mindboggling, and a little odd since the person speaking is supposed to be God-â€”Iâ€™d figure God would have some fresh information and insight. Or some of the style and originality one sees in the Jesus of the Bible. Otherwise, eternity with Jesus looks like, well, an eternity.
There are plenty of Christians, both liberal and fundamentalist, who arenâ€™t thrilled with this stuff. The question on my mind is how this kind of work, and the need it satisfies in some millions of believers, affects our political life. And thereâ€™s no question that the simple-minded smugness and moral superiority these books have so much ofâ€”-along with blood and guns and high-tech equipment-â€”is exactly what much of the rest of the world now associates with the United States.