Like many in the Christian world, at least the American Christian world, I followed the lead of the “Left Behind” end-times novels and let that series define what I believed about the end of the world. And why wouldn’t we believe something so obvious? There was Scripture to back it up, it was told by a big name pastor, whose name got even bigger after he the books appeared, and it was crafted by a professional writer. Seems like a success all around, right? Certainly a financial success, at any rate: They sold over 81 million of those books. Oddly enough, however, no successful movie series has yet been made.
When I decided to write my own end-times novel series, I fully expected it to fall into theological line with “Left Behind.” But a strange thing happened: My characters simply would not cooperate. If you are not a writer, that probably sounds ridiculous – the characters do whatever the author tells them to … don’t they?
Well, ah, um, er … no, they don’t. At least they don’t do that if they are realistic characters. Realistic characters have interactions with one another (plot), and who they are determines how those interactions go. The author can force the characters to have whatever interactions he or she wants them to have. What the author can’t force is realistic interactions by characters who are realistic people. I gave up trying to force compliance early on and threw out that writing. Then I went back and let them determine their own interactions, which revealed who they were, and the first book began to write itself. Then the second. And the third. It has continued on through the series. “Left Behind” it is not, theologically or artistically.
At that point, I knew I had to let the characters who had appeared continue the story as they saw fit. I simply transcribed what they did and thought. That’s why the term “writer” may be more descriptive than author, especially when the characters appear out of nowhere. It also makes the writing fun; I, too, must let the characters tell the story.
Throughout my life I had listened to enough sermons and participated in enough Bible studies that I felt confident in calling a halt to the story if it contradicted the Bible. Some of the interpretations were new to me, but none went off the theological rails that I had always respected.
But then, of course, came the writing about the era we are now in: The end times. The biggest problem was that the Bible did not record God as being hesitant to enter into battle on behalf of His people. In fact, God (and His Children) seemed to win every battle He entered into. Therefore, it seemed very unusual – out of character – for God to not confront evil when it plagued His Children.
Even so, the “Left Behind” narrative depicted God as rescuing the church through a supernatural rapture, and leaving all who did not have the Gospel to fend for themselves against the powers of darkness (that won’t be pretty). That narrative also ignored the book of Joel. While a minor prophetic book, is not an insignificant one. I decided to go there, and that is where I am writing now. Some refer to this as the billion-soul harvest. Is it consistent with God’s character to ignore a billion people who have never had the chance to hear the Gospel and let Satan become their god? It just does not compute for me.
One thing that does compute for me, however, is that Satan has been trying to move God’s timetable forward, so he can bring in the Tribulation early. To many this is scary stuff. It means that Jesus is not coming to rescue a church cowering in the basement, but a triumphant church that took its God-given authority over the devil and refused to let the end-times harvest of souls evaporate because the devil claimed all those people.
What does sound plausible to me, however, is that the church rediscovers who the Bride of Christ really is, and the power she possesses in His name, The devil gets his ass kicked by the nonessential (government COVID talk) church, and he starts the tribulation woke and broke. Unsaved humanity then has a choice to make: With the church gone, will they continue governing and living as they did during the wonderful time when the church was all present, accounted for and in charge, or will they toss that aside and give Satan what he wants, which is the world? Put another way, does unsaved humanity prefer God’s government, or Satan’s government? They will have the opportunity to choose.
Not only does this make a better end-times novel series, it also makes a better end-times reality. A billion human beings receive the Gospel; the world that the church built on earth proves to be far superior to what Satan can construct over it; Satan receives the ignoble defeat he so much deserves as the deceiver of the brethren; and Hell receives its own, which is the devil and his angels, and the evil people aligned with Satan.
I’m betting that God is not going to ignore the souls of a billion people whom Jesus died to save, just because we liked the “Left Behind” story.
craigemcmillan.com – home of the Armageddon Story novel series.
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