December 29, 2017

“Stranger Things” Helps Us Understand Our Dark Side

A Metaphor for Understanding Sin and Evil

By In Arts & Entertainment

Stranger Things is the result of blending the best elements of Goonies, Aliens, Ghostbusters, Gremlins, and Indiana Jones into one smash-hit TV series. Thanks to Netflix, you can go and binge watch Season 1 and 2 right now.

The show is dark and gloomy but leaves the viewer with two upsides. First, the fear factor is bound to give chills and thrills. But second and more importantly, watching Stranger Things will help bring greater understanding to our dark side. It vividly illustrates the Biblical themes of sin and evil in seven unique ways. Let’s see how.

Spoiler alert! This article contains content from Season 2 of Stranger Things.

1) Feeding sin is destructive.

Dustin, a humorous boy who plays one of the main characters, after a night of trick-or-treating, goes home and hears a noise coming from the trashcan. He finds a very small, harmless creature in it. He gently places this little cutie is his turtle’s tank and feeds him a Three Musketeers candy bar. Little does he know that nurturing this little fellow will cause it to grow exponentially and eventually eat his cat, Mews. Dart, Dustin’s name for the creature, turns into a fully-formed demogorgon creature and becomes a threat to the whole town.

What a metaphor for what we as human beings do with our sin. We see our “tiny” attitudes, behaviors, and addictions as harmless. We don’t think of them as threatening to ourselves or others. But when we actively feed ourselves with one more drink, bitter thought, or lustful fantasy the sin monster inside of us grows exponentially bigger and eventually consumes us or the people around us. We end up on the street, in the news, without a job or spouse, or at the very least battle constant fear, shame, and anxiety. That’s why the Apostle Paul says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:14).

2) Shedding sin is painful.

Will, a young boy who plays one of Dustin’s friends on the show, has to live with the Shadow Monster inside of him for much of the season. The Shadow Monster, also known as The Mind Flayer, is a tall gargantuan spider-like creature made up of a black mist. Near the end of the season, Will undergoes a painful exorcism.

This reminds me of a great scene from C.S. Lewis’s book The Great Divorce. There is a man (called a Ghost) who is under the influence of a red lizard (representing sin/evil). Read this exchange to find out what happens:

I saw coming towards us a Ghost… What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear…

‘Would you like me to make him quiet?” said the flaming Spirit—an angel, as I now understood.

“Of course I would,” said the Ghost.

“Then I will kill him,” said the Angel, taking a step forward.

“Oh-ah-look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,” said the Ghost, retreating.

“Don’t you want him killed?”

You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.”

“It’s the only way,” said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the lizard. “Shall I kill it?”…

“Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.”

“The gradual process is of no use at all.”…

“Get back! You’re burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You’d kill me if you did.”

“It is not so.”

“Why, you’re hurting me now.”

“I never said it wouldn’t hurt you. I said it wouldn’t kill you.”…

“You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.”

“Then I may?”

“Damn and blast you! Go on can’t you? Get it over. Do what you like,” bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, “God help me. God help me.”

Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken backed, on the turf.

When the scientists in Stranger Things used the flame thrower on the Shadow Monster, Will himself felt like he too was burning. Likewise, C.S. Lewis’ character felt incredible pain as the angel began to kill the red lizard sitting on his shoulder. In both stories, the “attached” antagonist is so intertwined with the character that they feel pain when the creature feels pain and think they are going to die when an attempt is made to detach or exorcise it.

This is an incredibly helpful picture of sanctification, the process of being set apart from our old sin nature that is still under the influence of evil. In order to find healing and restoration, an addict must go through a grueling detox process that involves sweating, headaches, withdrawals, emotional turmoil, and feeling like they are going to suffer more or even die without the substance. However, the detox process is not isolated to alcoholics or porn addicts. The shedding of sin and the accompanying pain of detoxing is the normative process for everyone with a sin nature.

The Apostle Paul said, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24). A.W. Tozer adds that the process of saying no to sin can feel like a crucifixion. When our sin is being crucified, we too feel like our soul is being crucified.

Will, in the exorcism scene, thought he was going to die when his family turned up all the space heaters and tied him to a bed (they did this because heat was the Shadow Monster’s weakness). But, the fire didn’t kill him, it saved him. All of us in sanctification undergo the same refining process as Will. The Lord in Malachi 3:2 is described as a refiner’s fire – a fire that does not consume, but refines.

John Piper elaborates,

“A refiner’s fire does not destroy indiscriminately like a forest fire. A refiner’s fire does not consume completely like the fire of an incinerator. A refiner’s fire refines. It purifies. It melts down the bar of silver or gold, separates out the impurities that ruin its value, burns them up, and leaves the silver and gold intact. He is like a refiner’s fire.”

The bad news is that shedding our sin always involves some level of pain just as Will experienced in the show. But the good news is that we will be refined, not consumed. 

3) Visions help us to see evil more clearly.

One day Will and his buddies went to the Palace Arcade to play some games. While his friends began arguing with the store manager, Will received a vision while he was awake. It was a vision of the Upside Down world. He walked outside the arcade, saw a red storm raging in the sky, and a horrific howl. The next evening, in the middle of the night during a bathroom break, Will walked out of his home when the door flung open and he saw the silhouette of the Shadow Monster.

Though this vision was terrifying to experience, Will had an advantage over everyone else in the town. His eyes were opened to another realm of existence and therefore he was able to identify the antagonist in that realm. In the physical world of the show, crops were being destroyed and people were going missing. No one knew why. But Will could see the enemy behind the curtain that was the root cause of all their problems.

When Jesus was speaking with his disciples one day he shocked them by saying, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). In saying that, Jesus was making the claim that He could see things in the “other world” that we can’t see.

Surprisingly, God has decided to graciously give his followers dreams and visions of an “other world.” Jacob saw a ladder going up to heaven with angels ascending and descending (Gen. 28:12). Isaiah saw a vision of the Lord sitting on the throne (Isa. 6:1). Stephen had a vision of Jesus standing on the right hand of God (Acts 7:55). The book of Revelation is a vision that John received from God which contains its own Shadow Monster called “The Beast.”

The advantages of the visions in Stranger Things and the Bible are the same – to reveal what’s going on behind the scenes so that we can understand reality and live in light of that reality.

4) Evil is a spiritual enemy that inhabits the physical world.

The ginormous Shadow Monster was made up of a black mist. We aren’t sure if this creature had any solid elements. However, we do know that part of the monster went into Will Byers and possessed him. It forced Will to lie in order to kill a group of good soldiers. The Shadow Monster also telepathically commanded its demodog army to kill and destroy humans.

The big idea is that the Shadow Monster accomplished its plans and purposes through inhabiting physical beings. This is not so different from Satan (the Bible’s antagonist) and the way he works. Similar to Will’s possession in the show, Satan in real life sometimes chooses to possess human beings in similar fashion like the demoniac in Mark 5. But even more subtly and dangerously, Satan chooses to use people you’d least expect. As the Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 14-15, “…for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.”

It was much more effective for the Shadow Monster to use a young boy like Will to accomplish his purposes than it was to roam around scaring the daylights out of everyone. Similarly, Satan chooses to use the unsuspecting, even those disguised as good religious men and women, in an attempt to thwart God’s plans.

That’s why the Apostle Paul warned, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

Therefore, though evil manifests itself in the physical world, we don’t get rid of evil through physical means, but through spiritual weapons and divine power.

5) Defeating evil requires belief.

I think it’s appalling that people who don’t believe in God can binge watch this show and not begin to wonder why there is a disconnect between what their heart wants to believe and what they actually believe. How could someone be absolutely enthralled with the Upside Down world in the show and yet disbelieve that one could exist in our lives? Doesn’t our ability to dream up of a supernatural world provide good evidence that one already exists?

Why does belief in the supernatural matter? Every day in our world, we experience real evil and pain. But, rather than acknowledging that something is going on spiritually, people will pass it off as something else. In the show, Will continued to have visions of the Upside Down for one year after he was rescued from it. He was taken to Dr. Owens at Hawkins Lab for evaluation and the doctor thought Will was simply experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. In his case and in ours, if there is no belief in evil our pain will continue to be minimized, misdiagnosed, and mistreated. Defeating evil requires belief in evil. 

6) Defeating evil requires outside intervention.

Embracing a rational Christianity without the supernatural would be of no help to us. Just as Will was not able to be healed through regular doctors or modern science, we too won’t be spiritually healed through those means. If evil does exist, and it does, then we need a Christianity with signs and wonders, miracles, and an omnipotent God. We need outside intervention. That’s why prayer is our greatest weapon. It calls upon a powerful Savior to defeat a powerful enemy. Prayer is our means of wielding divine power in our Upside Down world.

Just as Will depended upon Eleven, the young girl he befriends with miraculous powers, to defeat the Shadow Monster, we too depend on Jesus Christ. Will and his family were in total desperation all season trying to get help. No one knew what to do. No one knew how to get the Shadow Monster out. But in the end, it was Eleven who closed the gate to the Upside Down world with her supernatural power and was nearly killed doing it.

Our Eleven, Jesus Christ, was killed at the hands of evil men at the cross but he rose from the dead, chained Satan up, and promises to one day throw him into the lake of fire and shut the gate between heaven and hell for good.

7) Evil is less scary the more you understand it.

Matt Duffer, one of the Duffer brothers who developed Stranger Things, in an interview on the Daily Beast, said he believes that the supernatural elements are “scarier when you don’t fully understand it. The more that you reveal and the more you comprehend, the less scary it gets.”

What Duffer believes is true about the show is also true of the Christian life. When we understand how the antagonist in our story works – who he is, who he uses, what means he uses to accomplish his plans, and the limitations of his power – he begins to get less frightening. Similarly, we need a rich understanding of the God of the Bible. As we grow in our comprehension of who he is, the power he has, and the end of the story he’s written we can walk in peace, assurance, and victory.