Idol Chatter

God is immanent. This means that, while still being distinct, He is within everything—the trees, the sky, animals, plant life, and even us.

But can we find God in the horror genre? Is the depiction of personified evil useful for Christians?

Like many things in life, we have to use our gift of discernment. Fortunately, God gave us minds capable of such feats!

Horror has a bad reputation in the Christian community—worse than any other genre, in fact. The conventions of horror, on the surface, seem to consist of everything scripture warns followers to avoid—things like the occult, malevolent spirits, murder, torture and the demonic.

Many Christians cite Philippians 4:8 when confronted with such depictions. In this verse, Paul writes, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

But we have to consider something here. In addition to all else, Paul says to think on whatever is true. And sometimes, the truth is not beautiful. Sometimes it is ugly. Sometimes it is frightening. Sometimes, it has visage of a monster.

The depiction of evil, whether it is personified in a monster, a demon, a human murderer, or a force of nature, shows us just that side of the truth. There are many instances in the Bible that would make great horror novels or films. There are monsters and demons and horrific deaths. There are sorcerers and evil kings and horrific curses that turn entire bodies of water into blood. These things, too, are truth.

And this is what the horror genre can do for us. Sometimes, a Christian might need to be shocked out of his or her stupor, and be brought face to face with the reality of evil.

“The Conjuring,” for instance, a 2013 supernatural horror film, brings viewers into a home that is infested with a disembodied evil presence. The movie is horrifying—one of the most effective scary films of the decade. Yet, for those who are able to discern the good in the horrific, it is a treasure.

The film correctly shows audiences how crafty spiritual evil can be, opening with a mini-story about a possessed doll. The doll whispers to the inhabitants of a house, claiming to be inhabited by the spirit of a deceased little girl who merely wanted a friend. But once the human inhabitants accept the spirit into their home, horrible things begin to happen—the spirit is a demon, and its ultimate intent is possession through the emotional breaking down of a chosen person.

Fortunately, the film’s protagonists intervene, and all is well. Faith, in “The Conjuring,” is treated with reverence, and given the appropriate amount of power. Never once do the protagonists claim to be able to get rid of spiritual evil by themselves—it’s all through the power of God, which conquers all, and as such, the film ends on an unusually positive note for a horror.

The problem with horror, though, is the same problem that plagues all genres of entertainment. Its ranks are filled with unredemptive content. Far too many novels, films, and games in the genre glorify evil rather than simply depicting it as it is.

Herein lies the power of discernment. Some works of horror—the majority—contain themes which runs counter to the truth. They leave audiences feeling like evil has already won, that we’re powerless and friendless in an uncaring universe, or that evil is attractive and empowering.

The key to discerning lies in examining theme, not content. Just because a movie contains a vampire does not mean that we should avoid it. The content, largely, is irrelevant.

If that movie depicts this vampire as someone to be emulated, someone to look up to, and then shows it murdering, committing sexual sin, and terrorizing human beings, then that movie should be avoided. It has no redemptive value.

But if this film shows a vampire struggling against an evil nature—with that struggle depicted as the action to emulate—there is redemptive quality. Even if the creature is a bloodthirsty monster, if the film depicts its actions as undesirable, that is still redemptive. We must look beyond the surface to truly evaluate this medium—to find God in horror.

This isn’t to say that this genre is for everyone. Some are naturally inclined toward processing horror, toward being able to take away what is good without lasting fear. But with others, that fear will remain long afterward, tormenting them. It is the job of those Christians who are made to withstand that fear to translate what they have learned, refine it into wisdom, and bring it back to the rest of us.

God is in everything. He is in the grass. He is in the winds. He is in our arts. And He is certainly capable of teaching us vital truths through the scariest part of our arts—the horror genre.

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