Horror Movies and a Little Theology of Fear

Today is Halloween, an observance when much of our society celebrates fear, evil, darkness, and the paranormal/supernatural. While children dress up to rake in candy, many teens and adults search for the next scare. Hollywood obliges this year with these movies and themes: “Silent Hill: Revelation 3D” (demonic world), “Paranormal Activity 4” (demonic possession), “Sinister” (supernatural killer), “VHS” (gore, abandoned house), “#holdyourbreath” (serial killer and possession), and “Smiley” (serial killer). How lovely!

The Theology of Horror

When “The Blair Witch Project” came out (1999), I went to see what all the hype was about. The movie did a great job of creating an overwhelming sense of dread and fear. You never really saw or understood what was happening. All you saw were the fearful reactions of the victims as they eventually succumbed to an unseen evil. It was spooky and effective. It was the first time after a movie that I ever looked around the parking lot carefully before heading toward my car. Once in my car, I stopped to think about why I would be scared. Then it hit me, in the “Blair Witch Project” there was no God. It had lured me into creepy forest away from His light and truth.

This same theological assumption is the basis for fear in most scary movies: “There is no good God that can help you.” Evil is unrestrained, unstoppable (Jason, Michael, Freddy), and unredeemable. The unwitting victims are left alone in an uncaring universe. Most of them die. Look at the tag line from this year’s “Sinister”: “Once you’ve seen him, nothing can save you.” It is the absence of God that creates terror.

Healthy Fear (of God)

The Bible assumes that fear is a natural human reaction to the unknown and even the supernatural. When angels appear in the Bible, their first words to quivering humans are usually, “fear not.” Fearing God is a good thing. He is the judge of all people. His ways are often inscrutable. And His commands are absolute. Sometimes, we get so comfortable with our grandfatherly images of God that we forget He is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). The writer of Hebrews reminds us that it is a bad idea to keep on sinning after knowing the truth: “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:30-31)

Paralyzed No More

But this kind of reverential fear is far from what horror movies exploit. There the fear is of evil (not the holiness of a righteous God), uncertainty (not a sure judgment), helplessness (not God’s omnipotence), and being alone (not the continual presence of God). Horror movie fear paralyzes. Fear of God motivates us to change our direction back to Him. Proverbs 1:7 says “the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge.”

Still, God does not leave us paralyzed by earthly fears. He restrains evil, and Satan will not win. Jesus casts out the demonic. They have no authority over Him. He guides our future. He is always with us. He loves us more than we deserve or can understand. These are the truths that drive out the paralyzing fear. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” 1 John 4:18

So, let’s walk away from those earthly fears fueled by Hollywood. (After my revelation about the theology of “Blair Witch Project,” I have not seen any more horror movies.) But, let’s recover a healthy fear of our Creator and Judge.

“I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” Jesus in Luke 12:4-5

Twelve Young Men

This year I got to serve as head coach and offensive coordinator for a 5th-6th grade boys flag football team, the Chargers. This was part of the great Upward league at First Baptist of Smyrna, GA. (They do a tremendous job with their Upward leagues!) It was my first season coaching football. As we gathered together for our team’s send-off celebration, I wanted to give them something that lasted beyond the memories of games and practices. Throughout the season, we challenged our twelve boys to become “men built for others” and to be ready for the “next play.” Here is the poem that I write and my wife framed for each player. Hopefully it is an encouragement for them (and you!) through the many “next plays” in their lives.

(I fully admit that poetry is something in which I only dabble. Constructive comments appreciated, but be kind.)

Once there were twelve young men
They walked with Jesus as He taught and served in Israel
They learned to give their best, to love each other, and to keep going when things got tough
Things did not always go as they expected
Despite times of victory, they experienced difficulty and loss
But Jesus promised to be with them, always
Even when He died, He kept His promise to return to give eternal life
Instead of defeat they found true victory in Him
After their time together He sent them out to serve others in His name
They turned the world upside down.

Once there were twelve young men
They played flag football for the Chargers in Smyrna, Georgia
They learned to give their best, to love each other, and to keep going when things got tough
Things did not always go as they expected
Despite times of victory, they experienced difficulty and loss
Still Jesus promises to be with them, always
Even though He died, He lives again offering the promise of eternal life
Instead of defeat they can choose true victory in Him
After our time together, we are sending you out to serve others in His name
Will you turn the world upside down?

Trust Jesus; live as a man for others; make a difference. Go, Chargers!

Navigating the Corn Maze of Life – Psalms Project: Psalm 119

Last weekend, I took our ten year old son, Aidan, to Reece’s Corn Maze — at night! This corn maze is an orienteering challenge. It actually consists of two mazes — a smaller, less complicated one and the big one (the man/cross/guitar above was the smaller one; the horse was the larger one). The owners provided the map above with six marked stations. To complete the challenge, you must collect the specially shaped hole punches from each station.

Going at night added to the challenge. There are no lights in the maze. Thankfully, they provided a flashlight for us. With the map and the flashlight, Aidan and I were able to navigate to all of the stations in both mazes in a little less than 2 hours. We did not get lost or make any wrong turns. Aidan did most of the navigating in the smaller maze, but yielded to me once we really got into the larger one. After completing the challenge, I asked Aidan one of my favorite parent questions: “what did we learn about life from that?” Here is what we came up with:

The Map is Indispensable
Without the map, we would have no idea where to start, where we were, where the stations were, or how to get anywhere. The map was essential to completing the challenge. We had to rely on it for every decision and direction. The maze of life also requires a map from its Creator. Psalm 119, the longest chapter of the Bible, repeatedly declares that God’s Word is the map for life:

How blessed are those whose way is blameless,
Who walk in the law of the Lord.
How blessed are those who observe His testimonies,
Who seek Him with all their heart.
They also do no unrighteousness;
They walk in His ways. Psalm 119:1-3

Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes,
And I shall observe it to the end.
Make me walk in the path of Your commandments,
For I delight in it. Psalm 119:33, 35

The Map is Useless Without Light
A few times we turned off the flashlight to get a sense of how dark it was and how lost we could have gotten. Without the light, we couldn’t see the map or any of the possible directions to go. All we could do is stumble about and feel with our hands. Completing the maze would have been an impossible task. Even just getting out would have been very difficult. In life, though, there are so many who try to live without light. They stumble and fall and wonder why. The truth is that life  without God and His Word IS darkness. We need God to light our way. Psalm 119 says it like this:

 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)

But it is not just the printed word that gives us light. Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, is our Light:

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12

Beware the Overgrown Path
Some passages we could choose had weeds or fallen stalks that partially blocked the way. Often, we could choose the right way by taking the more obviously worn path. Many had found the right path before us. However, there was one time when we took the less-traveled path because, according to the map, it was the right way. We trusted the map and took the path anyway and got to our next station. So, there was a double lesson here. Sometimes it is wise to follow where others have gone before. Yet, when the map clearly takes you off the worn path, trust the map. Psalm 119 expresses a similar double truth: we are companions of all who fear the Lord; yet we must confidently follow God’s path even when it leads through darkness and traps.

I considered my ways
And turned my feet to Your testimonies.
I hastened and did not delay
To keep Your commandments.
The cords of the wicked have encircled me,
But I have not forgotten Your law.
At midnight I shall rise to give thanks to You
Because of Your righteous ordinances.
I am a companion of all those who fear You,
And of those who keep Your precepts. Psalm 119:59-63

No matter where you find yourself in the corn maze of life today, God can make a way for you. Take hold of His Word (the map), and let Jesus light your way.

More from the Psalms Project:

Finding Rest in the Midst of Crisis – Psalm 3
From Venus to God – Psalm 19

So-Called “Three-Parent IVF” is a Bad Idea, Medically and Theologically, (Part 2)

In part one, I discussed the medical background and risks of a potential IVF treatment for certain mitochondrial diseases. In this final part, I will explain the theological problems the procedure presents.

God is the Author of Life
In Acts 3:15, Peter calls Jesus the Author (or Prince) of life. The word translated as author/prince is “archegos,” which comes from a root meaning “first,” “source,” “head,” or “ruler.” It is used of military leaders, city founders, or originators/authors. Jesus is also the “archegos” of our salvation in Hebrews 2:10 and the “archegos” of our faith in Hebrews 12:2. It is God (through Jesus) who created life. He is still the Creator, and life is His most extravagant creation. It is usurping His position, then, to assert our own right to create life (according to our image and wisdom) as this procedure attempts to do. Quite simply it is overstepping our bounds. The Bible calls this crossing of the line “transgression,” one of its word pictures for sin.

The Scriptures are full of examples of God’s power to give life. From Abraham’s and Sarah’s son born in their old age (Isaac), to Hannah’s son, Samuel, to the birth of John to Zechariah and Elizabeth in their old age, to the virgin birth of Jesus to Mary, to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, there is no denying God’s miraculous power to give life. Melanie and I have also experienced this miraculous power. After years of infertility, God stepped in and brought life to us — not when we thought it was best, but when He knew it was best. (We really thought it was the worst possible time, but that is a story for another day.) We did not need IVF; we just needed to trust God to be Author of life. He gave us our first born son, Aidan, and our parenting journey began.

God is the Authority Over Life
The additional meanings of “archegos” teach us that Jesus (who is God) is not just the source of the beginning of life; He is also the authority (or captain) over life. The context of Acts 3:15 sheds important light on this. Peter was explaining the healing of a lame beggar outside the Temple. He had been lame since birth, yet God had a marvelous plan for his life. In the name of Jesus, Peter and John brought complete healing to this man to the amazement of all who had seen him lame for years. As Peter explained that the risen Jesus was the power behind the miracle, they proclaimed Jesus (the one the Jews had killed) as the Author of life. This was vividly demonstrated by the indisputable healing of the beggar. Who are we, then, to say that God has no plan for those who suffer from disease? While certainly there is room for us to relieve suffering and offer healing, it is not our purview to try and eliminate suffering as if we were the masters over life. There is great value in suffering that today’s quick fix culture fails to consider. Even in disease and suffering, God is still good. It is in our suffering that we can truly experience His goodness.

God in Our Lives
We have also experienced this first hand. Gwendolyn suffers having an incurable mitochondrial disease. For years, she had dozens to hundreds of seizures per day. Now she does not sit on her own or talk on her own or lots of other things that an eight year old girl should do. We suffer to care for her and provide for her. Her schedule is draining. We deal with therapists and doctors and special education teachers and insurance and medical supply companies and all manner of difficulties (even churches that won’t help). And, yet, we see great good in our journey. Without Gwendolyn, we would never have understood compassion as we do now. We wouldn’t know as much about selfless love. And we would not have known how sweet a personality can shine through even without words without having Gwendolyn. We do not understand all that God is doing, but we have found that He is good. He is the Authority over life.

Our trust of God as the Author and Authority over life was tested again in the birth of Lincoln, our youngest. Science said that we would have a 25% chance of having another child like Gwendolyn. There is no random chance with God, though. We trusted Him that whatever He chose to do would be good and right. Even after a miscarriage, we trusted God as the Author of life. And he blessed us with a great little boy. Lincoln has no symptoms of mitochondrial disease and is a joy to our whole family.

So, this so-called “three-parent IVF” process is medically perilous (part one) and an affront to the Author of life. The researchers should walk away from it now.

SOURCE
archo” article in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

So-Called “Three-Parent IVF” is a Bad Idea, Medically and Theologically (Part 1)

Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre at Newcastle University in England are trying to win government approval for a new in-vitro fertilization (IVF) technique to supposedly eliminate some mitochondrial diseases from being passed from mother to child. Sensational headlines are calling this “three-parent IVF” or “designer babies.” You might wonder why I am tackling this topic on a Bible blog. This is actually is a perfect opportunity for some theology practice. Biblical knowledge has to be applied to the problems of today, or it is just trivia.

Medical Facts
We receive two kinds of DNA at conception. Nuclear DNA (over 3.3 billion base pairs) comes equally from mom and dad. Each cell has one copy of this genetic blueprint. We also receive mitochondrial DNA (16,569 base pairs), but this comes only from mom. Since we have lots of mitochondria in each cell, there are lots of copies of the mtDNA in each cell. According to the best theories of researchers, mtDNA is only involved in the process of turning sugars (or fats) into energy. They do not think it has any impact on identifiable characteristics (height, eye color, etc.).

The IVF procedure under consideration fertilizes an egg from the mom with a known mtDNA defect with sperm from dad. The nucleus of the fertilized egg is then transplanted into the “hollowed out” egg from a woman who has no known mtDNA defect. The resulting child, then, has nuclear DNA from mom and dad and the mtDNA from a second woman. It is true that the mtDNA is just 0.1% of the total nuclear material. It is stretching the facts to declare the second woman a second mother. (However, the legal and ethical issues surrounding the recipient’s notification and donor’s rights would have to be addressed.)

Medically Unsound
Despite the small percentage of total genetic material being replaced, I think this is a very risky medical option that may not even be needed. Most mitochondrial diseases (75%) are linked to something other than mtDNA defects (nuclear DNA, environmental factors, etc.). This procedure would not avoid any of these causes. Even a known mtDNA defect does not guarantee that a mom’s children will exhibit symptoms. One defect, called LHON, causes severe vision problems. But it only occurs in 50% of boys and 10% of girls with an affected mother.

Secondly, researchers do not know every mtDNA mutation that might cause a mitochondria-related disease. A mtDNA transplant would not guarantee perfectly healthy mtDNA. An unidentified defect might be passed along from the donor. Researchers also do not understand all the complex interactions of nuclear DNA with mtDNA. It is clear that in most cases of mitochondrial disease (not maternally inherited), some nuclear genes are involved. Replacing the mom’s mtDNA with another woman’s mtDNA brings the risk of actually causing new problems because of the unknown interactions between nuclear DNA and mtDNA. (UPDATE: This recent research demonstrates how a single gene defect in the nucleus or mitochondria may not cause a problem, but the combination does.)

I admit, I am not a doctor or genetic specialist. However, as an educated layman, there are so many unknowns and uncertainties that the risk seems unjustified. Hurting families should not be test cases, especially when there are clearly superior options, such as adoption or even trusting God.

Personal Background
Why am I singling out this procedure for examination? Our daughter Gwendolyn has a mitochondrial disease. We have had to learn about mitochondrial diseases and genetics. We have had to make decisions weighing medical science against faith. Gwendolyn’s exact genetic diagnosis is still unknown, but it suspected to be autosomal recessive (coming as a combination of nuclear genes from mom and dad). They have not found a specific defect in her mtDNA (which came from Melanie). This type of inheritance implies a 25% risk for us having another child with all of Gwendolyn’s severe symptoms.

In part two, I look at the theological problems with this procedure…

SOURCES
mtDNA and Mitochondrial Diseases
“Mitochondrial Disease Inheritance and Genetics
And three make the perfect baby
“Three-Parent IVF Could Reduce Disease, But Stirs Debate
Ethics debate opens into ‘three-parent’ IVF technique
Mitochondria vs Nucleus