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.┬áHe 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

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