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Light Shining in a Dark Place

I like scary stories, in case you couldn’t already tell. I believe George MacDonald was correct that we are to “make righteous use of the element of horror.” I recently had the honor and privilege of fleshing out these ideas a bit in a new book called Light Shining in a Dark Place: Discovering Theology in Film. This was a fun book to contribute to, because I got to write about one of my all-time favorite films: Poltergeist. The last two years at Hutchmoot, I’ve tried to sneak a reference to the spiritual metaphors in Poltergeist into my talks, and haven’t had the time for it. (I’m talking with Andrew about “Tales of the Fall” this year, so perhaps third time’s the charm.)

Here’s just one paragraph from my essay, “The Parable of the Poltergeist:”

Here we’ve come to the real truth-telling value of the horror genre. We can do everything in our power to mask the Fall, to create an illusion of safety and tranquility. But underneath it all, the terror of our rebellion against God and its consequences remains. Nothing symbolizes this better than death, which is why the horror of Poltergeist culminates in dead bodies coming up from the ground. As the perfect, pristine house is destroyed in a supernatural explosion, the lies they formerly believed about the world come undone: The world is not predictable. It is not safe. It is not peaceful. Even those who believe in Christ are risen from the dead. “You were dead,” St. Paul reminds us. And if that weren’t enough, our sinful nature still wages war against us (Galatians 5). The destruction of the Freelings’ house by the supernatural dead tells a much truer story than the image of the tranquil neighborhood which opened the film.

It’s not October yet, which is when this subject is perhaps more seasonally appropriate, but I might as well take the release of this book and the subject matter of my essay to ask the question: What’s your favorite scary movie? And perhaps even more importantly: What truth does it tell?


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