Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thoughts on Christian Horror: The Wages of Sin

Is there such a thing as Christian horror? Can Christians write horror stories, or is horror always a bad thing? In this series, I am exploring those questions.

Horror can be useful as a way to tell cautionary tales. Don’t commit sins, or they may consume you--literally. Don’t abuse the environment that God gave us, or it might abuse us in return. Don’t ignore or lack discernment about the evils of the world, or they will rip your pretty little whitewashed world to shreds and destroy you.

The Bible says that the wages of sin is death. That is a sobering reality. Every sin, no matter how small, would ultimately lead to death and eternal damnation in hell if God did not intervene. And every sin, whether or not the person sees the consequences on this earth, causes harm. The fact that sin exists at all has twisted the world and filled it with evil things, many of which bring death.

Horror gives Christian authors the opportunity to explore this frightening fact in light of the truth that is revealed in the Bible. Some specific possibilities are:

- A man who commits adultery can discover that his mistress is a vampire who is sucking the life out of his flesh just as his sin is sucking the life out of his spirit.

- A businessman on a camping trip can be hunted by a ravenous mutant creature he unintentionally created by pushing his company to illegally dump toxic waste into a lake.

- A man could sell his soul to the devil to become president, but then see the country collapse under his diabolical policies, with him being killed by a mob of demon-possessed citizens.

- Neglectful parents could send their children to a school where the principle runs it like a cult and begins taking over their children’s minds.

The possibilities are nearly endless.

While simply showing the wages of sin is sometimes enough to make a story effective, in general it’s best to explore the Bible’s joyful conclusion: The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23). Don’t just focus on the perils of evil. Also show redemption.

To continue with the examples I gave before, a man can break free of adultery before it kills him and become a good husband. A businessman can be changed by his experiences with the consequences of his reckless behavior and be environmentally responsible. An unscrupulous vice president can learn to have unshakable principles based on the Bible. Parents who neglect their children can be forced to nearly give their lives for their children and learn to protect them as God intended.

All of us make mistakes, and all of us need God’s help to survive, change, and do better. Christian horror can warn us of sinful mistakes and their consequences, while also showing us that Jesus and the salvation He brings will help us overcome the dark things of this world. Do you agree?

The next article in the Thoughts on Christian Horror series: The Villains of Horror

The previous article in the Thoughts on Christian Horror series: Five Ways to Use Fear

Friday, June 21, 2013

Book Review: The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald

A bit of time has passed since a young miner rescued a princess from an underground kingdom of goblins, and since then, the miner’s morality has begun to slip. An encounter with a mystical woman from his past sets him back on the right path, and she sends him on a quest to help the king. The strange threats he encounters, and the yet stranger allies that join him, will change his life even more than rescuing a princess.

Despite being a sequel to the excellent The Princess and the Goblin, which I reviewed last week, the two books are quite different in tone, perhaps partly due to this one being written more than a decade after the first. Where the previous book was a fun fantasy adventure, this book is darker and occasionally grim. It is not as well-written as the first book, and rambles about more, with the scattered good ideas it has, such as some unique monsters, not being enough to make it a classic. Fans of the first book will likely be disappointed.

There is some mild violence and scariness. It has more weird ideas and mysticism than the first book. Like the first book, it should be fine for anyone old enough to read The Chronicles of Narnia, though the dark tone might bother some children.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Book Review: The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

After the death of her mother, a young princess lives on a country estate while the king travels around his kingdom helping his subjects. The king thinks his daughter is safe, but the goblins who live under a mountain near the estate have long wanted to take revenge on the king for something done to their ancestors. As they scheme about how to kidnap the princess, a young miner stumbles onto their plans while mining in the mountain, and he may be the only one who can save the princess and many others from the goblins.

This is one of the best fantasy novels that was written before The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. It has monsters planning evil deeds, colorful settings, some unique fantastical ideas, vivid characters, and a fast paced story. Perhaps a good way to describe it is as a novel length fairy tale. A few silly ideas involving the goblins fall flat, but other than that, it holds up well. While the story is fairly simple, the author found ways to give it quite a bit of depth, and weaves in a variety of original touches, bringing the story to life and making it worth reading for any fan of classic fantasy.

There is a bit of mild violence and scariness involving the goblins. It has a few weird ideas, some of them involving mysticism. Anyone old enough to read The Chronicles of Narnia should be fine with it.

I've also reviewed the sequel, The Princess and Curdie.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Thoughts on Christian Horror: Five Ways to Use Fear

Is there such a thing as Christian horror? Can Christians write horror stories, or is horror always a bad thing? In this series, I am exploring those questions.

The horror genre is meant to inspire fear. Fear of hideous creatures on the hunt. Fear of supernatural attackers. Fear of the serial killer who might live next door. Can inspiring fear ever be a good thing?

Horror tends to focus on using fear to thrill readers, allowing them to feel the excitement of dark and twisted things without actually experiencing them. Many horror authors and filmmakers like to exploit this to its fullest, often managing to find new devious ways to entertain horror fans.

The horror genre can easily veer into excess, with graphic violence and sadistic ideas which promote empty sickening thrills and dark worldviews. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Christian authors can also use horror to promote good kinds of fear.

You might be wondering: How can fear be good? I’ve thought of five ways that using fear in stories can be good.

#1 Fear of the Lord

For Christians, the fear of the Lord is more a reverent fear than terror, but it is fear none-the-less. For unbelievers, especially those who commit the worst sins imaginable, the wrath of God and His punishment of such sinners will be a fearsome thing with nothing to temper it. Think of God bringing the plagues upon Egypt and finally drowning the Egyptians who pursued the Israelites in the Red Sea. Christian horror can teach people the fear of the Lord by showing aspects of His holiness, power, love, and judgment.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. -- Psalm 111:10a

#2 Fear of the Wages of Sin

Sin is something to fear. If we are Christians, we do not have to fear sin damning our souls to hell for all eternity, for Jesus has saved us. But for those who are unsaved, their sin will destroy them and drag them down to hellfire and brimstone. And for everyone, saved or unsaved, the world groans as the results of sin cause disease and crime and death. Christians who sin can bring down terrible harm upon themselves, even though their souls will ultimately be saved.

The all-too-real horror of families torn apart by alcoholism is but one of many sins to fear. Reminding people of the wages of sin is important, and since it offers many potential ideas for Christian horror authors, I will probably explore that topic in greater detail in the next article in this series.

The wages of sin is death. -- Romans 6:23a

#3 Fear of Hell

Hell is a troubling thought, even to the Christians who are saved from it. It is a place of eternal torment, where sinners suffer without end. The fear of hell and the judgment of God can help point the lost to salvation, while Christians can be reassured that they need not fear hell, since they are saved through the blood of Christ.

If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. -- Revelation 20:15

#4 Fear of Dark Forces

Many people struggle with anxiety in their daily lives. Murderers, monsters, demons, sharks, hurricanes, diseases, and many other scary things can be effective tools to encourage people to trust in God instead of being afraid, by showing people overcoming these dangers with God's help.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. -- Psalm 23:4a

#5 Fear of Foolishness

Just as seeing someone get burned will likely teach a child not to touch a fire, seeing someone reap the dark consequences of foolish behavior is a good way to warn people away from such behavior. Foolishness leads people to do many destructive things in real life, and horror can help remind them to be wise and therefore safer. Proverbs, in the Bible, warns of many horrific things that happen to those who live foolishly.

The simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them. -- Proverbs 1:32

When Jesus spoke in parables, many of them could be considered horror stories, since He used fear to warn the listeners away from various evils. His stories often involved a sinner being sent to hell or executed for evil deeds.

Jesus was not doing this to thrill the listeners. He was telling them these things out of love, encouraging them to turn away from the darkness that would devour them and look to the light that would save them.

And that is what horror should do: Use fear to warn people about the dark things of the world, and remind them to look to the light. Jesus is mighty beyond our comprehension, and He can overcome sin, hell, dark forces, and foolishness, if we will repent and look to Him. Do you agree?

Can you think of other ways that fear can be used for good?

The next article in the Thoughts on Christian Horror series: The Wages of Sin

The previous article in the Thoughts on Christian Horror series: Living in a Nightmare