Stranger Things: Season One
We begin the sixth episode of Stranger Things, “The Monster,” with the question lingering in our minds, "Who or what is the monster?"
Obviously, there is the physical, literal, faceless, and predatory creature that Jonathan and Nancy decide to pursue with bear traps and hammers. Then there is the character of Brenner who, with saccharine words, tells El that she shouldn't be frightened, but rather excited to make first contact as he prepares her to descend into the water tank. There is Steve who mistakenly interprets Nancy and Jonathan's bedroom scene to be something other than it actually was, and decides to spray paint obscenities about them around town. There are the two bullies that hold Dustin at knifepoint and tell Mike to jump off the cliff near the quarry. And then there's El, who believes that she herself is the monster for having opened the gate.
Like life, this episode presents real and metaphoric monsters, and the audience is left to mull over the very idea of what a monster is. Webster presents two definitions for "monster": 1) an imaginary creature that is typically large, ugly, and frightening, and 2) an inhumanly cruel or wicked person. Interestingly, the origin of the word "monster" dates back to the Latin "monere" meaning "to warn." As multiple characters interact with each other over different issues in this episode, the idea of heeding warnings played around in my mind. How easy is it to make a quick judgment about a situation, a person or a group of people, without knowing the real truth? Conversely, and perhaps more frighteningly, sometimes real monsters can look enticing, attractive and good if we are not careful to pursue truth and understanding first.
My 11-year-old son, Aidan, and I re-watched this episode together. Afterwards, he invited me out to the hot tub where I asked him who or what he thought the monster was in the movie. At first he looked at me and said quickly, "the monster Mom!" I stayed quiet and he started to talk, "Well, I guess it could be Steve and his friends - 'cause they're always so mean... and I guess it could be the bullies that are always picking on Mike and the guys." Our daughter, Elise, soon joined us and we started discussing friendships that they have at school. Inevitably, the conversation turned to bullying and bullies - what made them act the way they did. We talked about what monsters in our lives look like and decided that they are kind of like shape-shifters, changing over time. They can have faces just like us, and sometimes we ourselves become the monsters through our actions or even the thoughts that we have.
We live in a fallen world, a world full of visible and invisible monsters, literally. Children voice fears of monsters under their beds or lurking in their closets. But really, we encounter monsters every day. At times, we might even act like monsters. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And we are cautioned, or "warned" in Scripture to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Not that we should be fearful that Jesus' work on the cross isn't sufficient or that His love isn't enduring and complete. But we need to check ourselves, look ourselves honestly in the mirror each day, confessing our sins and thanking God for His forgiveness, healing and restoration. Because of Jesus, we are not bound to the shackles of "monster-hood." We are called into the light of truth.
When we behave with reckless abandon, spray-painting libel about others (like Steve and his friends), bullying or threatening to cause emotional or physical harm to those around us (like the boys bullying Mike and his buddies), or lying through our teeth (like Brenner), we are really denying Jesus and who he wants us to be. Through the lens of the cross and Jesus' atoning death, we become beautiful in God's eyes. We are restored and made whole. There is no need to continue wearing the monster mask, because we are called to something more noble and powerful - eternal life, and a ministry on earth compelled by God's love for others.
Over the years, I have met many people who have experienced horrors too terrible to describe. Even within my own family, I have seen the destruction caused by alcohol abuse, drug addiction, divorce, mental, physical and sexual assault - all monsters of sorts that leave behind victims in their wake. I've heard people grieving over the state of our world, how evil it has become. And yet, in the recesses of my Christian heart, I know that there is a monster slayer who will conquer all evil, wipe every tear and mend every broken heart.
In the final scene of this episode, Mike steps off the edge of the cliff. Dustin and the two bullies rush to the edge to find him miraculously suspended in mid air. Mike ascends and drops to the ground. The bullies are confronted with an angry El and run away with Dustin screaming after them. El flashes back to the water tank and awakes to find Mike by her side. She is apologizing through tears and says:
El: Mike I'm sorry.
During His three-year ministry on earth, Jesus was accused of being a monster, or at least driving out demons under Beelzebul, the ruler of demons. But nothing could have been further from the truth. Jesus' response to those around Him sheds light on who He was and also warns about the true character of His accusers. Jesus addresses the Pharisees with the following words:
Mike: Sorry? What are you sorry for?
El: The gate. I opened it. I'm the monster.
Mike: No. No, El. You're not the monster. You saved me. Do you understand? You saved me.
"Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and a house divided against itself falls. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? So they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." (Luke 11: 17-20).Jesus' response should have terrified the Pharisees. He threw back at them the unsettling truth that they were, in fact, the monsters. At the hands of many monsters, Jesus went to the cross. The Pharisees didn't know that they were actually monsters. They were the teachers of the Law and should have known better. Yet they were the ones who conspired to torture and kill Jesus. Jesus knew that Satan was real. He cast out demons because of His ultimate supremacy. And while many mocked and applauded His death on the cross, His death and resurrection were the ultimate acts of sacrifice and salvation for the world. All of us are metaphorically born hanging over a chasm (like Mike). When we accept Jesus, he rescues, delivers, saves and restores us. As believers, we undergo a transformation of heart, shedding our old skin, and putting on the righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus. This is the hope we have of being born again in Christ.
- Who do you think were the monsters in this episode? Who was the scariest?
- Who are the monsters in your life?
- In what ways have you ever felt like a monster yourself? What did you do or think?
- Have you ever encountered someone who thought they were doing right, when really, they were behaving like a monster? What did they do or think?
- How does Jesus defeat monsters? What dies when we accept Jesus into our lives as Lord and Savior?
- Can a person be saved and act like a monster? Why or why not? What would Jesus say about this?
- Have you been born again? If so, in what ways have you begun to see Jesus transform your heart and mind? If not, would you like to know Jesus and accept Him as Lord and Savior of your life?
Written by Amy McKee
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