About Horror and Hope
My purpose for this series had been to write fictional horror stories based off of scenes from the Old Testament, so that we would see their truths afresh. It’s very easy for us to become over-familiar with things, such that we lose the details that make a story so impactful. Of course, choosing the horror genre raises some questions. People will often ask me why I, as a Christian, like the horror genre. One day I’ll give a more complete answer to this, but one reason is that horror, unlike any other genre, shows us the reality of sin. In fact, the Bible itself uses horror to show us the reality of sin and the need for a Savior. Horror is, after all, the result of rightly seeing humanity’s rebellion in light of a holy God.
The season of Advent is marked with such horror. The story of the Old Testament is the story of Israel’s anticipation of the coming Messiah—the one who would chase away the horrors of night (to paraphrase a popular hymn). The world is a broken and horrific place, and it is the Messiah who would come to save people from their sin, enact justice, and make everything right. Christians live in a similar anticipation. We believe that Jesus was the Messiah, whose first advent brought salvation to the world. And just as the people of the Old Testament anticipated the Messiah’s coming, we too anticipate the Messiah’s return to finish the work of redemption—to ultimately overthrow evil and fix all that is wrong in the world.
The Horror of Newtown, CT
I had planned to write this week’s Advent short story from the perspective of Jeremiah as he walked through the ruins of Jerusalem after the destruction of the temple. That story will come, but not now. There is another story being told that demands our attention, and to craft a tale of desolation and death would merely be an insensitive gesture considering the horror that played out in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14th. In Newtown, the bodies are not fictional. The Laments are not a distant song tied together neatly with hope as its centerpiece (see the book of Lamentations). The song we are hearing is not written in the poetic meter of the day but by the anguished cries of mothers and fathers over their lost children, brothers and sisters over lost siblings, and friends separated by the eternal chasm.
The slaughter that transpired on Friday of 27 people has rightly been proclaimed as horrific and evil. It is a stark reminder of the truths of Advent—evil is real, and horrific. This world is not what it should be. It is utterly broken. We are right to be horrified. We are right to be disgusted. We are right to hurt and to lament. Let us do so.
Advent, Horror, and Suffering
But, just as the horror contained within the Old Testament points us to the comfort we find only in Jesus the Messiah, so, too, does the horror of our own day. Many others have pointed out the grotesque similarities between the slaughter in Newtown with another slaughter of the innocents, that which is found in Matthew 2. King Herod, threatened by the birth of the true King, ordered the murder of all male children 2 years old and younger found in the town of Bethlehem. The events surrounding the birth of the Messiah serve to remind us of just why the Messiah had to come in the first place. And so it is even today—the horror of evil demands justice. Jesus was born to die—to suffer in our place in order to reverse suffering, to die a rebel’s death in order to free the rebels.
We cannot offer any reasons for why suffering happens at this magnitude to any satiable exactness. We don’t know why true horror is so horrific. We dare not cheapen the suffering of many by attempting to explain it. But what we can offer as comfort, we do: the cross is the ultimate reminder that God is not stoically standing far off in our suffering. Quite the opposite. God has entered into the human condition with all its suffering and horror and injustice in such a personal way that he cannot be far from us in suffering; rather, God alone knows the depths of our suffering, and walks with us in it. He has entered into our suffering in a way that we cannot do for each other. Where we can only offer heart-hurting sympathy, Jesus offers heart-broken empathy. And he does not offer empathy only, but also a promise that can only be made by the suffering King of the universe.
It’s in the shared suffering of the cross that God himself promises us that such horror will not go unanswered—there is no injustice that will not come to justice, there is no pain to which there is no offer of true comfort. When Adam Lanza took his own life, we lost all hope in earthly justice. The cross reminds us, however, that justice cannot be escaped. Sin cannot be merely overlooked—whether it be Adam Lanza’s or ours. But the cross was not merely a sign post of justice, but the promise of the eradication of all that is evil and wrong. The same hand that metes out justice will also be the hand by which all tears will be wiped away (Revelation 21:4-5).
I cannot offer answers to the question of “why?” that would seem adequate in the midst of suffering. I wouldn’t try to. Of course I could point to theological and philosophical reasons for suffering, but this will not bring comfort to those already suffering. And, ultimately, God does not give us specific answers to why suffering happens either. Instead, God offers himself—bloody, broken, and slaughtered. He offers the comfort, not of philosophical reasoning, but as one who has himself suffered. He offers hope, not as someone who has a distant desire that things will one day be set right, but as the one who will himself actually one day fix all that is broken. And, in the spirit of Advent, the horror of our day calls us to pray to this end—come quickly, Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:20).