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Seeing In The Cave


Wednesday
Jun 10, 2015

Michael, who is 36, now often refers to gay life as a kind of cave … Had Michael been secretly unhappy as a gay man, and was he now projecting that onto all gay-identified people? I broached the question later that night at his small off-campus apartment, where we sat in his barren kitchen eating Oreo cookies. “Well, you can’t see how dark it is in a cave when you’re in it,” he said. Benoit Denizet-Lewis, My Ex-Gay Friend,” The New York Times

 

caveHorror is trending on Speculative Faith these days, and I’m up on the trends, at least until tomorrow. So here goes another round.

One of the most popular arguments for horror, in Christian circles, goes like this: In this fallen world, we need to face the darkness and confront the reality and horror of evil; we must not look away.

This argument has long bemused me, the way it is always bemusing when people insist on facts that, while incontestably true, are of no great relevance to the conclusion being drawn. I can never track the intellectual leap between We need to face evil and Let’s break out the horror novels! Why must the first lead to the second? Personally, I can’t even glance at the headlines without facing the reality of evil.

The news, like history, is an ever-renewing pattern of tragedies and atrocities, and awful cruelties at home and abroad. To the extent that humanity stands in need of an education in evil, it’s not because we lack exposure to it. It’s because, in the cave, it’s hard to see how dark it is.

And to see, you need … light.

Some people, I know, work backward – recognizing first the existence of evil, and then the existence of good, and finally following the trail all the way back to God. But exploring the darkness is not the only way to understand it; it’s not even the best way. If you want to know what darkness is, your best object of study is the light.

George MacDonald once said that only God knows and hates evil. I am sure beyond all doubt that God hates evil more than I do, more than any of us does. And it’s not because He has seen more of it – because He has, if I may dare the analogy, been reading horror while the rest of us have been reading prairie romance. The heart of it is not that God knows more than we do, although He does. It’s that He’s better than we are.

Only God fully knows evil because only He fully knows goodness. No one, Jesus said, is good except God alone – the everlasting burning with whom sinners cannot dwell. (Isaiah 33) The Bible shows us again and again God’s anger against sin, His implacable hatred of evil. The key to understanding it is His holiness.

Nothing more clearly exposes the nature of darkness than the light. When Isaiah saw a vision of God, he lamented, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips!”

lightWhen Jesus showed His divine power in giving the fishermen a miraculous catch of fish, Peter pleaded with Him, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

After Job heard God proclaim who He was, his confidence in his righteousness was finally broken and he confessed, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

As C. S. Lewis wrote, “You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. … You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil; bad people do not know about either.”

If we know God, we will know ourselves. If we know what goodness is, we will know what evil is. The light will give definition to the darkness.

This is the safest, truest path to revelation. The backward path remains, and many people have followed it to the truth. The debate about darkness in fiction is worth having. But the indisputable point that darkness is a reality to be faced is not the end of the debate; it is the beginning.

Shannon McDermott

Shannon McDermott is the author of the fantasy novel The Valley of Decision, as well as the futuristic The Last Heir and the Sons of Tryas series. To learn more about her and her work, visit her website, ShannonMcDermott.com.

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17 comments on "Seeing In The Cave"

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Very well put!

D.M. Dutcher
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I don’t think this works as a general argument, mostly because it would mean that those who are really well versed in the good would be equally wise about evil. I generally don’t find that to be the case, to the point where the most good tend to be the most naive about it. I mean, they can know not to do it, but you can get a lot of caricatures about it. Like in Christian fiction, one of the worst things they can write about is atheism, because unless you’ve fallen away and entertained the idea (or have incredible… Read more »
Brent King
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I think you hit on something here. To my understanding, one of the most powerful shields against evil ever rising up again (in addition to the wounds in Jesus’ body) is the witness of those who have fallen into evil but have been redeemed from it. I believe this witness will be one of the vocations of the redeemed, a mission that will forever barricade the universe against a repetition of the horrors of sin. Experience counts for a lot. Who can know the dizzying heights of love better than one who has broken away from love and fallen into… Read more »
Brent King
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I think you hit on something here. To my understanding, one of the most powerful shields against evil ever rising up again (in addition to the wounds in Jesus’ body) is the witness of those who have fallen into evil but have been redeemed from it. I believe this witness will be one of the vocations of the redeemed, a mission that will forever barricade the universe against a repetition of the horrors of sin. Experience counts for a lot. Who can know the dizzying heights of love better than one who has broken away from love and fallen into… Read more »
Shannon McDermott
Guest
I don’t think this works as a general argument, mostly because it would mean that those who are really well versed in the good would be equally wise about evil. I generally don’t find that to be the case, to the point where the most good tend to be the most naive about it. The good can often be naive in dealing with people worse than themselves. Jesus Himself, in the parable of the shrewd manager, said as much: “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the… Read more »
Brent King
Guest
Great post Shannon. I always love your insights. They always stimulate my thought… I do agree that we should focus on the light, but still, a story must describe the darkness of the cave or there is no context. It’s the nature of our stories. For instance, if I take away all of the horrific things they did to Jesus, I haven’t told the story. The story of God’s light must be contrasted against a description of the depths of evil’s darkness. Gene Veith says that in good stories, “children are taught the attractiveness of virtue and the repulsiveness of… Read more »
Shannon McDermott
Guest
Thanks, Brent. I do agree that we should focus on the light, but still, a story must describe the darkness of the cave or there is no context. It’s the nature of our stories. For instance, if I take away all of the horrific things they did to Jesus, I haven’t told the story. The story of God’s light must be contrasted against a description of the depths of evil’s darkness. Probably the only bone of contention between the sides of the horror debate is how far we can, or ought, to go into the darkness. Conflict makes stories, and… Read more »
Yaasha Moriah
Guest
I am really enjoying this continuing discussion on horror, because the arguments for, against, and in the middle hit on some points that those adamantly opposed to or adamantly in favor of horror often miss. What I’ve seen in the horror that seems to best emulate a Christian worldview (whether or not the author intended to be Christian), is that good horror does not sensational horror to grab the reader’s attention, but either represents the darkness as the powerful thing that it is, or recognizes righteousness as the consuming fire that it is. For example, That Hideous Strength by C.… Read more »
Brent King
Guest

Right on Yaasha! You said it so well. By the way Shannon, I loved the point you made that Yaasha highlighted as well.

HG Ferguson
Guest
Light v. darkness is not either/or in the Scriptures.  Too often arguments against THAT (what opponents of horror really think of it) are based on an emotional appeal that sounds good — we need to look at the light — but such appeals don’t tell the rest of the story and certainly don’t align with Scripture.  Read Mark 5:1-20.  This is God’s own horror story in His Gospel and the justification for writing in this genre IF the following things are kept.  The story begins in darkness, the place of death, the tombs.  What Satan loves.  The antagonists are demons,… Read more »
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