surprised by horror

Last week I watched “Hell House,” a documentary about a scare-you-into-heaven halloween production put on by a church in Texas (and since copied by hundreds of churches around the country). The way it works is a group watches several scenes showing the consequences of sin (a girl goes to a rave party and gets raped, a depressed boy takes a gun to school and shoots himself in front of his class [his name is even Jeremy, just like the Pearl Jam song], a gay man dies from aids; I think you get the idea). The ends of the scenes emphasize how the people could choose to repent and be saved before they die.

One of the pastors involved with Hell House says that their goal really is to scare people, because the fear of going to hell is one reason to get saved.

I’m not going to try and debate the merits of horror-evangelism here. Much more interesting to me is thinking about what the opposite end of the spectrum might look like; that is, is there such a thing as beauty-evangelism? Can someone be drawn toward heaven by beauty in the same way that they can be repulsed from hell by fear?

Fear is a basic and pretty instantly recognizable emotion. You might not be able to explain why you’re afraid, but you know when you are, and you know you want to get away from it; that’s the standard, acceptable response to fear.

The apprehension of beauty works, I think, in a similar way to that fear, but what about the response? If fear inspires retreat, then beauty should inspire attraction. And that, sadly, is where the problems begin.

Lust and idolatry are so often seen as consequences of beauty (instead of perversions of it) that it’s easy for our first response is to get away from it because it might be dangerous, and therefore bad. Beauty stirs up passion and devotion and even jealousy, all of which can have either positive or negative effects. And that’s where it gets slippery.

The offspring of fear are almost always negative, meaning that it’s easier to predict someone’s reaction to them. But with beauty, there are any number of good and bad reactions, and beauty doesn’t force itself on or accost you the way fear does; it waits for you to make a choice.

At the end of the Hell House experience, the group is led into a room with a pastor. The pastor reminds them of what they’ve seen, and then makes them chooses one of two doors: The “Yes” door, which leads to another room where people wait to talk and pray with them; and the “No” door, which leads back outside. (They don’t actually use those names for the doors, by the way. But it’s clearly the message.) He gives them less than 10 seconds to decide.


One Response to “surprised by horror”

  1. Dan Benyousky Says:

    How is one to explain the command concerning fear of the Lord?

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