Friday, October 14, 2022

Stranger Things: The Lies of the Devil

(Guest post by Kenton)

Fear, pain, horror, doubt, corruption, betrayal, weakness, failure, loss, sorrow, depression, death; these are conditions and feelings that are all addressed in season 4 of Stranger Things. That it is able to cover so much in one season shows the strength of the planning and writing that went into the show, but it doesn’t end there: faith, hope, love, miracles, courage, joy, strength, and even healing are all here. This is a season of light and dark, good and evil, and my personal favorite season to this point. Notable was its terrifying portrayal of the villain, Vecna: he manipulates and twists everything to his purposes, and it’s miraculous that our heres, at least partially, hamper his evil machinations. I could write a series of essays, but hopefully I can cover this topic appropriately, even if this one has to go a bit long. There are significant spoilers here, if you haven’t seen season 4 yet, so you’ve been warned!

At his very core, Vecna is not just bent on achieving a goal: he thrills in the hunt. His powers allow him to kill psychically, which also opens portals into his realm in the Upside Down. He doesn’t just track down and kill, however: in the case of all of his victims, they are demoralized, and beaten down mentally before they are taken. He says his victory is inevitable; so he relishes in the buildup to his final triumph. They say hubris is the downfall of all people and civilizations, but there are few things as terrifying as an evil who is as powerful as their pride and hubris believes it to be.

Even with that power and ego, there is something Vecna fears: Eleven. In all his power he acts methodically, trying to draw her out. He fears his inevitable defeat. His speeches all boast that his final conquest is inevitable, but he wouldn’t have been exiled to the Upside Down without Eleven’s intervention. Up to that point, nothing stopped him before Eleven–except for his own weakness. Seeing someone exercise more power than him truly terrified him. We’ve yet to see his full power, but everything he worked for to this point has only delayed the “inevitable,” and resulted only in small, incremental successes. Even his plan to kill Max succeeded because he was aided, unwittingly, by the head of the basketball team, Jason Carver. This is all my opinion, but it ties very deeply into the gospel, even if my comparison may seem a bit ham-fisted.

You see, the devil is under the same limitations. He knows, deep down, that his defeat is around the corner. Sure, he has power, exhibited in a fallen world which serves his ends. War and corruption and famine and death and sadness plague us, and are only worsened by those whose complacency, greed, and evil perpetuate those painful results. There were individuals in Jesus's day afflicted directly by the devil, but we can see less direct interventions even in this day, and they are mirrored so much in Vecna’s methods.

When Chrissy, Vecna’s first victim, is tormented by him, his way of gaining enough power over her to take her life is to degrade and demean her through her memories. Haunting recollections of her mother shaming her body, and the visions he makes her see not only terrify her, but make her think she’s going crazy, making her feel completely alone. He shamed her to death.

His next victim, Fred Benson, is accused of being a murderer for something we know very little about, but involved him witnessing a car crash. When a conversation with a police officer turns into a rant of “Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!” He is snapped back to reality, but he doesn’t admit anything happened. He endures incredible pain, because he feels he deserves it. Satan works in this way, too. Instead of getting us to commit evil, he will instead shame us into believing that we have to be perfect, accusing us of being evil ourselves. He will bombard us with toxic and negative self-talk, intrusive thoughts, and evil ideas. He’ll even take advantage of mental illness and make us think that we can’t ask for help. One of the roles and titles of Satan is “the accuser,” and one of his many tactics is to accuse and shame us for things that aren’t true, to the point that we believe that we are “useless,” that we are “irredeemable,” that we can only stand still and give in. Isn’t that how evil wins? When good people can do nothing?

This is how Vecna had hoped to gain his supremacy, by instilling a spirit of fear into Eleven so demoralizing that she felt powerless. Vecna had overpowered her mind to the point that she could do nothing but watch Max gruesomely die in front of her eyes. Seeing that something was wrong from their end , Eleven’s boyfriend Mike was able to speak to her, and give her hope. I think that’s a speech that we should all come back to, at least once:

 “I don’t know if you can hear this; but if you can, I want you to know I’m here, okay, I’m right here! And… I love you! Do you hear me? I love you! I’m sorry I don’t say it more—it’s not because I’m scared of you—I’m not, I’ve never felt that way, never! … But the truth is El, I don’t know how to live without you! I feel like my life started that day we found you in the woods: you were wearing that yellow Benny’s Burgers t-shirt … I knew right then and there, in that moment, that I loved you, and I’ve loved you every day since. I love you on your good days, I love you on your bad days, I love you with your powers, I love you without your powers, I love you for exactly who you are: you’re my superhero! And, I can’t lose you! Okay? Do you hear me, I can’t lose you. You can do anything: you can fly, you can move mountains. I believe that, I really do; but right now, you just have to fight, okay? … You need to fight!” (Episode 9, “The Piggyback”, Stranger Things Season 4, Vol. 2)

This speech is how Mike redeems himself from being a punk. All during this, El is restrained. More powerful than that were the shackles of doubt and fear which kept her from acting. But Mike’s speech was filled with the truth he’d held back and the truth gave her power to free herself, and prevent Vecna from killing Max and El. Mike had faith, and belief, and hope, and love, and these things cannot fail in the truth.

For us with the never ending tirades and doubt and shame that come from Satan, it is much the same. Learning and seeking the truth will give us power and faith to overcome. As Jesus said:

“If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32, KJV)

Satan, the father of all lies, will try to intimidate, to shut down, to paralyze, and to force us to give up. He will convince us that we are weak, faithless, and irredeemable. And that we should accept it! Our accuser will even convince us that our lives aren’t worth living—but it’s not true! We can be forgiven:

“Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18, KJV)

We can overcome our weakness through Jesus:

“…my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27, The Book of Mormon)

His power can redeem:

“But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord.” (Helaman 14:17, The Book of Mormon)

Even when we don’t think it’s possible:

“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26, KJV)

While Vecna has literal power over his victims, and relishes in his temporary victories, he fears the power of Eleven, and knows that she can, and inevitably will, defeat him. Satan doesn’t have that same physical power over us. Even knowing full well that Jesus Christ will have the ultimate victory, Satan still relishes in the opportunities he has now to fight against it. It’s exhausting! But there is hope. Jesus said:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; … and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, KJV, emphasis added)

Notice how he says that His yoke is easy. What does he ask? That we join with Him in pulling his load, and then we will find rest. It’s that impossible, yet simple truth, that the things which Jesus did, we can faithfully follow. President Russell M. Nelson said it himself, when he quoted our Savior in his recent Sunday Morning address in General Conference, which we should come back to, at least once:

“‘In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33, emphasis added)

“Subsequently, Jesus entreated each of us to do the same when He said,

“‘I will that ye should overcome the world.’ (D&C 64:2, emphasis added)

“Dear brothers and sisters, my message to you today is that because Jesus Christ overcame this fallen world, and because He atoned for each of us, you too can overcome this sin-saturated, self-centered, and often exhausting world.” (“Overcome the World and Find Rest”, Russell M. Nelson, Sunday Morning Session, October 2022 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

I’ve written a veritable essay here, and the depth I could plunge on this subject isn’t even close to being fathomed. It took a few years for this season of Stranger Things to come, and it was worth it. The depth and detail of it is worth rewatching (which I’ve done). I didn’t even cover the power of music and friendship, the effects of mental illness, the lengths people will go to help those they love; the list goes on, and on. I couldn’t possibly cover it all! What I hope is that we’ve gained insight into the methods of our adversary, Satan; that we can find faith and strength to overcome his demoralizing tactics. In closing, I think we can find comfort in the closing words President Nelson in his Sunday Morning address, which I leave with you:

“With the power of the holy apostleship vested in me, I bless you in your quest to overcome this world. I bless you to increase your faith in Jesus Christ and learn better how to draw upon His power. I bless you to be able to discern truth from error. I bless you to care more about the things of God than the things of this world. I bless you to see the needs of those around you and strengthen those you love. Because Jesus Christ overcame this world, you can too. I so testify in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.”

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