The Upside Down in the Here and Now (and Other Stranger Things)

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By Adrianne Miles

Stranger Things is touted as the most popular show on Netflix. The third season was released in July, and audiences are already desperate for season four. We want to see Mike, Will, Dustin, Lucas, and Eleven happy and flourishing; we want to see Joyce Byers fall in love with a guy who doesn’t die; we want Steve Harrington to find a girlfriend; we want the school bullies stopped and the Upside Down destroyed. In short, we long for the world of Stranger Things to be transformed into a world of harmony. Stranger Things kindles the longing God planted in our hearts, the longing for Paradise (cf. The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis).

As I rewatched seasons one and two before the release of season three and then consumed season three in just a few days, I was struck by five astounding similarities between the Upside Down of the show and the reality of the world we live in here and now.

1. The Upside Down is a broken version of the world.

The Upside Down looks a lot like Hawkins, Indiana. We recognize locations and landmarks, but they are a haunted house version of Hawkins (and the world). The Upside Down is dark and scary and in a severe state of decay. Similarly, the here and now is a dark, scary, and decaying version of the perfect world God created. Now we see through a glass darkly (I Corinthians 13:12).

We must work to help others know the hope of being right side up with God.

2. The Upside Down is a toxic place.

Will Byers cannot survive for long breathing the toxic air of the Upside Down. The scientists researching that realm wear hazmat-type suits with oxygen tanks for their protection. The air of the here and now is also toxic, literally and figuratively. Our created world is in a state of decay (Romans 8:20-21). Air pollution is on the rise and in 2016 was estimated to have caused 4.2 million premature deaths. This world is toxic to our flesh and also to our spirit. When sin entered our world, it brought a level of toxicity that has been on the rise ever since. Selfishness, anger, pride, envy, jealousy, discord, immorality, and addictions infect and destroy us (cf. Galatians 5:19-21). We cannot survive for long breathing these fumes.

3. Monsters in the Upside Down want to consume Will Byers, Barbara Holland, and anyone else they can find.

The monsters in the Upside Down devour people. The vines of the Mind Flayer and his Demogorgons are scary, aggressive, and always on the hunt. In many ways they are like the devil who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Like Joyce Byers, Nancy Wheeler, and Jim Hopper in the Upside Down, we must “be alert and of sober mind” in order to stand firm against the powers and principalities of this world in the here and now (1 Peter 5:8-9, Ephesians 6:12).

4. Will Byers needs a savior; he can’t escape the Upside Down on his own.

Will was chased by a Demgorgon and somehow got into the Upside Down. He can sometimes catch glimpses of the real Hawkins, but he can’t get himself out of the dark world. Similarly, the devil’s pursuit of Adam and Eve landed mankind in a dark world with no way out except for salvation from another realm. Even when Will is out of the Upside Down, his experiences there make him susceptible to the Mind Slayer’s influence.

5. Joyce Byers is willing to risk her own life to bring her son home.

Joyce loves her son. She works to find ways to send him messages in the Upside Down. She calls out to him and waits intently for him to respond. She enters the Upside Down in order to save him. This storyline echoes the salvific work of God. Because of his great love for his children who are trapped in a decaying world, He sent messages to them (e.g. His Word, His prophets). He waits intently for them to call out to Him and is never far away (Acts 17:27). Like Joyce going into the Upside Down, God entered this decaying world in order to take his children home (John 1:1-5, John 14, Revelation 21:3).

Once Joyce saves Will, she continues to work to protect him because the Mind Slayer continues to reach out to him. Will echoes Paul’s predicament in Romans which is the predicament of every Christian in the here and now. Paul struggles to resist the darkness that tries to draw him in and recognizes his continual need for God’s deliverance (Romans 7:7-25). In the here and now, we need both the salvation and protection that come from our loving Father.

Helping Others Know Hope

In many ways the here and now is to God’s perfect creation as the Upside Down is to Hawkins. Of course, this analogy, like all analogies, eventually breaks down. The right side up world of Stranger Things is not a perfect world. It is Will’s home and affords some safety, but it is not heaven. It is another picture of the here and now, which is in reality the Upside Down of God’s creation. In God’s right side up world—heaven, the perfect world—is not ordered like the here and now. In God’s kingdom the first is last and the last is first (Matthew 20:16), whoever wants to be great must be a servant (Matthew 20:26-27). This logic seems backwards because we are living in the Upside Down of God’s creation, but the day is coming when He will make all things new and right side up (Revelation 21:4-5). He will close the portal to the Upside Down forever and nothing from that decrepit place will be able to touch any of His children.

In the meantime, the children of God are to be strong and use the tools He gives us to fight the Mind Slayer of this world and his Demogorgons (Ephesians 6:10-20). We don’t just fight for ourselves. We fight for everyone in Hawkins—everyone in our realm of influence—because they are being pulled into the Upside Down. Jesus explains, that “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Matthew 16:35). That kind of thinking seems upside down to many, but in Stranger Things Hop understands that by losing his life, he can save Joyce and all of Hawkins from the Upside Down. (If he is in Russia, he also saved his own life by losing it). Similarly, we must be willing to give our lives in order to share the gospel and save others from destruction. We must work to help others know the hope of being right side up with God (Matthew 28:19-20).

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Adrianne Miles

Adrianne Miles is an Assistant Professor of English and Linguistics at The College at Southeastern. Her research is in the intersection of literature and sociolinguistics. She lives in Wake Forest with her husband, Scott, and her two teenage boys. She is an active member of her church and community and has a passion to see all people experience the promise of John 10:10 -- the abundant life in Christ.

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