The Strange Thing About Lost Innocence
The long-awaited season 3 of the popular Netflix show, Stranger Things, was released on July 4th. The show was an instant hit when the first season was released. Personally, I love the show because I am an eighties kid and all the nostalgia the show brings to mind is fun.
Yet, as I finished this most recent season I was struck with a massive difference in the narrative. It is an inescapable storyline that every human being over the age of 15 can relate to. That storyline is that the kids are getting older and things change. This struck a chord with me because there is something I miss about the simplicity of teenage friendship. There is something I miss about the simplicity (and difficulty) of teenage love. But what struck me most was the longing I often have to go back to those days and how I can plot, almost chronologically, where certain events in my life brought a sort of death to the simplicity and innocence of those former years. This is the storyline that finds its pinnacle at the end of the last episode (SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD).
In a scene that pierced me, the troubled bully-figure is reminded of a memory of his mom and a time when life was happy. For Billy, his life had been full of abuse and trauma, which led him to act out and hurt others. In a scene of clarity, he remembers a time when he was happy and loved. In a single moment, he turns from being one of the main bad guys to sacrificially laying his life down to save Eleven and her friends. In every fictional story, there are things that pierce us because they point to the Great and True story. Of course, Billy reminds me of Jesus who, although had no evil in him, laid down his life to save a host of hostile people. In doing so, he saves a people to be united to him and united around a common mission. We see this begin in the book of Acts as people who were former enemies and cowards are filled with the Spirit and declare the good news of the Gospel and are united around a common purpose.
The following scene, and I think the most powerful scene, shows all the kids preparing to go their separate directions. This band of ragtag outsiders who have been united around a common purpose for two seasons, are all separating. Some are going to college, some moving to a new town, some staying put but their affections are now shared with girlfriends and boyfriends. As they stand there saying goodbye, tears are streaming down their faces. The pain of watching the innocence of childhood friendship become splintered because of life and maturity made me long for those days. As Eleven reads a letter from her adoptive dad, one line came and opened my tear-ducts without warning. He writes to his beloved daughter, “Make mistakes. Remember the hurt…the hurt is good.”
This line made me realize how often I can suppress hurt and sadness. Even as a 38 year-old man, I still feel 15 most days. Adulting is hard and often sad. But Hopper is right, the pain of life is often good because it means that we are human. To not feel pain is to miss out on reality. As I thought about all of this, I am reminded of a passage that has been near to me for years. James 1:2-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Here is the thing: Stranger Things won’t last. It won’t last because in 5-10 years, these kids would have such extreme PTSD from what they have experienced, that no one wants to watch a show of a bunch of 20 year-olds drinking themselves to death. You see, without the good news of the gospel, the trauma of lost innocence and trials are not a joy because the trials are meaningless. But God is a good God who is tailor-making all our trials to make us more like His Son. That is why James commands such a crazy thing like counting our trials as joy.
In Ephesians 4 we see that Christ isn’t unaware of our longing to be united with people around a common purpose. He is showing us that our longing to belong didn’t end at 15 and can be redeemed and enlivened now. Ephesians 4, please read the chapter, tells of Christ’s victory on the cross and how it created one body (4:1-7). The redeemed people of God are united by Christ in his local church. After Christ ransomed prisoners and bought them for himself, he gave them gifts for his glory and the encouragement of others (4:7-12). And the ethic of the local church is now fostered by those who speak the truth in love to one another (4:15-16). We belong to God. We belong to His people. We have a common purpose we are united in. Stranger Things is a great gift but it cannot hold a candle to the shining glory of the Gospel. - Wes Van Fleet