This article is part of Christ and Pop Culture’s STRANGER THINGS WEEK and contains spoilers for Stranger Things seasons one and two.
When did you lose your imagination?
It may seem like a silly question, but at some point in our lives, as we transition into adulthood, we all find ourselves putting aside childish things. Imagination seems to be one of the easiest things to let slip away. We get caught up more and more in work and the real world. Our fixation on the day to day becomes stronger, and in return that fixation chokes out any last ounce of our imaginations. As this becomes our norm, it is difficult to even fathom that something may exist beyond the edges of what we can see and prove, that there may be a truth out there that is not easily verifiable.
This is what Christianity asks of us—to humbly accept that what we see is not all there is, that what we know is not possible will be made possible. We are asked to believe that there exists in this world things that are beyond our imagination and that it is good and right to try and imagine them.By telling their story through the eyes of a group of children, the Duffer Brothers remind us throughout Stranger Things that there are truths that exist on the fringes of accepted reality. They call us to remember the words of Christ, that to fully experience those truths we must recover the imagination and humble faith of our childhood.
In the first season, we are introduced to a group of boys playing Dungeons and Dragons together. It is no surprise, then, that when spooky things begin to materialize in the quiet town of Hawkins, Indiana, the boys interpret everything through the lens of D&D. It is what they know. By the time we get to season two, the conceit of using D&D terms for the odd and unexplained has carried over to the group’s own name for itself: The Party.
Each member of The Party has unique specific talents to bring to bear to help the others. Mike is the paladin, Eleven is the mage, Dustin is the bard, Lucas is the resourceful one, and Will is the cleric. While viewers may find in this peculiarity another reason to love Mike, Dustin, Eleven, Lucas, and Will, it is clear that the residents of Hawkins are not of the same mind. Their peers often refer to the Party as nerds, and adults—even those who eventually work with The Party—dismiss them for their childish antics.
Despite their perspective consistently being discounted, The Party are the ones best able to explain what is taking place in Hawkins. Why? Because they still see things through the lens of their imaginations.
Season two has a memorable example of this when The Party is trying to explain the hold a creature has over Will’s mind. Dustin pulls out a book and points to The Mind Flayer, explaining that the entity controlling Will is acting like this figure from the original Monster Manual. Sheriff Hopper dismisses this information because this “is not a kids game,” but as the show goes on, The Party’s idea proves to be accurate. It may not exactly be a Mind Flayer that has hold of Will, but the effects are the same. Something has taken over Will’s mind, and only The Party, with its collective, childish imagination still in bloom, is able to put words to what is truly happening to him.
In this instance, the Duffers are relying on a familiar trope—bumbling adults who appear to be fools and capable children who are the truly wise ones. However, viewing Stranger Things in this light fails to acknowledge a truth we all know, even if it is one we often forget. Children, with their openness to all kinds of possibilities and their active imaginations, are often able to see what adults miss. They are humble enough to acknowledge that there exists more than what we can see, touch, and feel, more beyond the borders of what we reason to be true.
The crux of the Christian faith is that a God we cannot see is alive and active in our world, and that this same God sent his Son to this world to die for our sins and came back to life after being dead for three days. Christianity has proclaimed these truths since its inception. But these are also truths that defy most accepted forms of reason; they certainly challenge our everyday assumptions. To begin to enter the kingdom of God, we must accept that a being whose existence we cannot prove is nonetheless real. And we must believe that a feat none of us has seen or experienced—a dead man coming back to life after days of being dead—not only happened but will happen again to all people when Christ returns.
If a friend were to come and tell you even one of these truths, you might congratulate them for their fantastic and active imagination. But to believe them? That is almost too much to ask. And yet this is what Christianity asks of us—to humbly accept that what we see is not all there is, that what we know is not possible will be made possible. We are asked to believe that there exists in this world things that are beyond our imagination and that it is good and right to try and imagine them.
“Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it” (Luke 18:17).
Children can readily accept these ideas without need of greater proof because they do not yet believe they can or will possess all the world’s knowledge. To receive the kingdom of God is nothing for a child; it requires a bit more for adults. But when adults are ready to admit that there are limits to what we do know, like Joyce Byers and Sheriff Hopper eventually do, we find that there exists a world that is wilder than the wildest figments of our imaginations.
The kingdom of God is both here now and not yet fully materialized. Until Christ’s return when the kingdom is fully present, God’s people need to recapture the use of our imaginations. By seeing past the edges of day to day life, we will be made aware of the many ways God’s visible yet invisible kingdom is made manifest all around us. We must dream new dreams for how God’s kingdom can continue to break through into the world. The kingdom of God, it turns out, is filled with untold wonder and mystery just waiting for us to discover and take part in it.