Monsters are a truly popular concept. We see them across every platform of media, and they are especially popular at this time of year…Halloween. While many believers may take issue with the celebration of this holiday and all that comes with it (a topic I will not address here), remove the festivals and customs from it all, and you’ll see monsters go much deeper than just being some part of a fall observance. They go much deeper than the entire genre of books, games, and movies in which they are featured. They speak to a part of the human experience all have an innate familiarity with, whether we are saved or not. Monsters are known to us, even when we are very small. The very thought of them makes us hesitate in the dark and shudder with fear, all the way to the core of who we are.
The term “monster” is derived from the Latin word “monstrum”; it means “an aberrant occurrence, usually biological, that was taken as a sign that something was wrong within the natural order.” Now, follow me for a second: A “monster,” at its core, is something that should not be. An order was set, but some deviation occurred that threw off the plan, disrupted the normality, and blurred the expectation of the one who set the order. When I talk about the upset of a clearly established order to an audience of Christian believers, what familiar event does that evoke? It should take us back to the very beginning, back to the Garden, back to that first act of disobedience in Genesis 3 and the introduction of sin. With that and the banishment from the Garden, man found a reason to fear in life. Previously, there was no need of worry for tomorrow. Yet, pain and death, previously unknown to him, were now very much realities brought on by that “aberrant occurrence.” Danger now existed where it did not and could not before in the very presence of God.
When defining the actual term “monster” as used today, a quick search brought me that which I expected. The first definition of the term is “an imaginary creature that is typically large, ugly, and frightening.” Alright, boys and girls, get out your costumes—it’s time for some make-believe! If we want to see a “monster” as only that, so be it, but there’s another level. We aren’t going to get into a needed layer of utility with the term in our everyday. The second definition is far more telling, and far more useful to this discussion: “An inhumanly cruel or wicked person.” So, a “monster” can, by its very definition, be a human. Now, the concept just got infinitely more relatable.
There is an additional definition of monster I believe is helpful, especially when paired back with the concept of the first: “A congenitally malformed or mutant animal or plant.” You see, the author of that definition implies delineation between one being and others. Let’s look at our own experiences: We human beings instinctively recoil from anything observable that offends our sensibilities. Whether that’s a reflex built into our own survival or not, everyday we categorize everything we observe on any number of levels: Is this observable thing pleasing to me? Threatening to me? Of use for some type of personal gain to me?
Whatever the various metrics be, if something (or more helpful to us here, someone) is perceived as ugly, of no observable gain to us, or just plain different than us, we recoil and/or shun them. Some have said that classification of this type, be it stereotyping or information processing at a subconscious or conscious level, is a necessity of life. What that means is in order to make sense of our world, we must group and separate people and things in our minds as a means of sorting information, which naturally leads to the inclusion and exclusion of people and things. This perception of difference and a lowering of worth in others may occur naturally and even without our noticing, but undoubtedly, it can be a breeding ground for sin and ungodliness to thrive in our lives, while seemingly happening out of instinct.
Now, before this goes much further, let’s hone in on this: While the monsters of imagination and Hollywood are simply no more than fantasy, monstrousness as spiritual truth is very real. It’s something believers should try to understand, because it has more utility in spiritual understanding than we might initially recognize. I’ve seen and read all kinds of happenings involving monsters in fiction, but I’ve never witnessed with my own eyes a reanimated corpse (I have worked in the funeral business for over 10 years; if I ever had, I would have voluntarily quit my job). I’ve never seen a changeling who feasts on blood, other than as special effects in a movie. True, in my life, I’ve seen things I couldn’t explain, but I’ve never seen a “monster” as shown in that first definition.
Still, the term holds relevance to me and should to us all, because I have encountered many monsters in my life. I’ve witnessed the extent of what sin can do to individuals and families. I’ve seen the ravaging effects of fear, pain, and death in this world, and their effects are often devastating. All of this chaos, hurt, and confusion was initially brought to this life by an “aberrant occurrence.” That very real monstrousness of a reality deviated from a divine plan was brought into this world long ago, and it still resides. Yes, monstrousness and the monsters who live it out are very real. In fact, I’ve barely come to understand the monster closest to me of all: The one I see in the mirror every morning.
You may read this and think “Oh please! Spare me the self-deprecation, pastor! How bad could you be? There are much worse in the world than you.” At first glance, that may seem true. If I wanted to quantify my own sense of “self-righteousness” (or allow you to do it for me from what you could observe of my experiences and character), I might turn out alright. If you placed me either in a line-up of others of my choice or among those found completely at random, there would probably be someone or several who had done something “worse” than me in the eyes of the world. There are people who have committed acts you and I have either heard about or known personally that turn our stomachs just thinking about them. Whether they’ve lied, hurt, preyed upon, or humiliated us or others, their actions offend our sensibilities and cause us to recoil. Even thinking about them and what they did completely disgusts us. Yes, those people exist in this world, alongside you and I. Their sins seem great.
Now, you may be like me, and to the world, you may be a “good person.” It’s been tough work, but I’ve tried my best in life to “do right,” even before my relationship with Christ. One might look at my life and think, “Surely, he’s OK.” No…no, I’m not. Even after being saved at a young age, I have said terrible things about people to their face and in private; I’ve been consumed by various lusts; I’ve truly wished harm on others; and I’ve went after and taken things that didn’t belong to me. In every case, whatever the form of sin, I did things my way on my own terms, and in so doing, I’ve committed an “aberrant occurrence.” My heart and mind left unbound would run the full depths of depravity. Too often in my life it has, but still, if I tried really hard, you, the outside observer, would never know it. Corners of my heart have held secrets, and while no one around me could see my heart, God could.
Prometheus, wielding the flame.
In Greek myth, if the efforts of man could be labeled and encapsulated by one name, it would be Prometheus,: The one who stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. That first step to make man’s will equal with the gods’ has fascinated many an author, including Mary Shelley, whose most famous work “Frankenstein” was additionally titled “The Modern Prometheus.” You surely know the tale of the scientist who wished to create life separate from that which came from God. By stitching together the dead and executing his will into creating life that should not be, the scientist’s life and all around him unraveled. Why do I bring those stories up? It’s because while we may not reanimate the dead or bring down fire from Olympus, each of us tries to execute our will over God’s will in our lives. My will wants things my way, whatever that is, and when I do that, I do so against the plans God tailor-made for me.
John 3:16-21 (NKJV)16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”
As the passage above shows, God loves me, and He loves you (v.16). His desire is the best for us. Jesus was sent to save us from our sinful ways (v.17), as we are bound to consequences of our actions whether we recognize it or not (v.18). We see our hearts and the deviation welcomed by us in v.19-20. Just like that fictional monster of the old story Frankenstein recoiled from the flame, we recoil from the light that is God, as it exposes the depravity in our hearts. We live separate from the God who reaches out to us through Christ, the one who died to make a way for us to be made right with God. Coming to Christ for forgiveness of our sins will remove the chasm our sin creates between us and God, and we will have no reason to turn any longer. Christ’s sacrifice for our sins is enough to make us right with Him, whoever we are and whatever we’ve done, and allows us to live out His plans for our lives (v.21).
Isaiah 59:1-2 (NKJV)1 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear. 2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.
Those opening verses of Isaiah 59 aren’t addressed as often as others, I’ve found, but they make the seriousness of sin very clear: Our sin separates us from God. Living within the sins we commit, we run away from God and find difficulty even sensing Him at all in our lives. Our sin becomes more than what we do; it affects our ability to even sense our Creator God. We begin to question whether He even exists. That separation I discussed earlier as what we build between us and the monsters we create in our minds is similar to the separation our sin creates between us and God. Our sinful choices, those “aberrant occurrences” we bring about, make a perfect and unchanging God appear monstrous to us, so we recoil.
For myself, I have personally looked to the truths of Scripture, and I stand indicted as a sinner. Not because of anything the world might attribute to me because of my race, my family history, my economic class, or any other thing that causes such divisions in this life. No, I’m a sinner because I have sinned, as all of us have (Romans 3:23). It does not matter what another has done. My own actions matter for me exclusively, and I know I have sinned and will stand accountable for myself alone (Romans 14:12). There are many times when I feel like the Apostle Paul, where I do what I don’t want to do, and I don’t do what I want to do (Romans 7:15-20). I feel great conflict within me, a war between worldly instinct and divine inspiration, and the battlefield within my heart where these conflicts play out tells many woeful tales. I am not perfect, and even though in my ministry I’ve did my best to encourage others to pursue God’s plan for their lives, I’ve often had to fight to keep sight of that for myself. The monstrousness I speak of has nothing to do with my appearance; the things of true importance to my Creator most often happen below the surface where no one else can see. My monstrousness is something you may never see, but it exists, and I must deal with it with God through Christ.
I am a husband, a father, and a pastor. I’ve heard from many people I have merits they see that I do not. I often I think, “If they only knew.” I may not be a murderer, a rapist, a terrorist, or any such vilified classification in this life easily observable by all, but I am a monster. Every day, if left to my own will, I deviate from the perfect plan I was created for. My very nature in this world pulls me away from serving the loving God I was created for, and it is only in the hope found in Christ I can try to stay on track with that plan.
You may not recoil from the very sight or thought of me. You may even be comforted and helped by me, or someone like me. Yet, on my own, I am a monster. Still, in Christ, I have hope.
Colby Bryant currently serves as the Music/Youth Minister of Oak Grove Baptist Church in Hugo, Oklahoma, and he served as Pastor of Archey Baptist Church in Soper, Oklahoma for several years prior. He and his wife, Stephanie, have three children. He enjoys adding to his extensive knowledge and collection of movies and TV by watching and collecting as many as he can, and he gets in as much video game and tabletop playtime as his schedule will allow.
*** John 14:6 - Jesus said to him, "I am The Way, The Truth, and The Life. NO ONE comes to the Father except through me." ***
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