This piece was written by Jill Moran.

I married a man who learned from God through fiction. My husband swears by the hand of Stephen King in his spiritual life just as he does Brennan Manning, G.K. Chesterton, and the Apostle Paul. The sceptic in me, at first, saw only blood and horror at the sight of a Stephen King book. I wanted nothing to do with it, as I don’t with most dark things, assuming there is nothing sacred to be found in the midst of gore. I now see something much deeper as I peer through the pages of these books like so many have before me. The novels that have, yes, given us all nightmares but have also brought us to the most childlike parts of ourselves, wrapped in nostalgia, lessons about God and lessons about ourselves, have won me over.

My husband and I have read the novel It so many times the book’s cover is tattered and torn. With the story hitting big screens again this fall, I thought it was my civic duty to write about the lessons I’ve found in these faded pages. It is a story with themes that can only be traced back to ultimate truth, specifically to a separate book, one, if you can believe it, that is bigger and longer than any King novel.

As I sat in my movie theater chair, popcorn in hand, the candy and wine we had snuck into the theater under my seat, I was struck once again by King’s ability to make me feel things. As you watch, King teaches our hearts the basics in being fragile people. He so simply shows us how good and evil have affected every person. This story demonstrates that good and evil consume each one of us. This is something no human can escape from. That is how a King horror story becomes not only terrifying but relatable in the depths of our being.

The story of It revolves around the character It”, otherwise known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. This thing, this It, can only be described as such because It appears differently to each character throughout the story. The creature becomes the epitome of your past, the thing in life that horrifies you to the point of despair. It feeds on the darkest places inside of us; It illuminates the evil inside and taunts. Basically, Stephen created It to personify fear. It takes us back to the points in our childhood that have created us, haunted us and left us immobilized. In the film, we follow a quirky and lovable crew of seven eleven-year-old outsiders growing up in the eighties, experiencing their nightmares becoming reality. King builds their narratives, without shying away from the horrors that have shaped them, by highlighting these things in an inescapable way. The personal sufferings that have paralyzed their lives, the places where It makes its home in their psyche, begin to become more and more real. It has even begun to kill the children in their neighborhood. It’s up to these misfits to find out what can truly overcome fear and suffering to save the souls that are being lost.

I began to notice parallels between my own life and the young characters I got to know through this story. Their deepest fears, embodied as It, haunt only in a state of aloneness. They experience these sufferings while everyone around them seems completely unaware of the darkness present. They are terrorized in the daylight as the world around them keeps going, unshaken by the trauma the kids have individually fallen victim to. These kids experience this darkness, these damaging events, alone and paralyzed by the feeling of insanity, wondering if what they have seen can even be real.

“Maybe that’s why God made us kids first and built us close to the ground, because He knows you got to fall down a lot and bleed a lot before you learn that one simple lesson. You pay for what you get, you own what you pay for . . . and sooner or later whatever you own comes back home to you.” Stephen King, It

One of my favorite characters, Beverly, a brave and fiery fifth-grader, experiences It in her bathroom at home. The crummy apartment she lives in is a nightmare all its own and only becomes more unlivable as she starts to hear voices coming from the drain in the bathroom sink. Beverly is a victim of abuse, and is isolated as she deals with her abusive father in secrecy. For Bev, the horror she experienced in the bathroom is just a picture of what is already happening to her in the outside world. She is constantly living in a state of fear, a state of aloneness, a state of insanity.

I will spare you the details of the bathroom scene, and just inform you that it ends with blood spouting from the drain in the sink, covering the bathroom. (I mean, what’s Stephen King without blood and gore?) Bev, in desperation for her own sanity, bravely decides to let her friends in on the things she experienced in that bathroom, knowing that it may cost her her own reputation. As her friends listen and learn of what has happened, their response is one that could only come out of a book, it’s that good:

“Well, why don’t we clean the place up?”

Beverly needed to be told she was not isolated in her suffering. She needed her childhood friends to enter into her world. She needed to know that she was neither alone nor crazy. Beverly needed someone to clean up the mess in the bathroom with her. As they faced reality together, mop and bleach in hand, evil began to lose Its power. This theme of camaraderie and togetherness weaves throughout, to the very end of the story, as the children finally stand face-to-face with Pennywise the Clown. Staying unified becomes the answer, the only solution as these brave souls press into the very face of all darkness itself.

In the reality of our Christian faith, we have been given a similar answer for the defeat of suffering and evil. We cannot make it go away, and on the contrary, the Bible has told us that the life of a Christ-follower is marked by its suffering. Suffering may be an unavoidable reality, but God has given us something within it all; He has given us Himself. When Saul became Paul on the road to Damascus, Jesus spoke this to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting  me?” (Acts 9:4).

Jesus and Paul had never met. Instead of Jesus asking Paul why he was persecuting His followers, Jesus has so self-identified with His followers that He had taken all their suffering onto Himself. Saul was not persecuting the Christ-follower, he was persecuting God Himself, because the Christian is so tucked away in the identity of Christ. Jesus becomes part of our horror story, he puts himself right in the middle of it. He washes our hypothetical bloody bathrooms with us and sometimes he even brings us our own outsider crew to do the same.

“Maybe, he thought, there aren’t any such things as good friends or bad friends—maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you’re hurt and who help you feel not so lonely. Maybe they’re always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for. Maybe worth dying for, too, if that’s what has to be. No good friends. No bad friends. Only people you want, need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart.” Stephen King, It