By N. Paul Williams
If you don’t fear the Parable of the Sower, Dear Church, you probably should. It is the slasher film of Bible Stories with a survival rate of one in four.
For the benefit of those who might be unfamiliar with Matthew 13:3-8, Mark 4:3-8, or Luke 8:5-8, Jesus told a story about a farmer who threw handfuls of seed over his modest plot of land. Some seeds fell on the path, and the birds gobbled them up straight away. Some seeds fell in the rocky places where they found enough soil to start growing, but not enough to survive in the heat of the day. Some seeds fell among the weeds and as the plant began to grow, the rival plants choked out its fruit-bearing potential. But some seeds fell in the good soil and flourished.
Clear as mud, right? Even the disciples needed Jesus’s help in riddling this one out (Matthew 13:18-23, Mark 4:14-20, and Luke 8:11-15), and these were men who understood agricultural metaphors. Because most of us don’t live around farming communities anymore, allow me—with fearful respect for lightning strikes—to retell the story as Jesus might have told it today.
A group of young people appeared in a movie with a psychotic killer. Some of them, a shallow batch of hedonists, died before the opening credits. Another shallow batch managed a spot in the ensemble cast, but like the first group, their “eat, drink, and be merry” attitude made them easy prey when the killer arrived. Others characters were defined by their accomplishments in athletic and intellectual pursuits, which spoke to their discipline and depth of commitment. However, the horror genre is characterized by the death of the world as we know it. These unfortunate souls sought to return to their dying world, and with it, they perished. But there was one in this group who entered as an outsider, one with depth of character and the ability to throw off anything that entangled her. She was able to embrace a borrowed symbol of manhood, face the judgment that claimed her friends, and survive.
Frightfully similar, aren’t they?
Jesus said that the seed represented the Word of God and the different kinds of soil represented the receptiveness of the hearer’s heart. In my version of the parable, the forces that destroy the seeds are replaced by a killer, which might be a problem if he represented evil. But he doesn’t.
Slashers have their origins in some unresolved wrong, and the victim pool is often a reflection of that offense. The teenaged lifeguards at Camp Crystal Lake didn’t see Jason drown because they were too involved with each other. This is why Mrs. Voorhees and her resurrected son kill lecherous teens and other lazy campers. Fred Krueger died when a mob of vigilante parents from Elm Street decided that this child killer wouldn’t be allowed to slip through the cracks of the justice system. But a little thing like being burned alive doesn’t keep him from being a nightmare for children; especially for the kids of Elm Street.
Death is usually a reliable solution to problem individuals. But in the case of bogeymen, death really only makes the problem worse. Vlad the Impaler was bad enough in life, but in death we’ve come to know him as Count Dracula. The same is true for the deformed child who drowned at camp, the child killer who burned, and especially for that rabble rousing carpenter’s son from Nazareth who soundly massacred religious leaders at their own game.
Crucifixion didn’t fix the problem, it created the ultimate bogeyman; a figure feared and hated worldwide because His resurrection proves He can’t be stopped. Millions of people every year pay hundreds of millions to stand face to face with Freddy, Jason, and Michael. We can handle them. We can explain them away as works of fiction. But what we can’t handle is the immortal nature of undeniable truth.
Those with no interest in the truth love to argue as to whether or not such a thing even exists. But on the Day of Judgment, this shallow wisdom will be the folly that seals their quick and early doom. For them, the Word of God never took root, and as such they have the unfortunate distinction of not being a part of God’s ensemble cast of believers!!!
Remember, Dear Church, that in the remaining three categories, the seed took root. If the Parable of the Sower doesn’t scare you, it should.
In the Church, there are some who embrace the Truth with great eagerness, but no depth of understanding. They’re “saved” because they put in their weekly hour of pew time. Jesus loves them and therefore will never give them more than they can handle—never mind the actual verse that says “… tempted beyond your ability to bear.” Jesus has a plan, and it’s going to be fun. No need to mess with invasive verses that mess with rock solid issues defended by layers of protective rock beneath the happy Christian demeanor. I’m fine, you’re fine, Jesus loves us, sins and all. That sounds more loving then demanding a lifestyle change, doesn’t it? What’s so bad about feel-good Bible verses?
Chuck Palahniuk said in his book Haunted: “There are stories we consume in the telling, and there are stories that, in the not telling, consume us.” This is why I write horror; a genre with a history of giving a voice to unspeakable fears. More to the point, we in the Church are being eaten alive by stories we refuse to tell. We are becoming Jonathan Harker in Bram Stoker’s Dracula who said, “I dare not confess my thoughts, even to my own soul.” Christians unable to go deeper than pleasant-sounding platitudes will not survive the hard questions of life, or the fiery nature of truth. They are destined for spiritual deaths before ever reaching maturity, and I weep to think of how many of these have already been lost.
Others in the church are willing to go deeper, but they take so much baggage with them that they are more likely to drown than thrive. It’s easy for me to point the finger here at those who sing God Bless America instead of America, Bless God. It’s easy to talk about those people who serve Christ so long as it doesn’t interfere with their pursuit of the American dream. Woe to those who say that worshiping God should have nothing to do with their checkbook, and that the pastor should preach about something other than money.
It’s easy—much too easy—to say these things, and yet insist that the shame of my past failures is a completely different issue. Yeah, sure, okay, Jesus is my redeemer, blah, blah, blah. But if I don’t spend the rest of my life feeling bad about all my moron moments, then I’m not truly repentant, right? Businessmen who don’t share their wealth with the church is one thing—and this “one thing” is what the verse is really talking about, obviously—but don’t you dare suggest that letting my present find its identity in the weeds of my past has any relevance to the Parable of the Sower…
My wife and I sold a car to a mutual friend a while back, and not once has that friend come to us and said, “Because the car once belonged to you, I think you should still pay for oil changes and other routine maintenance.” And why would he? It goes without saying that if it’s no longer our car, it’s no longer our problem. Yet, the devil has been feeding me that exact load of bunk my entire adult life, and as though to prove him right when he calls me an idiot, I keep falling for it.
The girl running for her life through the woods is not thinking about the label on her jeans, because horror, at its core element, is honest. And to be completely honest—as horror writers and Christians should—I’m bringing far more baggage on this Journey with Jesus than necessary. He keeps trying to tell me that the extra weight is a killer, and I’m starting to realize that it’s less of a joke than a warning. There is no room in the narrow way for Jesus and…
The Church survives the Day of Judgment the same way the Survivor Girl survives her encounter with the killer: with nothing but someone else’s righteous whooping stick. Notice that in those slasher films, the survivor girl always drops her weapon when she’s done with it, which means it isn’t hers. Notice also that the same girl is often an early victim in the sequel. Jesus died so that our shame could be His and His righteousness could be ours. This isn’t a temporary loan so we can be mere survivor girls at the end of one story, but a permanent trade to make us conquerors through eternity.
The great question in the Parable of the Sower is: “How deep are you willing to go, and are you willing to go there alone?” I used to think my answer to this was, “Yeah, sure.” But now, I’m starting to realize that I’m still carrying more than the blood of Jesus. My all-important shame is keeping me from being the father and husband my family needs, and the disciple my Savior wants me to be. I’m being throttled by a lesser god that I didn’t know I worshipped. But the Parable of the Sower also serves as the steps in a harrowing process of glorious loss, turning our rock-hard hearts into deep, nurturing soil. By God’s Grace, and because I’m privileged to know His painful working in my life, I’m content with being a work in progress. He promised that He would be faithful to finish what He started in me, and I trust Him to do what my cowardly self cannot.
I also know this means going down into some deep, dark, scary places, and losing those bits I thought I couldn’t live without. The idea of this journey fills me with dread, but as the infamous killer Jigsaw would ask, “How much are you willing to bleed for the sake of survival?”
Do you fear the Parable of the Sower, Dear Church? It certainly scares the hell out of me.
N. Paul Williams is a horror writer who uses his sense of humor, intimate understanding of the macabre, and skills as a storyteller to share his unique perspective with others. He sees the ministry of the horror writer as equipping people to deal with our own private bogeymen before our bogeymen deal with us. N. Paul Williams is no stranger to those shadows, so he understands that sometimes calling people out of the darkness means going in after them.