Netflix’s 'Midnight Mass' and the need for discernment

Midnight Mass

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers for, and explains the plot of, the Netflix series, "Midnight Mass."

My oldest daughter and I share the same affinity for scary movies. Not the gratuitous violence, slasher, torture kind, but rather the genuinely creepy films that whisper in your ear at 2am that the noise you just heard sounds a lot like the monster in the movie you watched earlier.

Fortunately, there exists strength, nerves of steel, and courage in my bed that will fearlessly investigate any such sound, no matter the hour. I’m always relieved when my wife returns from those searches unharmed.

When I saw the promos for the Netflix mini-series "Midnight Mass," I had a feeling it would be right up my horror-fan alley.  Created by Mike Flanagan, the same writer/director of movies and series like "Oculus," "Doctor Sleep," "The Haunting of Hill House," and others, "Midnight Mass" tells the story of an isolated island community that experiences miraculous, but also ominous events after the arrival of a charismatic, mysterious young priest.  

The lame walk, residents are cured of their ailments including dementia, and a spiritual revival breaks out on the island. But strange and dark incidents also occur – animals are found dead, people start disappearing, and the new priest suddenly has to start holding mass at night.

Long story short, the young priest is actually the island’s very old cleric who went to visit the holy land and was attacked and transformed there by a vampire. Thinking the monster is an angel (because the creature has made him young again), the priest returns to the island with the vampire in tow.

The miraculous healings are the result of the priest mixing the vampire’s blood into the church’s communion, which he gives to the congregation in the belief he is doing them good. Of course, instead, he is dooming them to a horrible, immortal existence.

Recognizing that your angel is a devil

Flanagan is no fan of Christianity and that is quietly communicated in "Midnight Mass." He tells The New York Times that when he first read the Bible, “I was shocked, for the first time comprehending what a really strange book it is. There were so many ideas I’d never heard before in church, and the violence of the Old Testament God is terrifying! Slaughtering babies and drowning the earth! It really struck me that I didn’t know my faith at that point.”

Flanagan says in his interview that atheistic books from Samuel Harris and Christopher Hitchens spoke to him the most. Therefore, it’s not surprising that Flanagan makes Christians out to be the dupes and non-Christians the smart ones in his mini-series. Even so, he still does a good job of depicting spiritual deception and how false beliefs can quickly be rationalized.

When the priest can no longer stand the sun, he and his followers cite the darkness described in Revelation and state they are in the last days. When they begin to crave blood, they twist the words of Christ, “my blood is true drink” (John 6:55) to explain their need.

As I watched the series, I thought to myself “How stupid can these people be?” But then I started thinking.

How could people believe that Jim Jones was the messiah and go so far as to follow him down the road to mass suicide? How could the disciples of David Koresh swallow his lie of him being the Lamb of God and the only one qualified to open the seven seals of the Book of Revelation?

How could these people, and countless other victims of spiritual counterfeits, not recognize that their angel was, in fact, a devil?

There’s a reason that every book of the New Testament except Philemon warns about false teachers and encourages spiritual discernment. It’s no surprise that we constantly read in Scripture to “examine everything carefully” (1 Thess. 5:21), to “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1), and understand that the enemy comes “in sheep’s clothing” (Matt. 7:15) and as “an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14).  

The Bible encourages us to be people that are “mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Heb. 5:14).

Notice that discernment is described by the author of Hebrews as something that requires work. The same sentiment is conveyed in Proverbs: “For if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God” (Prov. 2:3-5).

It seems outlandish to think we’d confuse a vampire with an angel, but it’s tragically happened more times than we care to admit. In reality, a vampire is the perfect representation of a false teacher and a type of antichrist. Whereas Jesus, the Light of the world, shed His blood to give us eternal life, the vampire, a creature of the dark, steals the blood of its victim to give itself eternal life.

It’s my hope that we all gain the ability to unmask fake angels as devils through training our senses to discern good and evil, “for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:16). 

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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