In the wildly popular Netflix series, Stranger Things, the small town of Hawkins, Indiana battles a sinister, evil force that threatens to overcome the town’s residents. The monstrous invaders inhabit a labyrinth of creepy underground tunnels, but come out into the town to devour the almost helpless human victims. As this force takes over the cerebral functions of one of the series’ characters, it projects a mirror image of the boy’s current surroundings into his mind—but ‘clothed’ in a hell-like veneer. It’s the same, but it’s different in a terrifying kind of way. The children in the series have coined the term, The ‘Upside-Down’, to describe the parallel universe in which these satanic creatures live. A portal has been somehow opened to the deadly invaders, and they’re now on the loose in Hawkins, Indiana. In turn, the series’ main characters battle back to evict these invaders, then close the gate on their portal of entry into our world.
The notion of parallel universes has been around for some time. It has intrigued scientists, philosophers, authors, and artisans of the sci-fi genre for years. It entails the idea that we are not alone. There are parallel spheres of time, matter, life, and space that exist simultaneously with us. But we can’t see or interact with these spheres. As such, whether or not they exist constitutes an ongoing debate within the scientific community. That doesn’t stop the truly curious, however, from wondering about them. In fact, part of our problem is that too few of us think deeply enough in this area. We prefer to live our lives in highly compartmentalized ways. We strive to separate ourselves from other things, beings, and ideas that don’t comport with our limited, current worldviews. On a spiritual level, we create neat separations between our own world, our projection of Heaven, and our notion of Hell. Many believe that the latter two places exist, but are separate from the world of the living. It goes like this: We inhabit our world. God inhabits Heaven. And Satan lives in Hell. The three don’t mix. They’re not parallel. And that’s that.
Further, we attribute specific qualities to these separate places. If we believe some of our religious leaders, the World is a sinful place by nature. But it’s redeemable by our faith. For some, it’s commonly accepted that our redemption and salvation are completely out of our hands for that matter. Conversely, others posit that the earth is a neutral zone of sorts. A place that we can fully fashion as we choose, for good or for bad. Next there’s Heaven. It’s a good and wondrous place. Without sin. Heavenly, in fact. Perfect. Now contrast this with Hell, a blazing furnace of suffering, eternal death, pain, and remorse. So what’s the sum and substance of these three discrete places? We live our actual breathing lives on Earth. And we spend eternity in the after-life of either Heaven or Hell. They’re all separate. And they don’t intermix. All quite compartmentalized and linear.
We view reality in this way because we can’t know all things. We can humanly understand only in part. And we have an existential fear of death. So we create separate places that we go to upon our death. In order to feel like we’ll never really die. When combined with our anthropomorphic tendency to view all things in terms of ‘us’ collectively as humans (and, for many, ourselves as self-contained individuals), we ‘exist’ in over-simplified, personalized, and narrow-minded ways. Like living with blinders, in fact. But blinders are spiritually unhealthy, especially with regards to something this important to our ‘beings’ as humans. As such, what if we tried something else for a change? And viewed Heaven and Hell differently. Not as separate realms that we move to upon death. But as two different parallel universes that mirror our world for better or worse, respectively, right now.
It’s like an Upside-Down, but not just one. Two, in fact. The Upside-Down x 2. What’s more, we’re not entirely acted on by these parallel spheres. Nor are we sucked into them via some black hole. No. It goes the other way too. We actually influence both of these universes. We spiritually enter both Upside-Downs each day. And we invite them both into our world through our thoughts, words, and deeds. These Upside-Downs therefore help to shape our own world, as well. Through the accumulation of loving or hateful past actions, respectively. Ours and others either for or against us.
So, in all of this, our world and the two Upside-Downs are thoroughly inter-connected. Perhaps by a million spiritual holes or portals. Both Upside-Downs are mirrors of our own earthly reality, reflecting our world for better or for worse, in turn. All three exist simultaneously. Right now. Simply said, then, Earth, Heaven, and Hell exist together in time, if not in actual space. We move between and amongst the spheres with regularity. And because these universes exist in parallel with myriad portals, we can influence the Upside-Downs (even though we’re also influenced by them).
In fact, we exert a truly powerful influence on the Upside-Down x 2. It’s possible because we’re gifted with the Capacity of Creative Possibility and Potentiality. The capacity to see, to create, and to actualize both goodness and badness in ourselves, our world, and others. The capacity to build and to tear down. The capacity to give life and take life. The capacity to influence justice, fairness, compassion, and peace for either better or for worse. Or somewhere in between. We can therefore make a difference. A difference in shaping our own world in the mirror images of either Upside-Down. Sometimes, a little of both to be honest.
And where is God in all of this? For many people of faith, God remains inherently separate from us. To be engaged primarily or solely in Word, prayer, and worship. To be called on as needed. To be feared. For these believers, God acts upon us. Then God meets us upon our death. God meets us to mete out judgment and placement. Eternally. In Heaven or in Hell. It’s all quite binary if that’s how you see God. But what if God is something different altogether? A creator God. The God of our Capacity. Of our Possibility. Of our Potential. Not a separate entity in the Upside-Down of Heaven, but the God of ‘All-Around’. In fact, God as the All-Around.
A God who is present for us in accompaniment. And who infuses us with the capacity, the possibility, and the potential to shape our world in the direction of the far better Upside-Down. Pointing us, however gently, in the direction of what we can become. In the direction of what’s possible in the positive sense of the word. Of what’s good and just. Of what’s loving and grace-filled. Actualized more fully, if never completely, in the good and divine Upside-Down mirror image of ourselves. Within a universe of many parallels. And that’s unparalleled on many, many levels. In a Right-Side-Up kind of way.