Bruce Feiler, who is neither Christian nor a practicing Jew, decided to read the first five books of the Old Testament as he traveled to the stories' historical locations in the Middle East. Among other things, he kept revisiting the impact of the geography in his understanding of events in the Bible. His perspective on the desert is worth noting:
"The first lesson of the desert: By feeling uneasy and unsure, by fearing that you're out of your depth and therefore might falter, by feeling small, and alone, you begin - slowly, reluctantly, maybe even for the first time in your life - to consider turning somewhere else. At first that somewhere else is someone else: Moses, Aaron... You eventually grow wary of the flat and easy, the commonplace and self-reliant. You begin to crave the depth, the height, the extremes. You begin to crave the fear."
This makes sense to me. I view the Old Testament as a record of physical pictures (or foreshadowing) of what we now experience as spiritual realities. I have experienced the "deserts" of my life - hard times in marriage, fears that came with Vincent's diagnoses, my father's death - exactly how Mr. Feiler describes his experience of the desert. Those are the places where I was small, alone and experiencing God more clearly than ever before.
I even understand what he says about fear. You crave it not because you like fear, but because it means you are grappling with an situation in which the stakes are high. I don't fear falling off my couch, but I do fear falling when I am fixing my roof. The fear is not the point; it is merely a gauge for the weightiness of the situation.
Perhaps the modern horror trend is simply a distortion of the craving for fear. In a world that often seems "flat and easy," people crave the extremes. Here's the difference between simple horror and real fear: A healthy fear reminds us of our need for a savior, while an unhealthy fear robs us of any hope of being saved.
The desert is not meant to rob us of hope, but to remind us that the greatest answer for our lives is not found in ourselves.