Escape Room Theology

If you are looking for an escape room experience that you can do for a church event, then click here: Bible Escape Room. If you want theological reflections on escape rooms, then keep reading.

Recently, I was able to experience an escape room.   These experiential games are popping up all over the country.  While the theme and puzzles differ radically, the concept behind these escape rooms is that a group is locked in a themed room.   Working together, the group must find hidden keys, combinations, and solve puzzles in order to escape the room before time runs out.   The particular escape room I visited, was a great experience.  I was incredibly impressed by the artistry and details present in the room.  I also found the puzzles they had created to be quite clever.  It was a fun experience and I look forward to going back there and attempting one of their other rooms.  However, in the days after we successfully escaped I found something kind of bothered me about the experience.   What bothered me is that everything in the room was there for a reason.  

            Escape rooms all have a theme and try to deliver a narrative.  This specific room was about a cabin occupied by a homicidal maniac.   The design and decoration of the cabin was thematic and immersive.  This is what bothered me though.  The puzzles, while clever, make no thematic sense.   For instance getting one of the final clues to get out requires multiple people to work together on a task simultaneously.  However, to unlock that  element first requires unlocking and tuning into a radio.   However, in order for the information on the radio to make sense requires making sense of elements from a different part of the room. Logically, why would a person who lives alone hide a key in a way that requires multiple people to open?  Furthermore, why would someone go through that kind of trouble in the first place?    It makes sense in the concept of an escape room, but it is insane when put in the narrative the game is creating.  Everything in that cabin made sense for the puzzles the room threw at the players, but it was not realistic.  The odd juxtaposition between a realistic looking and detailed room and wildly unrealistic challenges was a little off putting to me.   

            The puzzle and problem solving logic used by escape rooms is also common in video games.   The point and click adventure genre, made popular by Myst, is a prime example of this.   These video games, and by extension escape rooms, require a suspension of belief and an acceptance that in this world unrealistic puzzles are normal.    It requires accepting that everything in the escape room exist for a specific reason, and even if it does not make sense at first it will all fit together to work out perfectly in the end.   Unfortunately, this is a viewpoint that a lot of people bring into their theology as well.  

            It is a commonly held belief that that “everything happens for a reason.”   From my faith perspective and theological viewpoint, that belief does not hold truth.   This is not to say that God is absent from working in the world.  God is active in the world, and God does intervene to bring about God’s purposes.   There are too many faithful disciples with testimonies to back this up to say otherwise.  However, to say that God works to bring about God’s will is a far cry from everything happens for a reason. 

            For instance there are dozens and dozens of children suffering from incurable forms of cancer, and barring a supernatural miracle only have months to live.   Did that happen for a reason?   If so, that means that God is purposely killing an innocent child for a greater purpose.   That level of the ends justifying the means is the logic that super villains use.   How can we say God is love (1 John 4:8) but God is willing to cause suffering for a greater purpose?  

            From my perspective the belief that everything happens for a reason is at odds with the understanding of God I get from reading the scriptures, my faith tradition, my personal experience, and reasoned thought.   The reason why this belief is so common, is because on a surface level we want it to be true.   We want life to work like an escape room, because it means that the suffering and loss we experience is all part of the plan.  

            Life is not an escape room, everything is not there for a specific purpose.  Life is too real for that, and God is too loving and too honest for that kind of manipulation.   We live in a broken world that is sadly full of evil, loss and pain.   Why?  I do not know.   None of us do.   Committing to a life of faith does not mean we get all of the answers.  What it means is we do not have to ask the questions alone.   It means that we trust there is something greater than the chaos and confusion of life.    Even if God does not make everything happen for a reason, God can still work to bring good out evil, light out of darkness, and reconciliation out of brokenness.   As Christians we can hold firm to the belief that God is constantly at work in the world to restore it make it whole again.   Even though there is pain and suffering we do not understand, we can find an undying hope that there will be a day when God “will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

            Life is not an escape room where everything makes sense and fits together.   That means life can be uncomfortable but it also means life is not so small, simple, or constricting.  Life is messy but it is totally worth exploring, and in the Christian faith we have the assurance that God is with us to the very end of the age. 

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