One of Netflix’s newest movies, The Devil All the Time, truly lives up to its name. As you watch the perverse nature of the characters and the abuse of religion, it seems as if you are experiencing the work of the devil the whole of the movie. Based on the book by Donald Ray Pollock, the film adaptation takes a deep look into a cast of extremely crooked characters from small towns in Ohio and West Virginia. It’s also a story that looks at the depth of suffering that these characters face, namely Arvin (played by Tom Holland). For Arvin, suffering and Christianity seem to go hand-in-hand. The evils of the film are all justified in the name of Christ.

When Arvin is only a boy his suffering begins. His father Willard forces him to pray, aggressively I might add, when Arvin’s mother is diagnosed with cancer. Willard believes God wants Arvin’s dog as a sacrifice to heal his wife from the disease, but it’s to no avail. After the funeral, Arvin wants to properly bury his dog only to find his dad slumped over in the backyard. In twenty-four hours, the boy Arvin has suffered the loss of his mother, father, and his dog. This is but the beginning of the suffering Arvin will endure in his life.

Arvin is then welcomed in to be raised by his grandmother and uncle. They have already taken in a young girl as well, Lenora, who has her own fair share of suffering. Even though Arvin has trouble with church and organized religion because of his roots, he still drives Lenora to the church cemetery where her mother is buried so she can read scripture and spend time with her.

Eventually, a new preacher shows up in town. Reverend Preston Teagardin (played by Robert Pattinson). This kooky character ends up being another vessel of suffering not only for Arvin but his whole family. It begins when his grandmother is shamed for bringing chicken livers to the preacher’s welcome banquet at church. It gets even worse when Arvin leaves Lenora at the cemetery to go attack bullies who have been harassing her and she is left alone with the new reverend. Unfortunately, he takes advantage of Lenora and blames her for the resulting pregnancy which leads to her demise. The Law guilts her into taking her life. The suffering continues.

Once Arvin realizes what has happened and follows the new Reverend around witnessing him treat other church girls this way, he decides something must be done. He confronts the Reverend and kills him in the church before hitting the road to escape. When the suffering seems like it has come to an end, his car dies and he’s left to hitchhike. The suffering continues.

He finds himself in more trouble with religious frauds and nearly escapes death along the way to properly bury his dog’s bones from when he was younger. Finally, he buries the bones of his dog, along with his gun. The suffering is over he hopes. The Devil finally defeated, his old life is behind him. He then goes back to hitchhiking to get picked up by an American-looking version of Jesus driving the symbolic car of peace, a Volkswagen hippy van. Arvin then finally finds rest and falls asleep.

A movie with quite a plot and such riveting characters makes one wonder about the presence of God in such suffering. With such manipulation of God’s name and the church, where is God? It’s the same question I’m sure early Christians asked each other when Saint Paul was hunting them down, using religion for devilish purposes. That is, before God’s grace hunted him down and he couldn’t cause any more suffering. We can ask the same question today with the many church scandals and abuses of power that unfortunately show up. I, myself, was a member of Mars Hill Church that fell apart years back due to abuses of power. It troubled me and many others as we suffered through the crumbling of what had become our family. Where was God? Where was he in this suffering? Now, it is nowhere near what Arvin experienced or what others have experienced in reality, but the question still hovers above all of us. Where is God in our suffering?

Throughout the movie there are numerous images of crosses and paintings of Jesus carrying his cross. While there are many meanings to extrapolate from this film that have to do with suffering, abuse, and the effect of manipulating people by using God, there is one thing that crossed my mind. Perhaps, God is with us in our suffering with his own suffering. Maybe our suffering is found to make some sense in the suffering of our own God who put on flesh and blood to suffer with us. Jesus himself was a victim to the abuse of religion. It was his own fellow participants in religion that abused it to have him killed. Albeit, it was part of God’s bigger plan — but still. He faced attacks, manipulations of the faith and even lies spread about him from the religion he belonged to.

Perhaps, in the middle of all our suffering, even at the hands of those using the name of God to inflict such pain, God is there and present with us bearing his cross. Maybe when God is nowhere to be found, he is actually right in the midst of our suffering, right alongside you. And maybe, there is a van awaiting us with the door wide open, offering peace and rest in the midst of such suffering. One can only hope and have faith, even when it feels like we are battling the devil all the time.