Ah, the savory sight of that big orange vegetable bursting into gooey pulp, splattering all over walls or porch floors or front yards — all, of course, in my seven-year-old mind.
Yes, hello. My name is Stephen. (“Hiiii, Stephen.”) I’m not only a speculative reader and writer, out of that closet, but I’m a former child homeschool dweeb. (Now I am an adult homeschool dweeb.) Mind you, my issues were not limited to homeschooling practice, though I do believe homeschooled folks may statistically be more prone to this: taking a legitimate Christian dislike of Halloween, and stretching it into fearful, silly, or even magical and superstitious extremes.
Is this the part where I blast my parents for not letting me go get sugary handouts at the front doors of strangers? Nah. The fact is that today I care little for Halloween. And a lot of it is plain evil. Yes, redemptive horror is an optional genre for Christians to explore, especially because it’s in the Bible. But the horror-and-evil-for-its-own-sake stuff is not Biblical. And rampant sexualization of almost everything Halloween-ish makes it worse.
But those are others’ sins. Here I’ll describe my own sins, and, without lapsing into equally silly self-hated, or legalism against legalism, mock them openly.
And this is yet another issue that neatly bridges our real-life and fiction enjoyments.
From my memory, my parents wished simply to avoid and ignore Halloween. That was all. Just turn off the porch lights after dusk on Oct. 31st and act like it’s any other night.
But could I let it go that easily? Oh no. Visions of invisible devils drifting about the area, cackling with Satanic glee and getting mystic spiritual steroids from middle-school kids dressed up as ghosts or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, were my own brain candy.
In the living room, I would press between curtains and window glass, staring into the front yard, like a white kid in a jungle hoping to catch a glimpse of these natives and their pagan practices. Will they come to the door anyway? Yeah, let them come anyway! Then a parent could answer, or I myself. I am Sorry. We Do Not Celebrate Halloween. Then the worldly kids would leave, dejected. I would cackle. Ha ha haaa! Foiled again, Satan! Your Army of Darkness™ isn’t welcome here. Score one more for righteousness.
But this fun was not delayed until All Hallow’s Eve itself. While on errands, sitting in the backseat of the car, especially after dark when I couldn’t do what all homeschool kids do in the backseats of cars — read — I had the pumpkins. And plastic skeletons. Also the black-cat and witch and ghost props. Bonus points if they were lit up. Awww, yeahhh. I would load my imaginary six-shooter. Aim. Fire. Fire again. Rapid-fire. Phew phew phew!
Yes, before first-person shooter video games were even invented — and even if they had been, I wouldn’t have heard of them — I was playing my own version of Doom.
The secret enemy
Don’t be absurd. You were just a little kid. Indeed, and a little sinner, who’s still tempted to do the same kinds of sins — just as many Christians are. Even now I’m tempted to do my own little first-person shooter game at Christians who treat Halloween that way! In response to those who base their lives on Fighting Against X, it’s tempting to base one’s life on fighting them, and again miss the point of any true conflict: the happy end.
Could I reboot my own childhood in my own brain, self-righteously lecturing my own parents or pastors or Christian leaders about how they Should Have Done It? Sure. But it’s still an imaginary universe. Moreover, I still don’t recall hearing much teaching in support of rejecting Halloween or its evils. Even if I my parents did say more, would I really have listened? Heck no. This was too much fun. I could treat other people like bad guys. I can outsource blame from my own sinful heart and pin it on them! Or rather, on demons. Demons, after all, are the worst bad guys. They’re secretly behind, maybe not every bush (I tire of that cliché, just a bit), but every wickedly grinning pumpkin.
But come to think of it, Scripture seems to emphasize a very different villain than we may have been trained to demonize, or would prefer demonizing.
In the Old Testament, we hardly hear about the Devil. Instead, God gives His Law so that sinful people will grasp the seriousness of their own sin, not just the Devil’s power. Only in the New Testament is Satan more active. Jesus casts out demons, creatures whom we had before only read about more vaguely, which tormented King Saul or destroyed evil armies, and somehow on God’s behalf. Christ also tells his disciples to cast out demons, which they do, and which Christians, presumably, might still do.
In Acts, though, we read only brief mentions of Christians casting out demons; the Apostle Paul’s case is the most specific (Acts 16: 16-18). But what’s very strange there is that he seems not to have followed some Christian “deliverance ministry”-style routines on the subject. Paul put up with the demon-influenced girl’s ranting “for many days,” until finally commanding the demon, in Jesus’ Name, to get the Hell out of there.
Did he plead the blood? Take dominion? No. He was “greatly annoyed” (v. 18). And you can just imagine: Here the apostles were trying to go to pray (v. 16), and also preach the Gospel, and some demonized gadfly is tagging along. That Devil. He can be so irritating.
An honorable Adversary?
At the risk of minimizing the threat of the roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8), this is how the rest of the New Testament treats Satan: He’s a nuisance. “Resist him,” but know his attacks are not unique to you (1 Peter 5:9). “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” James tosses into his advice (James 4:7). Your primary target is your own sin-shrapnel.
How does that fit with many Christians’ views of demonic villains? Not very well. Even those who profess to believe Scripture’s sufficiency are tempted to fill in the apparent “gaps” of the Bible’s instruction about territorial spirits, exorcism methods, pleading the blood to drive out demons, and whatnot. We seem to have a spiritual military-industrial complex mainly against Satan. Scripture never encourages that. It’s instead distracted by odd obsessions with declaring war and fighting against personal sins.
I’m perplexed by what seems a mistrust of God to give us, in His Word, all that we need to know about what Satan and his real-life Army of Darkness are up to.
I’m also perplexed that Christians evidently believe the Devil is so stupid as to make his worst works so obviously revealed by wicked-looking decorations or covens routinely sacrificing goats in the woods. At some point, it seems, Satan gave up the whole “angel of light” routine (2 Cor. 11:14)? Instead demons are honest foes, standing proud in their redcoats (with optional pitchfork and forked-tail accessories), firing at Christians?
Perhaps most perplexing is when Christians, with the best of intentions, not only add to Scripture, but ignore or reject what is already there. Most recently I saw this yet again, in response to this solid column about Halloween. I don’t favor much of that site’s stuff, but when one commentator says this, I’m automatically on the article author’s side:
Are you kidding me? “Abstain from all appearance of evil” 1 Thes. 5:22, “neither be partaker of other men’s sins” 1 Tim. 5:22, etc.etc.
So get off the internet; all computers have the “appearance of evil” to me! Yes, I could say that, using this “principle,” but this verse nearly ties Matthew 7:1 (“Judge not …”) for the most-abused verse of Scripture. “Appearance of evil,” in the KJV, means actual evil has appeared. Other translations clarify this by saying “every form/kind of evil.” To ignore that and try to shut down someone’s appearance-only “sin” is to twist this verse and ignore other Scriptures, such the “meat sacrificed to idols” passage (1 Cor. 8-10).
But hey, why let that get in the way of historic superstitions and fear-based “warfare”?
All I can say now is that if I were the Devil — and unlike Christianized humanism would suggest, humans are closely related to him! — my central strategy would not be a full-frontal assault with Wiccanism and pagan practices. Rather, I’d send out that squadron as a bluff (with the added bonus of firming up the more-overt pagan political base). But the real gains would come from Christians’ response to the bluff: fear, mistrust of the Bible, neglect that Christ has already and openly mocked dark forces, and failure to fight the subtler sins of our own hearts while instead chasing after external-only enemies.
‘The Gospel trick’ — and treat
So that’s what not to do. A bunch of anti-anti-antis, all over again, to which I’m prone. (By the way, after his seasonal diversion, I’ll be returning to that series next week.)
What, then, do Christians who know of their sin-struggles and the Devil, do about him?
I could double this essay with suggestions. But Desiring God, specifically writer David Mathis, has already done this with Biblical brilliance. This more than deserves a quote here, followed by links, web-hits, and printouts and copies made, to deploy in real spiritual warfare — the kind that knows Jesus Christ has already beat the Devil and saved us from his fake kingdom on Earth, and that we’re just cleaning up the debris.
What if we didn’t think of ourselves as “in the world, but not of it,” but rather, as Jesus says in John 17, “not of the world, but sent into it”?
And what if that led us to move beyond our squabbles about whether or not we’re free to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve, and the main issue became whether our enjoyment of Jesus and his victory over Satan and the powers of darkness might incline us to think less about our private enjoyments and more about how we might love others? What if we took Halloween captive—along with “every thought” (2 Corinthians 10:5)—as an opportunity for gospel advance and bringing true joy to the unbelieving?
What if we didn’t merely go with the societal flow and unwittingly float with the cultural tide into and out of yet another Halloween? What if we didn’t observe the day with the same naïveté as our unbelieving neighbors and coworkers?
And what if we didn’t overreact to such nonchalance by simply withdrawing? What if Halloween wasn’t a night when Christians retreated in disapproval, but an occasion for storming the gates of hell?
The Gospel Trick
What if we ran Halloween through the grid of the gospel and pondered whether there might be a third path beyond naïveté and retreat? What if we took the perspective that all of life, Halloween included, is an opportunity for gospel advance? What if we saw Halloween not as a retreat but as a kind of gospel trick—an occasion to extend Christ’s cause on precisely the night when Satan may feel his strongest?
What if we took to the offensive on Halloween? Isn’t this how our God loves to show himself mighty? [Boldface emphasis added.] Just when the devil has a good head of steam, God, like a skilled ninja, uses the adversary’s body weight against him. It’s Satan’s own inertia that drives the stake into his heart. Just like the cross. It’s a kind of divine “trick”: Precisely when the demonic community thinks for sure they have Jesus cornered, he delivers the deathblow. Wasn’t it a Halloween-like gathering of darkness and demonic festival at Golgotha, the place of the Skull, when the God-man “disarmed the powers and authorities [and] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them” at the cross (Colossians 2:15)?