Another Halloween is upon us. Some bemoan the existence of what they see as a blasphemous holiday, others grumble about how commercial Halloween has become, while yet others complain that the true essence has been lost. People engage the holiday across a broad celebratory spectrum, with some treating it essentially as a fall festival with pumpkins and hay bale decor, and others turn their homes into shocking displays of demonic carnage and gore. Transcending the debates is one simple fact: that Halloween is about scaring others and being scared oneself.
Even when one’s preferred Halloween vibe is low-level creepy rather than outright scary, the “creepiness” is rooted in fear. Inflatable spiders and cartoony skulls and adorable zombies are still tethered to our innate fears of death and creepy-crawly things, even if we don’t actually feel fear when beholding these images. Likewise, when we see a latex-molded slaughter scene in someone’s front yard, we might feel a tingle in our spine but this is because these innocuous plastic props hearken to the real thing, even though we have likely never actually seen “the real thing.”
Before industrialization, people’s lives held many more opportunities for genuine fear than our lives do today. Ever been in the woods in pitch black darkness? That was a regular occurrence until electric lights became widespread. People were much closer to death, human and animal, than we are in modern society. Of course, since these elements were once common, people also developed an equilibrium with them. Finding oneself in the woods after dark wasn’t as scary back then because it was normal.
At the root of all fear is the desperate unwillingness to lose something precious, the ultimate fear being the fear of losing one’s life or the lives of loved ones. If you have a family of your own, you know the fear of something happening to your spouse or children is infinitely greater than the fear of something happening to you. Yet the adrenaline rush from fear is also something we crave, so we try to get as close to it as possible without actually experiencing true peril, at least in most cases. You can indulge in the fear of falling and tease death by going skydiving, a remarkably safe pursuit. Haunted houses goose our imaginations but we know they would be laughable with the lights on. People like to spook (and flatter) themselves with stories of crazed killers stalking beautiful victims.
With the fearful overload these days, what is truly scary? I’ve always made a distinction between “jumpy” and “frightening.” Someone giving my chair a jerk will “scare” me, but only for a moment, just like a knife-wielding maniac bursts onto the screen accompanied by a jarring musical score. There is literally zero danger to me in any capacity, and the feeling of fear is borne out of empathy for the fictitious victim about to meet their demise and for the natural “fight or flight” response triggered in my brain. Things that are truly scary are things that ironically surround us every day: cancer, abandonment, financial collapse, injury, death of a loved one, failure, embarrassment. Yet these harbingers of dread are usually not entertainment-worthy, at least not in a Halloween context.
As I’ve gotten older (and hopefully wiser), I feel the excitement of getting scared starting to evaporate. I rarely watch horror movies or go to haunted houses because I don’t want to want to enjoy simulated fear (personal preference, not proscribed behavior) and dark and creepy places don’t hold the same fascination like they used to. I remember being on youth group camping trips and freaking ourselves out in the dark, but now if I’m in the woods before sunrise, I just think that this is God’s design, and the biggest dangers are ticks and unseen roots as opposed to phantom killers or bloodthirsty beasts.
When it comes to those things in life that are actually frightening, I remind myself that we are not given a spirit of fear, but power, love, and self-control (1 Tim. 1:7). As an adult who is responsible for his family, there are countless fearful things that I could dwell on, but then I remember that the safety and security of my life and my family is really in God’s hands. Yes, I am a steward and am expected to be a responsible caretaker, but being paralyzed with worry and anxiety demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s sovereignty.
So in the end, what is truly scary? For a believer who is grounded in God’s word, the answer should be “nothing”. This Halloween, let your fears be fun-filled jumpy moments and set your real fears before God for Him to command and control.