On God, His Word, His Church, and His World
On God, His Word, His Church, and His World
An American Holiday for Fallen Image-bearers
October 22, 2017
In this short piece, I’m not interested in tracing the origin of Halloween nor in outlining what is permissible for Christians to do on this day, or the days leading up to it. (Can I dress up as Snoopy? Can I buy candy that’s on sale?) My interest is far more fundamental. I want to consider the present-day religious presupposition of Halloween in our culture, and to make Christians aware of this presupposition, as we engage our culture’s increasing rebellion against Christ the King.
Simply put, our culture’s religious celebration of Halloween reflects both the fallenness of man as well as, in spite of himself, his nature as the image of God.
Whatever past practices of Halloween may have been, Halloween today is a grotesque and dehumanizing celebration of masochism and general ugliness. Consider what is seen on many entrances and front yards of homes in America this time of year. There are fake cobwebs, fake tombstones, artificial body parts (fake hands and fake feet drenched in fake blood), and fake skeletons. More and more, the prosthetics and props of Halloween look realistic. Our culture desires to have the scariest Halloween that approximates reality, and yet remains unreal.
One must ask the question, however: why stop with fake blood, fake body parts, fake everything? If what is grotesque is what our culture celebrates, why not have (excuse the pun) a full-throated embrace of, not mere approximations of sadistic scenes, but actual scenes of actual body parts and real horror in one’s front yard? Lest, we think this is unthinkable, we ought not be surprised if in next year’s Halloween celebrations, blue-ribbons are given to homes decorated with real corpses. This slide into the hideous is part of our culture’s embrace of death. Christ warned us that “all who hate me love death” (Prov 8:36). Our culture continues to turn its back on Christ as the exclusive Word of Life, instead preferring the enslaving word of mortal man, with all the tyrannies hell gives. Is it any wonder, then, that our culture rebels against the Lord of Life by loving and embracing death?
Halloween is just the tip of the iceberg. The most popular show on cable TV in the last 5 years is one that, so I’ve read, glorifies rape, sadism, brutality towards women, senseless violence, vengeance killings, murder, naked ambition, and the exercise of raw power. This is who we are as an American culture. As such, Halloween is a holiday—a religious celebration— that is perfectly fitting for our culture’s religious commitment to Satan, hell, and death.
Yet, in spite of our culture’s commitment to death, fallen man is still an image-bearer of God. As much as he would like to efface his nature (like someone shaterring a mirror and wanting to disintegrate the shards into dust), man is unable to get beyond his nature, which is to image and reflect God. We see the inescapable image of God in Halloween because anyone who still has any sense of beauty, whether or not they’re Christian, is still repulsed by the grotesque images of ugliness and fake body parts.
Hence, the proliferation in our day of plastic horror. Our fallen culture wants ugly horror because it hates God, but it wants an artificial expression of it because, in spite of itself, it is too timid to live fully by the courage of its conviction: that life is bad and death is good. Being a fallen image bearer means that unbelievers are still governed by God’s providence and are restrained by His goodness from fully being destroyed by their own hands.
This is not a static moment. Quite the opposite. Evidence abounds that God is slowly letting go of His restraint and giving this culture what it wants, which is a gorging on death and a numbness to Life.
When Jesus healed the Gadarene demoniac by casting out his demons into two thousand pigs, how did that region respond to Jesus? “And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region” (Mark 5:17). They would rather choose to live in fear with a man possessed of thousands of demons than to have the Lord in their midst. This is the insanity of sin, that in man’s calculus slavery is to be preferred over freedom!
When man refused the immortal God and desired instead mortal man (Rom 1:23), “God gave them up in the lusts of their heart to impurity” (1:24). When man refused the truth and the worship of God (1:25), “God gave them up to dishonorable passions” (1:26), the lie that is enacted in homosexual relations. When man refused to acknowledge God even in his condition (1:28), “God gave them up to a debased mind” (1:28). See the pattern? Remember this general rule: when people insist on eating garbage and flagrantly sinning, God gives them what they want.
What is left for the Church to do? On October 31, the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ has its own holiday. It is Reformation Day. On that day, in 1517, the Church began to re-discover a Biblical understanding of the sovereignty and mercy of God in saving man from his love of sin and slavery to it. That is our heritage. We are people of light, of life, of joy, of hope, because we are a people who belong to Jesus. So on this day, when the world is flirting with death like so many minions of darkness, have a celebration in your home. Sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” with some German beer (and buy the good stuff!). Explain to your children why you are a Protestant. Recount to them the heroic stories of their forefathers: Luther, Calvin, Tyndale, Bucer, Knox, Reina, Cranmer, and Valera (and maybe you need to brush up on that history yourself!). Read the Scriptures in their language, and show them how 500 years ago, the only Bibles that existed were written in Latin, and even then, people could not read them (because of mass illiteracy) nor were they allowed to read them (because the Church prohibited it). And explain to them (like the Israelite children who gathered around the table and asked about the meaning of the Passover Lamb) the mercy of God in saving you, your family, and His people from Satan. Amen.