Halloween is around the corner. Several pastors on a particular Facebook page open to all Christians in a certain occupation have gone on a rampage against a holiday they believe celebrates death, ghosts, and the devil. As the exchanges unfolded, it seemed to me that the center of their attention and the focus of their faith was on the devil, by whatever name, and the power and presence of evil in the world. Of course they claimed Jesus as their defense against the dark arts, and I think they were honest about it as far as it went, but it didn’t go very far. As for the world we inhabit, it was and is subsumed under the power of the devil. It is that power, and the very real person of the devil, around which their world revolves; it’s at the center of all their attention. They may use Jesus as their sword and shield, but it’s the devil who has the advantage.
I suppose fear of the devil and anxiety over a world dying of a fatal infection of evil inspires some to turn to Jesus for salvation, but I wonder whether that also reveals not much faith in the power and authority of God over the cosmos that God created and called good. For Christians, what does it say about God’s love of humanity (good old John 3:16 so beloved by football fans), and the triumph of Jesus over all the powers of death through his passion and resurrection?
Several years ago I taught a home study on Revelation at the request of a woman who had been thoroughly taught that since it was the final book in the bible it was also the most important, laying out what was about to happen to the earth and its creatures. Revelation, to her, trumped everything in scripture that preceded it. She lived in constant fear that her faith was insufficient to weather the storm, and that she was sure to be thrown into the lake of eternal fire. Some crackpot preacher, like those ranting about Halloween, had done that to her during her childhood. She could not comprehend that Revelation has very little to do with the end of the world, and a great deal to do with a vivid explanation of how God’s plan, that famous plan everyone wants to know about, has been worked out in Christ Jesus. She wanted affirmation that all her fears were valid, and that I had the secret code to unlock the door to her salvation.
Apparently Jesus’ birth, life, teaching, death, and resurrection was not enough, nor was the fullness of the biblical record together with two millennia of theologians seeking to more fully understand God’s will and intent. Whoever the preacher was that filled her mind and soul with life long fear and anxiety about the power of the devil and the likelihood that she did not have the right kind or amount of faith for God to save her from hell, had done his job too well.
And that’s pretty much what I think of the pastors who went on their rant against Halloween. They are so full of the devil that there is not much room for God’s grace. In one sense I agree with them. The world can be a dark place, and we Christians are called to bear the light of Christ into it. They may point, rather weakly, toward the light, but they don’t carry it with them. Their lanterns cast shadows and project scary monsters under the bed. From what I can tell, the devil, by whatever name, only has one power, and that is the power to deceive. These preachers have done a terrific job of giving it the right platform to make the most of it.