Halloween: A Christian-informed Argument

Picture: Gustave Doré’s illustration of Inferno Canto 21

The Bible is replete with the dark realities of sin and the effects of the Fall. The creation of God that was once naturally obedient to the dominion of Adam would now withhold its fruit, and exact pain and misery in return for it (Gen. 3:17-19); childbirth would now be accompanied by great pain (3:16), an ages-long enmity would begin between the House of God and the House of the Serpent (3:15); and most importantly, the King exiled his vice regent outside of His presence, outside of His graces (3:22-24), barred from the promise of living forever.

Yet, in the same passage where the reader must behold, like Dante did the mangled bodies in Canto XX of the Inferno, our image so twisted, Adam prophetically renames his wife Eve: mother of all the living.

How could Adam declare the fruit of his wife’s womb living in the midst of the King’s dictum? How could he cry out in victory when the sting of death was born?

Faith.

Adam looked up to the very one who pronounced his sentence and recalled his promise,

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.” (3:15)

And the seal of such a promise in the King’s gracious covering of their nakedness with proper garments,

“And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” (3:21)

Since Adam failed in his task to protect his wife, to steward the Lord’s garden temple, and to protect his progeny from drifting away from God, he now looked to his own seed — there would be one of his descendants who would crush the Deceiver with a fatal blow.

That is what Halloween is all about.

We will be considering that:

  1. We are forgetful, materialistic, and woefully unaware of the spiritual realities around us. The Bible often uses grotesque and horrifying images and language to awaken the soul to see evil in its real form and not for what it pretends to be. Halloween affords such an opportunity to remember the reality of the spiritual world and our sin, and to tell others about it through the use of grotesque and horrifying imagery—the fact that others simply use it for the sake of fear does not mean that as Christians we cannot turn it into a time for soul reflection.
  2. Christ has won the victory over evil and death—walk the streets and collect your candy triumphantly, and tell others about Him.

Living in a post-Enlightenment, post-Industrial Revolution world, an era of metaverses, smartphones, fast digital consumerism, and sparse attention span, postmodern men and women may find themselves rarely (if ever) thinking of the supernatural, and often not in a Biblically accurate way, including especially Christians. People in the Middle Ages are often ridiculed for their often superstitious ways of living and thinking. It would seem the medievals are often thought of as primitive and devoid of the modern sophistication of today.

What if their world was much more populated, larger, and in many ways more real than ours? What if the fact that the supernatural was more in the forefront of their minds made them less “sated” with the state of their souls and less “bored” with the consequences of their actions before God?

Jason M. Baxter is helpful at this point,

“As Mary Carruthers has pointed out, in the ancient world, rhetoricians worried that their audiences could become ‘sated,’ which could lead to taedium (boredom); that is, if the speech grew too predictable, then the audience could start to tune out.

In the Middle Ages, these rhetorical concerns were fused with spiritual concerns: monastic writers worried that the soul itself could arrive at a dangerous point of satietas (being sated) or taedium. And thus medieval spiritual masters recommended a vigorous reading program to keep the heart fresh. For this reason, they illustrated their books lavishly, built cathedrals with all kinds of surprising side chapels and variously colored marbles inlaid in the floor, and constructed cloisters with capitals carved with wildly exuberant images of monsters and fishes. Such diversity, color, and grotesque artistic wonders ‘surprise us—they did then, they do now. Their very diversity and discord shocks one from the temptation to taedium. . . . Experiencing them in itself routs the noonday devil, for the variety they produce relieves tedium and refreshes a wearied mind. They may even strengthen the virtue of inner hilaritas [joy], healing a dangerous sadness or melancholy.’ Thus, getting the blood flowing again through wonder or even horror could heal the spiritual heart. As Gregory of Nyssa put it, ‘Tears are like blood in the wounds of the soul.’

Carruthers explains that they are ‘hot, moist, and restorative of cold, deadened, scarred flesh.'” – A Beginner’s Guide to Dante’s Divine Comedy

The medievals would use the grotesque and horrifying with the intention of awakening souls that had grown cold or indifferent to the reality of the spiritual world, and the reality of the state of their souls. I once heard someone say that those in the Middle Ages lived in a “more populated and real world,” given that they actually lived as if the supernatural existed (and it does – see Eph. 6:12), and as if there were actual spiritual powers of darkness and a war waging around us (and there are – see Eph. 6:11-18). Post-Enlightenment, our world is smaller, and less real. Did the medievals get everything right? Of course not. Nor does any society at any point in history. This is no romantic argument to return to those days. But the fact that their conclusions would sometimes take them to erroneous applications regarding the supernatural does not itself cancel the reality of the supernatural. Perhaps it is modern man that is blind to what never left: There is a hell to shun and a heaven to gain. There are angelic and demonic hosts around us. There is a cosmic battle (one already won by Christ, the seed of the woman). There is a spiritual dimension.

As Christians we know this, we confess it and give a hearty amen to it. However, do we live as if it is so? Have we become “sated” and “bored” with the state of our souls in the grand cosmic theater in which we live?

This is what Halloween can help Christians to recover.

Postmodern man is forgetful, his attention span incredibly short, and the reality of the supernatural world overshadowed. Even Christians can be this forgetful and lax. We can be so blind to the spiritual reality around us that Satan takes advantage of that and disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14) in order to deceive the blind. In Canto IX of Dante’s Purgatorio, the pilgrim has a horrifying vision that he details as follows,

“A stammering woman came to me in dream:
her eyes askew, and crooked on her feet,
her hands were crippled, her complexion sallow.”

But as he fixes his eyes on her, she is transformed before his eyes,

“I looked at her; and just as sun revives
cold limbs that night made numb, so did my gaze
loosen her tongue and then, in little time,
set her contorted limbs in perfect order;
and, with the coloring that love prefers,
my eyes transformed the wanness of her features.”

Even here Dante’s fallen senses fail to take in the reality of what is before him. He continues,

“And when her speech had been set free, then she
began to sing so, that it would have been
most difficult for me to turn aside.

“I am,” she sang, “I am the pleasing siren,
who in midsea leads mariners astray—
there is so much delight in hearing me.

I turned aside Ulysses, although he
had longed to journey; who grows used to me
seldom departs—I satisfy him so.”

The description very much echoes that of the wayward woman of Proverbs 5 and 7. The spiritual blindness and fallen nature set before the eyes of men a siren, a delight, a gift. But in reality, they intend nothing but the death of those who fall for their trap. Virgil must immediately step in, destroy the illusion and expose the work of darkness (Eph. 5:11),

“He seized the other, baring her in front,
tearing her clothes, and showing me her belly;
the stench that came from there awakened me.

I moved my eyes, and my good master cried:
“At least three times I’ve called you. Rise and come.”

Dante writes with such pathos that the reader is immersed in the story, and is taken in by the same vision he saw—for his struggles are those of every man and woman—to which he almost succumbs. Yet it wasn’t until the pilgrim saw and smelled the fullness of the horror that he finally realized what was really before him. The horror startled him awake. The reality of the powers of the world, the flesh, and the devil stripped bare and laid before him in all their grotesqueness is what led him to see, to understand. But the end goal of this revelation wasn’t just for him to understand, but in order to be yanked out of the temptation so he could continue to ascend Mount Purgatorio. That is, after all, the purpose of the Comedia: To take us ever higher, into the very presence of God, who is love.

In like manner, we live and breathe in a world that has been fully taken in by Dante’s siren. And she calls to us. She seeks to lull us to spiritual slumber. The closing of the eyes brings literal darkness, but the Apostle Paul exhorts us to

“Awake, O sleeper,
    and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” (Eph. 5:14).

He adds that we are to “look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Eph. 5:15-17).

There are plenty of examples in Scripture where evil, wickedness, and the terrifying holiness of God are portrayed in their full horror, even the holiness of God and His wrath. Things that would belong in the scariest of movies. A few examples are:

-The rape of the priest’s concubine and her mutilation described in detail in Judges 19.
-Noah’s Flood in Genesis 6-9.
-Jesus and the legion of demons in Mark 5.
-The wickedness of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah, the instant death of Lot’s wife, the city’s destruction, and the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters in Genesis 19.
-The horrific locusts torturing men in Revelation 9 (one could see where Dante Alighieri’s Inferno must have drawn imagery and inspiration from).
-Herod’s order to kill every male baby in Matthew 2; Herod’s graphic death in Acts 12.
-The invisible hand in Daniel 5.
-The Leviathan in Job 41.
-The Lord witnessing the eternal torment of the damned in his presence in Revelation 14:9-11.
-And the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ in the gospels, among countless others.

Yet these are not given to us for the sake of fear alone (the point that is largely missed in the common celebration of Halloween). They are given to us so we can be awakened to the reality of sin, its deception, and its deadly end. They are given to us so we can behold the holiness of God and the display of His awesome wrath and rightly “fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). And they are given to us so that we can despair of our own efforts (Eph. 2:8-10), look to the promises of God like Adam and all God’s people did, and look to the nature and attributes of God, where we will find rest and love for Him (Ps. 18:1-2).

In Halloween, we can see the portrayals of death, evil, and the things of darkness as reminders of the true nature of temptation, sin, the lures and schemes of Satan, our own flesh, and this world. We can see them for what they truly are—mangled, deformed, unnatural, ungodly and evil, so that when we look upon the things of God—beautiful, perfectly formed, natural, godly and good—we can turn away from evil and turn to God.

But that is not all that we can do in Halloween. We can walk around that night knowing that it does not belong to Satan, but to the victorious Christ.

How is it we can trust in God’s promise that He will come again for His people (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)? Because the original promise of Genesis 3:15 has been fulfilled—Christ drove the stake of his cross through the serpent’s head (it may not be accidental that the place on which he was crucified was called “the place of the skull”) delivering a fatal blow. Christ reigns even now, and in his time He will set all things right. We will come into our inheritance and God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). What joyous promise and future! How can we remain indoors when the world is ours by right? How can we believe that evil “owns” the night of October 31st (a curious idea) when Christ has been given power over all flesh (Jn. 17:2), and he has all authority in heaven and earth (that means everything and everyone), and he is not bound by the boundaries of day and night? It is based on that universal authority that he, therefore, commands his apostles to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).

As we walk around the streets, enjoying collecting candy and maybe even sharing the gospel with others, we can do so confidently, like Abraham did when God told him to “Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you” (Gen. 13:17). Abraham never saw the land of promise. Yet he believed God’s promises, and he “was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). There is a world of people out there that don’t know Christ, who are still asleep under the siren’s song, heading to an eternal suffering without God. Why not carry the news of the victory of Christ to them? Who knows, perhaps God might use our efforts to be a Virgil to someone and unmask the reality of evil to them, and show them the light of Christ. Perhaps not. But at the very least, we can take advantage of this day to proclaim Adam’s faith as fulfilled—the mother of all the living has indeed born the Son of sons who brought an end to evil. This world does not belong to the darkness. The night will pass, and the sun will rise again. Yet even the night does not belong to evil, for “Yours is the day, yours also the night” (Ps. 74:16). What is the grounding for this confidence? That the seed of the woman has finally come and crushed the serpent’s head—Christ has won the final victory, and that means this world is ours.

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