FIRST-PERSON: A note of sanity about Halloween
NEW ORLEANS (BP) -- Recently a seminary student I know -- a young man preparing for the ministry -- wrote on a paper, "The only thing I really fear is zombies."
I wrote back, "You fear zombies? Zombies??"
Hey friend, I have a message for you: Zombies. Do. Not. Exist.
Someone made them up. The nonsense about "the walking dead" might make for interesting storylines for books and movies but they are the figment of someone's imagination, and nothing else.
Neither do wooden puppets take on human personalities and kill the people around them. On full moons, certain men do not become werewolves. And old Plymouths do not suddenly come alive, leave the junkyard and run over everyone in their path.
Stephen King and others like him are toying with their readers. They are doing one thing and it's such a big thing, I'm surprised that all theists (God-believers) haven't figured it out yet: They are imagining how things would be in this world if God were not alive, on the throne and in control, and evil was allowed to run amok.
Such storylines are a backhanded compliment to God.
The Lord has made an orderly world. Evil, as bad as it is, does not run unbridled in this world.
No one goes to bed at night afraid that while he sleeps the dead from the local cemetery will leave their graves and invade the town to drink blood and eat brains. That is, no one but the immature and the unbalanced.
Some Christians, however, are so fearful of evil and so impressed by the devil, so panicky at the thought of goblins and demons, witches and werewolves, that they attack any Christian who dresses their kid as Buzz Lightyear and lets him walk down the street collecting candy from the neighbors. To them, you are blindly poking your head in the sand while the devil is at work all over the world.
Give me a break.
Over two decades ago, as I was interviewing with the congregation of my last church, someone rose to ask what I thought of Halloween. I had already been apprised of the stance of some of the members and recognized this as a loaded question. But I was not running for office and willing to say anything to "get elected."
I told a story.
"One of the sweetest memories of my life was Halloween of 1974. Earlier that year, our family had adopted a 5-year-old daughter from Korea. By October, she was learning English fairly well. That Halloween night, my wife dressed Jinoke as a princess and I walked down the street with her. I would stand at the end of the sidewalk and she would walk up onto the porch, ring the doorbell, then turn back to me. 'What is it, daddy?' I would say, 'Trick or treat.' Then, she would turn back, ready when the neighbor opened the door."
She charmed a lot of people that night.
No child was hurt in those Halloweens. As children, we played many games and loved dress-up occasions with masks and costumes. In my own childhood, Halloween was simply free candy. And candy on that poor West Virginia mountaintop was such a rare event, we looked forward to the evening all year.
In more recent years, many parents have feared that enjoying Halloween as we did in those more innocent days is playing into the hands of the devil. They fear that if we allow our children to dress up and solicit candy, we are cooperating with Satan's agenda.
Since no one wants to play into Satan's hands, many churches created alternatives to anything Halloweenish. Now, it seems, "fall festivals" abound, my church included.
But let's not overly fear Satan.
If you ask me, it's possible to give Satan too much credit, too much attention.
The early church fathers spoke of an "unholy trinity" as the cause of our troubles: the world, the flesh and the devil. It must irk Satan to no end that he ranks no higher than number three in that trio.
The world is the fallen system around us which encourages us to dominate each other, manipulate others for our success, and to kill anyone who gets in our way. The flesh is the fallen spirit within us that wants its own way, puts pleasure and its own appetites above everything, and sees popularity and acclaim as the goal of life. And then there is the devil.
Satan is a murderer, a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). He is a fallen angel, the accuser of the brethren, and the deceiver of the whole world (Revelation 12:9). He is the enemy of all that is good and holy. But he is a defeated being, one destined to confinement in the torture of hell forever and ever (Revelation 20:10).
No, we should not take him too lightly. But neither should we build our faith around him in the negative sense, talk about him all the time in our prayers, and live in fear of him.
Christians can minimize the devil on this "holiday" -- or any other time -- because he is a defeated being. In fact, every Lord's Day we celebrate the victory over him.
"Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:57). "This is the victory that overcomes the world, even your faith" (1 John 5:4).
Nothing lampoons a defeated foe like caricaturing him. And that's what Halloween does.
I love the way God's Word taunts death. "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (1 Corinthians 15:55) You can hear the laughter in the voice of the Scripture writer. "Where is your power now?" he taunts, since Jesus is risen from the grave.
We need no evidence that Satan is alive and well and, according to Revelation 12:9, on earth. (He is not in hell, stoking the fires and in charge of that sad place, though he is destined to be its chief tenant.)
You cannot explain Hitler or Stalin without seeing the hand of Satan at work. He is, as our Lord said, a thief who comes "to steal, to kill, and to destroy" (John 10:10).
But let's not honor him by giving him his own day. He is unworthy.
Let's not center our faith around him and build our prayers with him in mind. He is the enemy.
Let us resist him. Let us refuse to elevate him as a force equal to our God. Let us scoff at his antics and ridicule his doings.
And let us do all we can to rescue those held in bondage to him by showing them what is theirs in Jesus Christ: victory.
Joe McKeever is a Baptist Press cartoonist and columnist, a former longtime pastor and former director of missions for the New Orleans Baptist Association. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).