I saw a long and somewhat compelling Facebook post the other day about Halloween. A “friend” was building an argument that the holiday must be condemned by true Christians. The argument suggested that all efforts to participate in festivities were at best an ignorant dismissal of the powers of evil, and at worst, willful complicity.
This individual is not alone, and these arguments are not new. Many Christians have historically avoided Halloween activities because of the ways it seems to glorify evil and celebrate darkness. Without question, there are some who, both knowingly and unknowingly, walk in the darkness. But we ought to have confidence in the reality that the Church is a people of the light meant to shine into the darkness (Matt. 5:16). We believe in the power of resurrection, so we have no need to fear death (1 Cor. 15:51-58). In fact, all powers of earth, including the workers of evil in and under the earth, bow to King Jesus (Phil. 2:10-11). As ambassadors for the Kingdom of God, perhaps we should consider the ways in which the traditions of the world provide opportunity to make much of Jesus. Perhaps Halloween can be redeemed by those ministers of reconciliation, who make an appeal to the world on behalf of Christ and His Kingdom (2 Cor. 5:17-21).
Many agree the history of the holiday dates back to a pagan belief that ghosts and evil spirits gain special access to the human world on this day, approximately midway between our autumn equinox and winter solstice. Attempting to disrupt this, the Catholic church instituted All Saints’ Day on November 1st to honor the saints who have passed. Thus, October 31st became All Hallows’ Eve, and eventually Halloween. Centuries later, most Americans celebrate it as a day of fun for the family. Parties, candy, costumes, and a taste of being a kid again are the draws for many. Though some focus on fear, evil, mischief, and chaos, it seems to be that most people just want to connect with their community as the holiday season begins.
I’d like to suggest that we can be honest about evil in the world but still lean into the power of the gospel to save, trusting that darkness cannot overcome the light, and Jesus has overcome death. I want to consider a couple of intriguing realities that resurface this time of year. These are not the only connection points, but it may be a helpful insight to aid us in taking action as missionaries to our communities.
The Fascination of Fear
There is a universal human experience of wrestling with the control we have over our lives—more accurately, the lack thereof. Feeling fear is human and ubiquitous. It’s the feeling we have when we realize things are beyond our control. It may be as simple as being startled by something we didn’t anticipate, or it could be as profound as a deep and abiding anxiety about our future. We fear being harmed, suffering, experiencing shame or failure, or never enjoying true intimacy. Namely, fear is about the unknown, things that hold mystery, things beyond us. The world finds this compelling and intriguing, and there is no time it’s more evident than around Halloween. What may seem to be a glorification of evil may actually just be a human fascination with fear.
Fear plays a crucial role in the gospel narrative. In Genesis 3, the first humans, Adam and Eve, run and hide because of their fear and shame. They threw off the created order with an act of rebellion, disobeying God’s single command not to eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and gone was their sense of security. Likewise, fear stirs up in us when we grow convinced we’ve got to control the things only God controls. We fear retribution for our failure to make things right again, and we feel the weight of impossibility—because the task is beyond us. Yet God shows up faithfully, for all who belong to Him, full of mercy and grace. Often we see the phrase “fear not” in Scripture, but we are also frequently commanded to “fear the Lord.” They may seem antithetical to one another, but it’s actually the same exhortation to trust. We need not live in anxiety; rather, we are free to live in awe of the power and greatness of Jesus when we trust Him. He is making all things right and good.
When we are honest about our fear we will find we gain an opportunity to exercise faith. That is to say, feeling fear is our body’s way of telling us we need to trust something—Someone—beyond us. Moreover, fear of the Lord will grant us access to wisdom for managing the things for which we’re actually responsible (Prov. 9:10). In other words, fear is good when received as a gift—an invitation and opportunity to trust the Lord. Perhaps the reason the world finds fear fascinating is because God has put in humanity an awe for the mysterious. With curiosity and wonder, many explore their fear this time of year—going to haunted houses and watching horror films—but what if instead of evoking fear of things in creation, we led others to be in awe of the Creator. We’d be wise not to miss this opportunity.
The Freedom of Fun
As a final point—and a bit of a side note—I think it’s good to highlight our human need for fun. We may not see fun as a human need because it’s not needed to survive, but it most certainly is a need of the soul in order to thrive. God is Creator, and therefore creative. We are made in His image, but many have become so rigid, due to the demands of survival, that we’ve lost the freedom in hope to have fun. If we don’t regain this, we cannot fully live into the lives we’re created to live. Our re-creation ought to be free, artistic, and fun. Christian psychologist Chip Dodd says it this way: “Fun allows a person to forget consciousness of self, by giving over to something greater than the self. We give ourselves to wonder. If we do not release ourselves to wonder, we survive through anxiety and its hyper-vigilant demands, which continually block any expression that reveals the true vulnerability of needing.” I believe having fun is both the evidence of our freedom and an intentional pursuit of it. I feel confident our Father delights in our fun (Ecc. 8:15).
A redeemed Halloween isn’t merely a ministry opportunity; maybe we should seek to have fun this All Hallows’s Eve as we bring hope and light into the darkness of our communities. Get full-sized candy bars, set up a game in your front lawn, provide refreshments and music, invite neighbors to come over and hang out, and maybe even dress up. Even if you don’t participate, at least give yourself to awe and wonder as you consider your fears, confess them to the Lord, and trust Jesus a little bit more this Halloween.