By James Pence
This time of year, people may wonder if the Christian should have anything to do with Halloween.
I went to Bible college with a student who would get in front of the main campus building every Halloween to hold a vigil to pray against the holiday. I remember being rather unkind to him when I once shouted, “Hey, Derrick, what are you going to do? Pray it away?”
Over the years I have regretted my unkind response to his point of view. It is a day that glorifies the occult, demons, witches, sorcery, zombies, Satanic rituals and other demonic activity that the Bible clearly speaks out against. It would seem to elevate, in the extreme, everything that the Bible is firmly against and telling us to avoid.
And yet the other argument is is that it is a time for children to play “dress up” and act out in costumes that they would not normally wear and get all the candy they manage to stuff into a sack, basket or plastic pumpkin in one night.
Halloween has always had its pagan origins, but the early Catholic and Protestant churches — namely Methodist, Lutheran and Episcopalians — sought to redeem the holiday and turn it into a church holy day.
Nov. 1, the day after Halloween, was known as “All Saint’s Day” or “All Hallows Day.” It was a day set aside by the early church to commemorate the deep spiritual connection that existed between famous and obscure saints of the church and those who were still living. Christians would say special prayers for the departed saints, visit the graves of the saints and eat homemade soul cakes.
In the Disney movie “Coco,” the Mexicans have a similar celebration during this time of the year called “The day of the Dead,” a day when dearly departed spirits visit the world of the living so long as their living relatives remember them. When a relative no longer remembers them, they are truly forgotten. It was a cute movie and likely close to the idea of All Hallow’s Day.
The author of Hebrews, after he has told us about the great hall of faithful who have gone on before us, reminds us that “...since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is et before us.” Hebrews 12:1.
I know that means the ones of the Old Testament faith, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joshua, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, David, Samson and others he names by name in Chapter 11. These are in heaven rooting us on to finish our race of faith. You could say, these departed saints “have our backs” and root for us in the presence of God and his son.
Some believe that our dearly departed relatives — father, mothers, preachers and teachers who influenced us — may be in that spiritual stadium, too, rooting for us. Although the text doesn’t say that for certain, it would be even more meaningful if that is how it operates in heaven. It would surely make it more of an incentive to run our spiritual race with perseverance because our loved ones root for us before God and before Jesus.
I suppose I give all this background and resources to reflect what John Wesley once told a man when he was confronted with a strict, bullying image of God who zaps us when we fail in sin. He said, “Sir, your God is my devil.”
It often depends on how you look at things as to whether they are right or wrong. The internet can be a tool for vast knowledge and assimilation of information, but it also supports some 20 million pornographic sites. The good news is there are something like 200 million religious-based sites.
Television can inform us, can enlighten us and inspire us with plays and meaningful motion pictures, but it doesn’t have the nickname the “boob tube” for nothing. So much passes as wasted material with no moral or spiritual relevance.
Cell phones and Facebook are the same way. You can use them to stay in touch, or you can broadcast some of the most hurtful and condemning messages the world has ever seen.
What better way to redeem an evil day, a sordid history, than to use it for good memories of those loved ones who have gone on before us as we hallow and honor their memories, anticipating the time when we will join with them in that “great cloud of witnesses” to be with God, the father and Jesus, our Lord and savior forever.
James Pence is minister of Pleasant Grove Christian Church of Martinsville.