Tonight is Halloween. There is lots flying around the internet at the moment about how to engage, or whether to engage. This post – which will be a bit more theological than most of mine – is my contribution to the debate.
My thoughts hinge around this word: eschatology.
Eschatology is the whole area of theology to do with God’s plans for the culmination of everything. The end times. Judgment Day. Christ’s final victory over everything – this is the stuff of eschatology. There are many divergent views in the study of eschatology, and opinions are often fiercely-held.
The best book I’ve ever read on the topic is Simon Ponsonby’s ‘And The Lamb Wins’. He deals with all the contentious stuff, and he even shares where he sits in the debates. But he is very clear that we cannot be absolutely certain about a lot of it until it happens. The one thing he’s unbendingly certain of is the one thing he was willing to make the title of the book. The Lamb wins. Jesus has the victory. He defeats everything, and He reigns victorious.
But therein lies the theological rub. Because there are two equal but opposite dangers when talking about Christ’s victory, dangers which the church from its very earliest days have fallen into.
The first is to think all this eschatology stuff won’t happen for a long time, and in the meantime we’re in a battle that we could lose. That ignores the victory of Jesus on the cross, that Jesus, ‘having disarmed the [dark] powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them by the cross’ (Colossians 2:15). Jesus victory has been won through his life, death and resurrection. He has already won.
But that leads to the second danger, which is to think that because His victory has already been established (which it has) and is so certain (which it is), it has already come in totality and is complete (it is not). The Bible is very clear that those powers which Jesus defeated at the cross – sin, death, the world, the devil – are still around in our present age. Their downfall is certain, but still in the future.
Folk in the early church fell into both these traps. In response, we see on the pages of the New Testament what a lot refer to as an ‘already, but not yet’ way of thinking about eschatology. Jesus victory is already present, but not yet complete. I believe that’s biblical, and I believe it’s true.
How ‘real’ is Halloween?
So what does this all have to do with Halloween, then? Well, in one way or another, Halloween is about darkness. It is either celebrating or playing around with or tackling dark forces in the world. Forces of death, the demonic, ultimately the Devil himself.
Those are the things over which the victory of Jesus stands. That eschatological, ‘already but not yet’ victory.
And when I look at the way that our theologies affect our view of – and engagement with – Halloween, I see us getting close to those two dangers at various points. (There may of course be valid societal reasons for our views, but for now I’m interested in the theology that motivates us.)
Danger 1: we are unduly scared of Halloween because we are afraid of the powers it represents, and forget that those powers have already been made into a public spectacle. They have been named and shamed.
Danger 2: we are too blasé about Halloween, saying there is ‘nothing to fear’ because nothing dark has any power anymore – it has all been defeated after all, right? The truth is there are dark forces at work in our world, and we can’t pretend there aren’t.
We need to tread a delicate path between the two. We must recognise that the darker side of Halloween exists, it isn’t benign or devoid of impact and force. But we also know it is not the highest power. There is a power far greater that has already put to shame all the ghouls and spooks that Halloween can glorify.
So how to respond?
I’m not going to give answers to questions like ‘How should we deal with trick-or-treaters?’ or ‘Is dressing up as a skeleton wrong?’ That’s not what I’m trying to do. There are probably many right courses of action.
But in our heart, I believe we should have these attitudes:
- We should recognise we are in a battle, and that light isn’t the only side there is in that battle.
- We should not be afraid of darkness, because we know it is doomed.
- We can, in some ways, laugh at and poke fun of the darkness, because we know it is cheap and doomed and desperate. (That’s how Halloween started in the first place…)
- We should recognise we have a message to speak into the darkness, that Jesus is the King of Light.
The one thing I think we can’t do is just board up our doors and ignore it. If we’re in a battle, let’s engage in that battle. If we needn’t be paralysed by fear, let’s engage boldly. If we know Jesus has the victory, let’s engage hopefully. And if we know we have a message, let’s engage actively.
What might that mean for how we engage with Halloween in practice?