It’s here again. Halloween. To trick or treat or not to trick or treat? This year we’ll leave that discussion to others.
Instead, let’s take a look at the emotion of the day:
Seems like everyone is afraid of something. Liberals are afraid of Fox News, Tea Parties, and oil companies. Conservatives are afraid of President Obama, foreigners, and Obamacare. Nearly everyone is concerned about their future.
Everyone is afraid of something….spiders, snakes, clowns, rejection, small spaces… As I write this while zipping through the air in a jet 30,000 feet somewhere over southern California, I’m reminded that some people are afraid of heights and planes. Others still are afraid of the seemingly simple act of throwing something away.
Christians are afraid of the most, it seems: the antichrist, the media, anything different from us, and sometimes even…uh….a holiday called Halloween.
Fear in itself is a good thing to know. It’s an emotion that tells us we cannot control everything, and gives us a means to, among other things, feel something ever so slightly similar to what eternal damnation might feel like on an infinitely grander scale. It gives us context to evaluate what horrors hell might have in store.
Oddly, there is something in human nature that enjoys being scared yet safe at the same time, in environments where we know we will be rescued eventually from whatever fear we temporarily may feel. Consider the fear of the safe but unknown, like the wild-yet-safe, adrenaline-fueled fear encountered on rollercoasters. You know that feeling. Isn’t that why you ride those crazy theme park rides that hurtle you through the air in a corkscrew pattern? Isn’t that why you watched horror movies in your youth, too? Maybe that’s why scary songs with twist endings stick with us—songs like The Legend of Wooley Swamp, The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, and my favorite–Swamp Witch Hattie.
We Christians are good at trying to scare folks–sometimes for good reasons, but often for wrong ones too. If you grew up in church in the 1970’s you probably sat through at least two low budget films (A Thief in the Night, A Distant Thunder) designed to convince church kids the rapture would occur before sunrise tomorrow–and that if you didn’t pray a specific prayer that evening before the stroke of midnight you were at risk of being left behind at the rapture where you’d soon be chased around the countryside by a dude with giant sideburns before getting your head lopped off.
Or maybe, if you’re younger, you flock to the various Halloween scaremares in hopes of having the literal hell scared out of your pagan friends.
Perhaps you watched spooky TV movies that kept you glued to the TV and well-stocked with nightlights and bedside baseball bats. I still remember as a middle school student in 1975 watching what is without a doubt the creepiest movie ever made–with the most unexpected, chilling and well-crafted twist ending I have ever witnessed even to this day. Indeed, I think I slept with one eye open for a week afterwards, and would have likely crawled between the mattresses for the night had the thought occurred to me (it did occur to me a few years later while in college during a period of cold weather with no heat). And I still don’t like staying in giant, old hotels during the off season. Makes me feel like I’m living in The Shining.
So we all know something of fear, whether we admit it or not. But are we afraid of the right things? What’s the Bible say about this “fear” thing?
Did you know the Bible commands us to fear? Here’s just one example:
And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 1 Peter1 :17-19
But wait: the Bible also commands us not to fear:
The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe. Prov 29:25
What’s the difference? The difference is in what–or who– you fear: God or man. That is, do you find peace in your soul by resting in the acceptance of God and his work of fruit in you, or do you find peace in your heart when others praise your performance (the fear of man)? Godly fear acknowledges we have been rescued from the precipice of a deserved, horrible fate, much worse than anything ever depicted or imagined in any horror movie or haunted house attraction. Don’t believe me? Look up the word “fear” in the Bible and read each reference you find. And then read a good systematic theology book that gives the big picture of the narrative of the Bible.
You might not see this reflected in many Sunday morning messages, but it’s biblical to fear God, to be reverential and in awe of His goodness and awesomeness….to examine ourselves and be sure we are in the faith, to see if there is fruit present to demonstrate we belong to God (fruit as described in the Bible, not as defined by American culture). It’s biblical to remember the horrifying verse in the Bible where Jesus says there will be many people in hell who say they know Jesus. Talk about a horrifying twist ending:
And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:23
John Piper writes:
If this is true, Peter says, there is a very appropriate fear as we live our lives, namely, a fear of living as though our faith (our hope!) were not in God. Here’s the link between verse 17 and verse 13, between living in hope and living in fear. What we are to fear, Peter means, is not hoping in God (cf. Romans 11:20).
When we are tempted to conduct ourselves in a way that would show that our hope is in money rather than God, we should fear. When we are tempted to act in a way that would show that our hope is in the pleasure of pornography instead of God, we should fear. When Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:18, “Flee fornication,” he meant, “Fear what it would mean about where your hope is if you commit fornication.” It was the same spirit that Jesus had when he said, “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better to enter life with one eye than with two to be cast into hell” (cf. Matthew 5:29). Fear living in ways that betray your lack of satisfaction in God.
This is one crucial missing note in modern Christianity, and one of the main reasons why the church is such a carbon-copy of the world. We think that grace means there’s nothing to fear in our behavior. And so the sanction of judgment has no place in our lives. And 1 Peter 1:17 is simply blanked out in our superficial adaptation to culture. But God is gracious and calls us back today to fear the behavior that leads to destruction.
Only a sociopath has no fear. The rest of us are motivated internally by either the approval of man (often gained and evidenced through the obsessive building of wealth, influence, and entertainment) or the approval of God.
Whose approval reduces your anxiety? That’s who you really fear.
Ed Welch, writing in When People Are Big and God Is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man (Resources for Changing Lives), sets forth some steps to help us gauge whether we truly seek approval from God (fear of God) or the approval of others (fear of man):
Step 1: Recognize that the fear of man is a major theme both in the Bible and in your own life.
Step 2: Identify where your fear of man has been intensified by people in your past.
Step 3: Identify where your fear of man has been intensified by the assumptions of the world.
Step 4: Understand and grow in the fear of the Lord. The person who fears God will fear nothing else.
Step 5: Examine where your desires have been too big. When we fear people, people are big, our desires are even bigger, and God is small.
Step 6: Rejoice that God has covered your shame, protected you from danger, and accepted you. He has filled you with love.
Step 7: Need other people less, love other people more. Out of obedience to Christ, and as a response to his love toward you, pursue others in love.
So this Halloween—and all the days before and after—when the creepfest hits, remember that this isn’t just Halloween. It’s also Reformation Day. Jesus has already defeated both the evil underworld that is celebrated on this day, as well as the evil that lurks in the human heart. He has won…for those who trust in Jesus and not in the pursuits of wealth, influence and the approval of their peers.
Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.
C. S. Lewis