Halloween brings up a difficult issue for Christians. Namely, how are they to respond to the horror culture? There are not easy answers, but below are a few reflections on how it can be constructive and how one should also be careful.
More Horror Please
Steven King wrote “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.” There are real horrors. We fight a spiritual battle and that spiritual battle gets physical. Death is the last enemy and he is not standing at the door in a tailored white suit. No, death stands ready to swallow us, and that swallow includes razor sharp teeth. Death stands to take our last chance of turning away from the darkness. Therefore, horror is real and Christians may need to stop shutting their eyes to the “dark” side of Christianity. As Richard Mouw said, “Halloween is one important occasion for reminding ourselves that the power of the Evil One is still with us.”
Second, unlike some art, horror and death have a very powerful way of distinguishing good from evil. Sometimes it is right to mask evil in the form of good, for wolves come to us in sheep’s clothing. But the mask must also be removed. The great red dragon of Revelation comes forth trying to devour the newborn child. It is appropriate for evil to be portrayed without makeup. In a very real sense, the world can be colored in black and white.
Third, George McDonald in his Letters from Hell points out that horror can show us the awful “dehumanizing” effect of people who stray from their purpose. God created us to be a certain way, and when we stray from the straight and narrow, things are not as pretty as the chick-flicks portray. C.S. Lewis said, “Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you…all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature.” I think the Devil wants to blind people from seeing hellish creatures, so that the decay can set in unknowingly.
Fourth, at the center of Christianity stands a blood stained cross. Christianity is not a nice bed time story. It is a story of murder, betrayal, faithlessness, lying, cheating, and greed set against the backdrop of all pure God who sacrifices his Son for the very men that drive the nails into his hands.
Fifth, as Jacob Davis reminds us, the portrayal of horror can remind us that Jesus is victorious. Jesus comes crushing the head of the serpent. The great dragon is thrown down to the earth and Christ places his foot upon their necks in preparation of the death blow. Some of depictions of evil can be so moving that we rejoice that one day Jesus will wipe all this away with a word from his mouth.
The Body of Jesus
However to celebrate these things can be an outright rejection of the created order. For we are not meant to decay and rot. Martin Pickup in a JETS (56.3) article argued that Jesus’ resurrection on the third day was because of the time of decomposition of the body. Pickup said:
I believe that the three-day time frame of Jesus’ death and resurrection is more directly related to another Jewish concept—viz. the Jewish understanding that the decomposition of a corpse begins after the third day of death. I suggest that the kerygma’s third-day motif focused attention on the fact that the risen Christ did not undergo the decay that besets the bodies of deceased human beings and symbolizes their sinfulness.
By raising him from the dead before his body could begin to decompose, God demonstrated the personal righteousness of Christ and the fact that he died not for his own sins, but for the sins of others. I believe this is the primary significance that the early church saw in the third-day motif when it produced the kerygmatic formula. (519)
This means, among other things, that we are not meant to decay. For our forerunner, the second Adam, never decayed. His body never discolored. He never bloated. His skin never decomposed. Rather his body remained intact.
Death came about by sin and is intimately tied to it. We need to be aware and careful of the following.
First, many turn to horror as an adrenaline rush. When everything is trivial, horror seems heavy and weighty. But those seeking this rush are not seeing the real world as I have described above. In other words, rather than turning to horror for a fix, they need to turn to the real horrors of life and begin to meditate on the spiritual forces which are battling over their souls. Ironically, those Christians who turn to horror the most, don’t understand sufficiently the real horrors all around us.
Second in horror films there is bloodshed, and then the viewer walks away. There is no guilt and they have escaped again, but only to come back to the blood repeatedly. Soon for those outside of Christ, the blood that will be required is their own. But if they would see that the blood of Christ has covered all, then their consciences would be washed with pure water.
Third, we need to think long a hard about whether these things are holy. Doug Wilson said, “God calls us to holiness, and this does not mean that we are to meditate on zombies eating brains. I hate to break it to you, but that doesn’t qualify.”
Fourth we need to ask ourselves if it is wise to take something connected so closely to sin as a reminder. How do we want to be reminded that pornography is bad? Do we want to dress up one day a year to show victory over this and satisfaction in Christ? And are we really doing this to remind ourselves that death will be defeated, or is it because the wider culture finds it intriguing?
These questions I cannot answer for you, and maybe the example above is unfair. But with death swirling in the air, we need to think carefully and cautiously about these things remembering that good brothers and sisters can disagree.
Charles Baudelaire said, “As a small child, I felt in my heart two contradictory feelings, the horror of life and the ecstasy of life.”
We all have to admit that there are real horrors.
The question is, how do we dress them up.
This post was adapted from last years “Macabre and the Christian Psyche”