Augustine radically changed the way the world saw the light and darkness. He boldly proclaimed that darkness was not a quantifiable material or substance but was simply the absence of light. In the absence of light, darkness begins to exist. An easy concept to understand with the physical world, but what of the spiritual world? I have experienced darkness in the brightest white marble room in a Church of Scientology. I have experienced darkness in the presence of Hindu idol worship while in loving conversation with a dear Hindu friend. In the presence of candles all giving off warm light in a Wicca shop, I could best understand what the “absence of light” really was.
Spiritual darkness surrounds us in the world.
And as we enter into Halloween, we might notice things grow less discerning as the world gets even darker. To call Halloween a season of darkness is true both spiritually and physically. With the impending time change, our days are thrown off-kilter by circadian arrhythmia and the sun being in a different place seemingly than it was the day before. During fall, Seasonal Affective Disorder begins to plague those whose mental health acts as a testament to the importance of light in our lives. As natural light becomes more scarce, our bodies sometimes react physically the way our spirit reacts in the absence of light. The often prescribed treatment for SAD is called “light therapy,” in which people sit in the presence of bright, artificial light to bring about hormonal balance.
The spiritual climate begins to grow colder too, as our attention is diverted from the light and consumed with darkness. Studios save their most gruesome horror movies for release in conjunction with the Halloween season. In 2021 we saw the 12th installment of the Halloween movie series. Horror films will make millions of dollars, where it is all but certain people will watch dramatized versions of murder at the hands of a maniacal serial killer.
In this season of darkness, even the Church turns its mind toward death. Counteracting the pagan holiday Samhain, which is full of rituals commemorating the dead, the Church historically celebrates All Saints Day to remember the lives of the martyrs and saints that have come before us. It seems that as sighting the sun in the sky becomes rarer during this season, it is natural that humans ponder death and darkness in the absence of light.
So then, what is the Christian to do at this time of year? Are we to retreat to safety in hopeful wishing for the light of spring and Easter? Do we refuse to participate in Halloween, and yet not search out the opportunity to voice the reason that our Gospel has no place for the fascination of death and the demonic?
The Church has often missed its true calling in the face of darkness.
The Biblical contrast of darkness and light is impossible to miss. In Genesis, we read that darkness at one point hovered over the formless void until the fateful moment when God said, “Let there be light.” 1 John says that God is light and that there is no darkness found in Him at all. Jesus taught His disciples that they were to be like a city on a hill whose light could be seen for miles surrounding it. Those lost and wandering should find their way in the darkness because of the light of the Church. If we were able to ask Jesus face to face what to do, He would likely encourage us with some parable that teaches us that darkness stays dark until light goes into it.
A life of following Jesus is a life of following Jesus into the dark. It is the foundation of who Jesus is to His creation. In the introduction to his Gospel, John wrote, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” It is what Jesus does.
He dared to walk into Gerasene, a place marked by spiritual darkness where the demon-possessed man was living among tombs of the dead and healed him. We understand better what He meant in Matthew 5, when He told His disciples about the city on a hill and followed it up by telling them how ridiculous it would be to light a candle and then hide it under a basket.
Imagine being the Son of God and not venturing to the darkest places, dealing with those who have fallen into the abyss of evil found there. What then is the call of the Jesus follower in the face of evil? Well, it certainly is not to stay in Galilee. Rather, it is to cross the sea and enter into the place where all others are afraid to go because they do not serve a God of victory, life and light. Most others have no reason for boldness, but those of us who follow Jesus of Nazareth have every reason to proclaim. To not simply withdraw during seasons of darkness and evil, but to persevere and advance, knowing that the presence of light is not an accident but is something to be fueled and stewarded. The sober-minded and courageous Church shines its light for all to see that the lost and wandering will come in from the darkness to the rest found in its welcoming warmth.
The practical questions still abound, though. “Should I take my kids trick-or-treating? Can I watch horror movies?”
The issue of “celebrating” Halloween is more nuanced than just how your children secure candy or what particular movies you choose to watch. Not that every child’s costume has to be a Biblical figure, but perhaps we haven’t realized just how pervasive horror and evil has become "ok" to observe during Halloween. The more important question to address first is perhaps, “What has my attention?” It seems so easy to dwell on those things around us that evoke feelings of fear and sadness in us during this time. If we are what we consume, what are we during the month of the year when fear is commercialized? If what has our attention is what sets the direction for our life, where is our Christian walk heading when fixated on the demonic? As the days grow shorter and less sunny, reflect on life and ask, “Is this making much of the darkness?” Some families will choose not to celebrate Halloween, replacing it with something like All Saints Day. Some parents will do their best to navigate Halloween while shepherding their children away from the more evil aspects of the culture that surround it. No matter the choice, teach your children why it matters for Christians to live differently than the world around them. To not be “of” the world is not to be the same substance, which should be the natural conclusion for a group of people who the Creator has proclaimed they are made new.
Living differently does not imply that you are superior; instead, it is demonstrating what you believe. In this case, a Christian’s caution regarding evil is not out of arbitrary morality but stems from the belief that there is a spiritual world we should not take lightly. In an attempt to live differently than the world, in seeking to honor God, ask yourself, “What would make much of light?”, and live accordingly.
So as we navigate this season where horror, fear and evil seem to confront us at every turn, we ask ourselves difficult questions about just how much we participate in Halloween. The God we serve looked at His creation and saw it in its darkest times, and He still chose to involve Himself. He was not overcome or overtaken by the sheer evil He found in the darkness, and He never will be. Take courage and follow Him as He ventures into the dark looking for lost sheep, and know that wherever you go in His name, there will be light because you’ll be there.