Something Wicked This Way Comes, But Something Holy Not Far After
The Christian Upside to Halloween
by Craig Smith, Ph.D.
It’s that time of year again: time for Hollywood to crank out the horror fests, TV series to run spooky specials and retail stores to plumb the financial depths of our fascination with the macabre.
Halloween is a strange time of year. Otherwise normal neighbors suddenly transform their homes into celebrations of the ghoulish and gruesome. Sweet-faced little children dress up as ancient hags or painfully departed spirits. And it all centers around getting sugary confections in enough quantity to keep the dental industry afloat for another year. Can you imagine a better illustration of the old adage “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”? But in this case, it’s not exactly medicine that slips in with the candy, is it?
My goal here isn’t to bash Halloween or to argue that Christians have no business letting their children go trick-or-treating. I do think these are important questions, but there are lots of resources out there to help you deal with those questions. In fact, we’ve set up a webpage that pulls together a number of helpful resources for you to consider (http://www.shepherdproject.com/resources/wordpress/?p=624). But my goal here is to use Halloween as an opportunity to delve into a much deeper issue, an issue that continues to impact our culture long after Wal-Mart has torn down the cobwebs and put up the Christmas trees: our dangerous fascination with the occult.
The word occult came into the English language from the Latin term occultus, referring to knowledge of hidden things. In the strictest sense, it is used to distinguish between scientific knowledge which is measurable and the knowledge of metaphysical/religious/paranormal things which are not thought to be measurable. In that sense, the word occult could refer to Christian beliefs along with pagan beliefs. However, among Christians, it usually has a more specific meaning, referring to a wide range of beliefs and practices that deal intentionally with supernatural forces that are not aligned with God. This would include Satanism, of course, but also witchcraft, necromancy, magic, et.al. In this sense, then, the word occult refers to anything that traffics with demonic spirits.
The connection between the occult and demons is not always overt, of course, and many people who are happy to consider themselves “occultists” would take serious issue with this association. However, there is good biblical grounds for equating the two.
To begin with, God’s position on these practices is quite clear:
When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who makes his son or daughter pass through the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 18:9-13)
You shall not allow a sorceress/witch to live. (Exo. 22:18)
Of course, just because God is opposed to something doesn’t necessarily mean that it is directly connected to demonic forces, but this association becomes clear at other points in Scripture. For instance:
“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)
Here, the eternal punishment for such people is said to take place in the lake of fire, imagery which is consistently associated in Scripture with the devil and his fallen angels (cf. Mat. 25:41, Rev. 20:10). Of course, the above list also includes several kinds of people such as the cowardly, the unbelieving, the immoral, etc. who are not necessarily occult practitioners. But a consistent, though often overlooked, teaching of the Bible is simply that the world is divided into two kingdoms: the kingdom of darkness (over which Satan rules) and the Kingdom of God. This is spelled out in Jesus’ famous either-or statements, such as: “He who is not against us is for us” (Mk. 9:40). Contrary to some popular interpretations, this does not mean that anyone who is not blatantly anti-Christian is part of the Kingdom. Rather it means that there are only two kinds of people in the world: those that are for Christ and those who are against Christ. And, as Ephesians 2:1-10 makes clear, anyone who is not with Christ is enslaved by and under the control of Satan and his forces. Consequently, it must be recognized that the Bible consistently associates the occult practices we’re talking about here with demonic powers.
Now, just because these occult practices are associated with Satanic forces doesn’t mean that their practitioners are aware of what they’re dabbling with. In my opinion, most demonic spirits are intentional about hiding their true nature and, by extension, the true nature of the occult practices that so many people today are interested in.
And the interest in occultism is at an all-time high. In some ways this is surprising given the scientific bent of our present culture, but in other ways it’s not surprising at all. A heavy-handed emphasis on naturalistic science as the only way to know anything worth knowing has spawned a back-lash interest in more arcane subjects. The fact is that naturalistic science’s answer to the great questions in life – questions like why am I here? what is the significance of my life? – is profoundly unsatisfying. Naturalistic science says that we are nothing more than the by-product of random forces and that, consequently, there can be no transcendent meaning to our lives. Is it any surprise that, in the face of this teaching, people turn to forces that purport to give them some control over the world? Perhaps more importantly, the interest in the occult is a sign that most people don’t really buy into the meta-narrative that science offers. Most people cannot escape the sense that we were made for a purpose and that there is more to the world we inhabit than what can be put under a microscope or subjected to a chemical analysis.
If there’s any question that people believe – or at least need to believe – there is more to life than naturalistic science teaches, take a look at the TV Guide. Current or recent shows include Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries, Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, Paranormal State, Haunted Travels, Destination Truth, Fact or Faked, Charmed, A Haunting, Sabrina the Teenaged Witch, et.al.
But as Christians we must ask: why do people turn to the occult rather than to Christ? Unfortunately, part of the problem must be laid at the feet of His followers. We have not always done a good job presenting the meta-narrative of Christianity in a way that really conveys the biblical truth or resonates with a culture starving for meaning and significance. When the Gospel has been reduced to “you get forgiven of your sins and you get to go to heaven why you die”, is it any wonder that people turn away in disappointment? Is it any wonder that they turn in desperation to charlatans and quacks – and occasionally the real and very scary deal – looking for hope that their lives here and now can somehow be more than an exercise in pointless futility, an endless experience of being cosmic flotsam, tossed to and fro by forces outside not only ours, but everyone’s, control?
The Gospel is so much more than a fire insurance policy. It is so much more than the mere offer of forgiveness. In fact, the Bible never once mentions “the Gospel” and “forgiveness” together. Instead, it speaks regularly about the Gospel of the Kingdom. In other words, the heart of the good news is the announcement that because of what Jesus has done on the cross, we no longer need to be enslaved to the kingdom of darkness and its forces. Instead, by trusting in Jesus’ sacrifice we can be set free to be participants in the now and coming Kingdom of God, living a radically different life now and forever, entering into a relationship with a King who not only longs to relate to us personally, but who can provide for us whatever we truly need. His is, after all, real power and of a kind that dwarfs the pathetic promises held out by horoscopes or psychics or mediums.
Though our culture’s interest in the occult seems to peak around Halloween, it never really wanes all that much the other eleven months of the year. And there is an unexpected upside to this interest: it provides us a natural point of conversation with so many people in our culture. They are already interested in spiritual things, for the reasons discussed above. And because they are interested, we have a natural starting point for sharing the good news with them. Not the fire-insurance good news but the real good news that the Bible teaches: news of redemption and of hope and of meaning, significance and power that transforms life not only our here-after but our here-and-now.
For more in-depth discussion of the fullness of the Gospel as Jesus proclaimed it, pick up Craig’s book The Kingdom for the Kingless or the video series Freedom From & Freedom For at the Shepherd Project resource store: www.shepherdproject.com/shop
 Witchcraft is the attempt to use supernatural or magical powers, normally for the purposes of inflicting harm upon one’s enemies, though sometimes for the purposes of gaining knowledge.
 Necromancy is a form of magic in which the practitioner attempts to communicate with the spirit of a deceased human, either as an attempt to gain knowledge or to control them for the necromancer’s purposes. Séances and the consultation of Ouija boards fall under the broader category of necromancy.
 Magic is a rather broad term that relates to the use of supernatural methods – rituals, spells, the invocation of spirits, etc. – to manipulate natural forces.
 The Hebrew word here (kashaph) refers to a female practitioner of sorcery which is essentially equivalent to necromancy (see above).