If you went outside last night, or went anywhere in the past month, you noticed that things tend to get creepy around Halloween. Our stores fill up with skeletons, ghosts, mummies, and zombies. New horror films are released and old ones are resurrected. What do we make of this morbid time of year?
I recently explained that I’m okay with my kids trick-or-treating, but I’m not okay with them dressing up as witches, ghosts, devils, etc. (Click here for my rationale.) But I do think there is something to be learned from this fascination with various stages of death.
I am intrigued by the reality that people can’t seem to let the dead go. Think back to ancient Egypt. They buried their dead pharaohs, but they also built expansive burial chambers filled with stuff so that the pharaohs would be comfortable in the afterlife. Or take the ancient Greeks. The believed their dead went to Hades (the underworld), but there also seems to have been a sense that this world of the dead was not entirely separate from the land of the living, as evidenced by tales like Orpheus’.
Throughout history and around the globe we find beliefs in the need to appease dead ancestors, contact with the deceased via witches and mediums, encounters with ghosts, hauntings, and on and on.
Call it paranoia, but it seems clear that humanity has always been plagued by this disconcerting thought: What if the dead don’t stay dead?
Indeed! What if they don’t?
Hebrews 2:15 says that humanity has been subjected to lifelong slavery through the fear of death. What could be scarier than entering the great unknown? What is more disconcerting than losing everything we’ve ever gained? Whether we spend our lives literally afraid of dying, or whether we spend our lives in the relentless pursuit of the here and now for fear of missing out when death ends it all too quickly, we are all slaves to the fear of death.
Since death itself is so scary, it makes sense that contact with those who have tasted death would be terrifying. We put these people in the ground, knowing that they have experienced the one thing we want at all costs to avoid. But what if that’s not all?
I’d say that this fear and fascination is legitimate from every vantage point but one: the empty tomb of Jesus Christ. In the death of Jesus, death itself has received a fatal blow (read 1 Cor. 15). Death is “the last enemy to be destroyed” (v. 26), but even now it has been triumphed over (v. 54). It has lost its victory; it has been stripped of its sting (v. 55).
It would appear that humanity is on to something here. The dead do not stay dead. Though death seems so final, we are right to be suspicious that it is not the true end. In some ways, humanity is right to be fearful of this reality. Jesus warned, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). As scary as death is, judgment is far scarier.
But death need not be fearful. Hebrews 2:15 says that humanity has been subjected to lifelong slavery, but it also provides the solution:
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Heb. 2:14–15)
As we are surrounded by our culture’s fascination in the uncertainty of death, we can turn our thoughts to the certainty of the resurrection. We know what lies beyond the grave, and that reality is nothing short of the hope that we are called to spread throughout the world.