For I know that in me, that is in my flesh, there dwells no good thing. (Romans 7:18)
Tonight’s a time for monsters, like it or not. We can debate how best to celebrate, or abstain from, all things Halloween. But the children will come around our doors looking for treats, places we do business with will feature costumed employees, and our own kids will most likely want to do something by way of fun and craziness.
And all the while, we’ll be reminded of the Dark Side, represented by spooky symbols of all sorts.
I Remember Spooks
Despite reservations about horror for entertainment, I’ll admit to having a perverse fondness for the cinema creatures that spooked me as a boy.
Norman Bates, The Crawling Eye, Baby Jane Hudson and The Thing all cost me a few nights sleep back in the early 1960’s, but none so much as The Body Snatchers, those rude pod-critters that attach themselves to you while you’re napping, then take over. Nothing chilled me quite like the ending, when the lead character, fleeing a horde of body snatchers, looks directly into the camera and screams, “They’re coming! They’re coming! And you’re next!”
I think the dread we feel about these monstrosities might be rooted in the fear of looking at our own dark side, a side these stories invite you to visit. According to them, once the pod-creatures take you over, or the vampire bites you, or you drink the Jekyll-Hyde concoction, you became a one dimensional murdering drone, or worse. And who wants to admit to being capable of thinking, planning, doing terrible things?
What’s so Scary about Monsters?
That’s the horror of horror films. They suggest that we can, at some level, have tendencies that are unacceptable, but stubbornly present. We laugh at some of those tendencies – the tendency to overeat, for example, or towards occasional laziness – but it’s a scary thing to also consider that at times we can hate murderously or lust like animals, if we give in to secret urges.
In fact, I once had a clinical supervisor tell me that we’re fascinated by what repels us, and repulsed by what fascinates us. (Case in point: rubbernecking while driving past a serious car accident.) If my supervisor was right, and I think he was, then our love/hate relationship with stories about people becoming evil makes sense. May be we’re both repulsed and fascinated by the lowest elements of our own nature.
The Number One Scariest Villain
Paul used a good word for that lower element: The Flesh. Strong’s Concordance defines the Greek word for “flesh” (sarks) as meaning “The earthly nature of man apart from divine influence” and Paul described that unregenerate nature in the most unflattering terms:
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, revelings, and the like.” (Galatians 5:20-21)
There’s a cast of scary villains for ya, and to make matters worse, they come back for sequel after sequel. So Paul added that although we as born again Christians have a new nature (II Corinthians 5:17) and the Holy Spirit indwelling (Romans 8:9), we still have the old fleshy nature to reckon with, causing an ongoing,
“For the Spirit wars against the flesh and the flesh against the Spirit, so that you cannot do the things that you would.” (Galatians 5:17)
Paul didn’t hold out any hope for the flesh. He didn’t say it could be reformed, reasoned with, or rehabilitated. Our only option when approaching the flesh was, he said, execution:
Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth fornication uncleanness inordinate affection evil concupiscence and covetousness which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)
We don’t send the Body Snatchers to counseling, nor do we try to reason with The Blob, or negotiate with The Crawling Eye. As someone in a horror film inevitably says, “The monster must be destroyed,” because no other approach works. The flesh is mortified when it’s denied, reckoned dead, resisted, crucified. Apart from God’s power, that’s an impossible execution for mere man. But in Christ the monster is slayable. Present, but, thank God, no longer powerful to dominate.
So today we’re likely to encounter little gremlins demanding candy, and no doubt we’ll remember the Pagan origins of Halloween, mutter a tsk-tsk under our breath, and hand out the treats.
But as we do, I’ll also be reminded of the flesh, a creature more frightening than anything a Halloween mask represents, and of the victory He’s given us over it. Evil, directly or indirectly, may be celebrated tonight. For my part, I’ll celebrate God triumph over it, both around me and within me.