The Origins of Death and The Halloween Opportunity

Abstract

Wolves taking down preyHave you ever watched lions or wolves take down prey on Nat Geo Wild or Discovery Channel? It’s quite a sight and I’m not sure which is more disturbing.  Lions kill their prey quickly and viscously, while wolves kill slowly, consuming their prey while its still alive and still attempting to get away.  For this reason, I suppose I would prefer death by lions if I had to choose. But, both are terrifying fates for millions of creatures every year.

Hyenas are equally terrifying, and not just to other creatures.  Soon after birth, Hyena cubs use their sharp needle-like teeth to savage one another.  It’s estimated one quarter of newborn Hyenas die by the jaws of their fellow littermates.

Chimpanzees have similar proclivities.  You know, those lovable creatures, often seen in films, dressed in brightly colored suspenders?  They’re actually one of the most vicious creatures on the planet.  Many have heard stories of savage attacks on humans and fellow chimpanzees, but did you know they’re notorious cannibals?  Yes, Chimpanzees, at times, will eat the babies of their own species.

We live in a fallen world and its been this way for a very long time.  All throughout history tragedy and death have reigned everywhere. The fossil record is filled with fossilized snapshots of death and suffering.  It is nature’s tombstone, if you will, and its epitaph tells a tragic story.  It also tells a confusing story for many who believe in a loving God. Why is this happening?  Why did a God create the world like this?  Does He not see what’s going on?  Does it not bother Him like it bothers us?

Stumbling Over Death

Charles Templeton Farewell To God

A famous preacher struggled with this very notion many years ago to a tragic end.  Charles Templeton was one of America’s great evangelical preachers.  A contemporary and good friend of Billy Graham, many believed him to be the preeminent evangelist of his time—even overshadowing Mr. Graham.  But as evolutionary ideas began to dominate our society, Templeton questioned his faith.  In his book, Farewell To God, he states,

Why does God’s grand design require creatures with teeth designed to crush spines or rend flesh, claws fashioned to seize and tear, venom to paralyze, mouths to suck blood, coils to constrict and smother—even expandable jaws so that prey may be swallowed whole and alive? . . . Nature is in Tennyson’s vivid phrase, “red in tooth and claw,” and life is a carnival of blood…

As the title of his book suggests, Templeton went on to reject his faith in Christ, as he could not fathom a God of such arbitrary cruelty.  And I dare say, though falsely premised, he made some valid points.  If death and suffering reigned for millions of years prior to the first man walking the earth, God must have actively designed the bloodthirsty world Templeton described.  And He also must have called it good.  Notice God’s description of the creation after the sixth day.

Gen. 1:31 Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

If the days are long periods of time (as many Christian leaders claim), then God proclaimed the goodness of the world after the very last period.  All of the cancer and cannibalism we see in the fossil record must have been good in God’s eyes if they took place during the 5th and 6th days (ages). This was too much for Templeton to fathom, and he died an unbeliever in 2001.

Correcting False Premises

Panda Bear TeethBut Templeton’s premises were false.  God did not, originally, created a world of death and suffering.  The tools of death and destruction Templeton described in animals were not originally created to kill and destroy.  Sharp teeth and claws work great on fruits and plants, as Panda Bears every day.  And some of the mechanisms we see in animals may have arisen after the Fall to help them adapt to a new hostile environment.  Just as God added thorns to some plants after the Fall (Gen. 3:18), so He may have added stingers and quills to some animals.  We know God altered the physical form of the serpent (Gen. 3:14), possibly removing his legs. Perhaps He made small alternations to other animals, as well, to help them adapt and survive.

It’s very important for Christians and seekers to know we live in a postlapsarian world (post-fallen world).  We are not looking at the original design.  Instead we see the corrupted version which man caused by his sin.  We are not looking at God’s original creatures, but their descendants who were forced to adapt.

Rom. 8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope;

Someone needed to set the record straight for Mr. Templeton.  We need to set the record straight, today, at every opportunity.  And I believe those opportunities abound.  We just have to look for them.

Holiday Opportunities

I don’t like wasting opportunities.  By their very nature, they are fleeting so, when one comes around, I try to take full advantage.  Holidays in America are no exception.  In America, we have a multitude of holidays, and I firmly believe they offer more than 3-day weekends.  I see Memorial and Veterans Day as opportunities to gather my family and teach them about sacrifice and biblical patriotism.  “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” —Rom. 13:7

St. Valentine’s and Patrick’s Day are also rife with opportunity. There are great stories behind these holidays that few are familiar with.  In one, I find an opportunity to teach my kids the biblical view of love and marriage. (If you’re not familiar with the legend of St. Valentine, I encourage you to look it up.) In another, I find an opportunity to teach my kids about evangelism, through the legend of St. Patrick.

Sure, we can wear green and give out heart candies, but let’s not miss an opportunity to make it about God.

Halloween Opportunity?

Halloween SceneAdmittedly, Halloween is a little more challenging.  Its theme is death and suffering.  I didn’t see an opportunity, here, for many years and avoided the holiday altogether—not an easy task considering how much America loves Halloween.

The modern popularity of Halloween is off the charts.  Every year, following Labor Day, stores across America become Halloween central.  Walk into any Walmart, Big Lots, CVS, etc. and you’ll see what I mean. Rows and rows of costumes and decor.  Depictions of death are everywhere.  There’s no escape, and it’s a real dilemma for many Christians.

Many Church communities attempt to soften the holiday by turning to alternative celebrations such as Harvest Festivals and Trunk-or-Treat events.  These often feature costumes and candy, but take out the darker themes, like death.  But is this the best approach? Maybe not.  There may be a wonderful teaching opportunity in Halloween’s dark themes.

Confusion About The Origins of Death

Wolf EatingDeath, believe it or not, is a controversial subject in the modern Church.  There is much confusion about when it entered the world, and why.

If you’re a theistic evolutionist, progressive creationist, or gap theorist, you likely look at death differently than I do.  If you believe in millions of years, you likely believe death and suffering existed long before Adam and Eve walked the earth.

As one prominent gap theorist writes, “…human beings were not created “in the beginning” with the rest of God’s creation. Human beings were “latecomers”…”  (This is according to esteemed scholar John Sailhamer, professor of Old Testament studies at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. You can read our full critique of Sailhamer’s Historical Creation theory here.)

But is this true?  Were Adam and Eve really latecomers, following millions of years of bloodshed?

Clarity in Scripture

Thankfully, Scripture clearly refutes such an idea.  Jesus said,

“But from the beginning of the creation, God “made them male and female.” —Mark 10:6.

The Bible does not teach that Adam and Eve were latecomers in the created world.  “From the beginning of the creation,” man has been here.  And Scripture teaches that sin entered the world through Adam, and death through sin (Rom. 5:12).

God did not design Death and suffering. He did not allow them to reign millions of years before the first man sinned.  In fact, in the beginning, all animals were vegetarians.

Gen. 1:29 And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. 30 Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so.

We were designed to thrive on fruits and plants.  The predation among us arrived after the fall, perhaps because plant-based foods became harder to grow and were less abundant.  But God did not design it that way, originally, and He will not redesign it that way during the restoration.  Notice what Isaiah says about the future millennial kingdom.

Is. 11:6 “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard shall lie down with the young goat, The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze; Their young ones shall lie down together; And the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. 9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea.

Lions Eating a ZebraGod did not design Lions, originally, to eat flesh.  Sin, in the Garden of Eden, has corrupted them and changed them.  The snake, who was upright and able to speak, is now legless and mute (Gen. 3:14).  God may have changed other creatures as well to help them adapt and survive in a cursed world.  God said to Adam,

Gen. 3:17 …“Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat of it’: ‘Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. 18 Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. 19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”

Sin has placed the entire creation in bondage.

Rom. 8:20 …the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.

We need to get this right, if we’re going to comfort the world around us. We need to get our history right and we need to get our theology right.

Using Halloween For Good

Perhaps, by now, you can surmise the opportunity I see in Halloween. What better time could there be to set the record straight on death and suffering?  What better time to address the origins of death?  I see a lot of Christians working hard to remove death from Halloween, but maybe there’s a better way.  Maybe we should leave it be.  Yes, the symbolism is dark, but we live in a dark world.  Instead of avoiding these symbols, maybe we should use them for good?

A few years ago I decided to take my kids Trick-or-Treating for the first time.  They were ecstatic.  Let’s face it… it looks like a lot of fun.  They never complained prior, bless their hearts, but they really wanted to try it out.  After we got home we all dumped out our candy and had a little talk about everything we saw.  They were engaged and interested, partly because of the sugar, but also the subject matter.  Kids are genuinely interested in origins.  We spoke about the original creation and the fall.  We talked about the existence of evil, the dangers of the occult, and the difference between fantasy and reality.  It was a good heathy discussion on topics rarely spoken of in Church or Sunday School.

rou9s6halloween-candy-buy-back-family-cosme-90Finally, we spoke of God’s grace, drawing on the symbolism of the candy we collected.   Just as these wonderful treats abound in the midst of such dark symbolism, so God’s grace abounds in the midst of this fallen world.  God has not abandoned us.  His grace can be seen, felt, tasted all around us.

The night was both God-centered and fun.  It was truly a blessing.

Concerns and Objections

With all this said, I know there are objections and concerns about handling Halloween in this way.  Here are a few I’ve heard.

How can you possibly celebrate death and suffering?

The answer is, we don’t.  Death is the enemy (1Cor. 15:26).  We don’t celebrate the existence of death and suffering but, rather, God’s victory over it.

2Tim. 1:10 but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

We observe the bad that entered the world through sin, and celebrate our good Savior who conquered it and will soon abolish it.

Isn’t Halloween the ancient celebration of Samhain, a pagan holiday?

No, Halloween is not Samhain (pronounced SAH-win), and the two have little in common apart from sharing the same date.  I think most would agree that October 31st was, at one time, a pagan holiday rooted in celtic paganism. And most would agree moving All Saints Day to Nov. 1 was an attempt by the Catholic Church to replace that pagan tradition with a Christian tradition. But apart from that, they have little in common.  And, even if they do share a few similarities, does it really matter?

So what if pagans worshiped on a certain day and believed certain things and used certain symbols? Am I bound as a Christian to honor their interpretation of those symbols?  Am I not at liberty to fill old symbols with new meaning or use them in a different way?

I’ve heard similar objection to Christmas.  Some Christians that can’t bring themselves to celebrate it because they believe it’s rooted in the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, or based on the birth of Sol Invictus—the Roman sun god (born Dec. 25th). They go to great lengths about how certain Christmas symbols and traditions are similar to those of ancient pagans.

But they never seem to address this basic question:  Does it really matter what ancient pagans believed? Does it matter what they did on Dec. 25th (or Oct. 31st)? Does it matter what they did with trees and other symbols? If I put up a tree to remind me of God’s attributes, does it matter if another put up a tree to blaspheme Him?

With that said, I support those who cannot observe Christmas with a clear conscience.  God bless them. Think these issues through and follow your convictions. I’m not going to despise anyone for obeying their conscience. “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Rom. 14:5)

Isn’t participation in Halloween participation in the Occult?  

Obviously I don’t believe this, but some might.  On a similar note, some Christians have issues with playing cards, due to their historical roots in the occult. I knew a family who felt so strongly about this they could not participate in a game of ‘Go Fish.’ They were good people; fun to be around.  They just didn’t play cards.  Interestingly enough, the Puritans, also, opposed playing cards.  Nothing wrong with them either.  My conscience allows me to play cards, while others’ do not.

Other Christians are offended by the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis. For in it, he utilized fantasy occult symbols, like witches & magic, to illustrate deep theological principles. Some liken this to participation in the occult. I don’t see that at all but, if one does, I would urge him not to read Narnia. Keep your conscience clear. “I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” (Rom. 14:14)

Some of the symbols we see on Halloween likely have meaning to those involved in the occult. For me, this is irrelevant. Symbols have different meanings for different people.  If your conscience is clear before God, use them however you wish.

Isn’t Halloween dangerous?  

Any public gathering can be dangerous, and parents need to be diligent.  But just to put it into perspective, drunk drivers on Christmas pose a much bigger threat.

AAA estimated a couple years ago that, during the Christmas-New Year’s season, nearly 95 million Americans will hit the road, traveling long distances to visit friends and family. Unfortunately, during this end-of-year holiday travel period, nearly 27,900 Americans will be seriously injured in auto accidents, and more than 250 will die.

Halloween is a community event with many people out and about walking, so there is always the possibility of something going wrong. But, statistically, the danger of Halloween is akin to lightning strikes and plane crashes. You can point to isolated incidents but, on the whole, it’s very safe.

Isn’t Trick Or Treat a pagan ritual? 

I did some research on Trick-or-Treat and was pleasantly surprised how wrong I was about it. The “trick” is not a reference to spells or the occult, but rather vandalism and pranks. During the Great Depression and afterward, vandalism was widespread on the eve of All-Saints Day in certain American cities. To remedy this, the government and corporations collaborated and, over time, came up with alternative activities to occupy youth on Halloween night.  These consisted of parades, costumes parties and eventually trick-or-treating. And it worked! Today, no one associates Halloween with vandalism. It would seem, in this case, government actually did something right. Trick-or treat may resemble some ancient pagan practices but, in actuality, has nothing to do with them. It’s uniquely American and was just a means to curve some harmful juvenile behaviors.

So does anything go on Halloween? 

Of course not.  We don’t participate in certain Halloween traditions, just as we don’t participate in certain Christian traditions, like excess drinking.  All costumes should be modest and age appropriate.  Parents need to discern what their kids can handle in accordance with their age and maturity.  I, personally, don’t like depicting the devil in costumes or decorations, for various reasons. My conscience won’t allow it, so, we don’t do it.  Christians need to be discerning on Halloween, like every other day.

Final Thought

I respect everyone’s right to handle Halloween how they wish.  I’ve made the case for participation, but only with a clear conscience.  I’m by no means dogmatic. There are people on both sides of this issue I highly respect and, the truth is, I’ve been on both sides, myself. I’m hesitant to convert anyone, lest I destroy their faith with my liberty (Rom. 14:13, 1Cor. 8:9). I’ve diligently worked out my own position yet, at the same time, want to respect the convictions of others.

Rom. 14:1 Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. 2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. 4 Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.

If you can’t use Halloween with a clear conscience, please consider other ways to inform your kids about the true origins of death and suffering.  Don’t allow the false premises of Charles Templeton to go unchecked in your family.  Your kids are being taught these false premises daily, and you may be their only source of truth.  Equip yourself.  Research the issue. Our recommended links page might be a great place to start.

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