The ghoulish gospel of God.
Ian Olson on the good news of death’s mockery.
Ian Olson is among my very favorite contributors for Mockingbird. His essays on life and death are endlessly compelling, as he often delves into the underlying unsettledness of the “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). No, he doesn’t always probe the macabre for truths of God’s mercy for dying sinners like you and me. But his words on the matter of death are never not trenchant. And it just so happens that his “Halloween writings” — see this one, this one, this one, and that one, for example — afford him the sublimest platform upon which he brings us face-to-face with the Christ of death, that is, with the ghoulish gospel of the death-defeating God. Case in point, Ian’s newest spooky article, entitled, “A Yearly Funeral of False Hopes,” manages to attest to the fact that mocking death by dressing in spooky costumes is precisely the paradigm of those who’ve been told that definitely has been extracted of all its venom. He writes:
Hope is not a function of denial. Quite the opposite, in fact: hope is not available where denial is predominant. Hope only arises out of the demolition of its counterfeits. Hope is an answer to the grace that answers “No” to our illusions but “Yes” to our need. The picturesque “hope” which the world envisions must be trimmed before genuine hope can bud. Our false hopes of security, of freedom from suffering, of invincibility, of superiority and industriousness and of having earned a desirable outcome for ourselves must be buried before genuine hope can give us life.
The unmasking of our false hopes can coincide with putting on the mask of a grace that permits us to laugh at the petulant silliness of Satan or to mirror the living death into which we are born by dressing as a skeleton or a ghost. Putting off, putting on: this is the substance of Christian existence. We are always playacting, first as an omnicompetent achiever, then, if and when that illusion is mercifully shattered, as a little Christ showing others where to get the good candy.
The macabre of Spooky Season therefore isn’t a liability — it’s precisely the point! The Devil and his minions are comic figures in the light of their humiliating, self-undermining defeat. The Grim Reaper stands there, embarrassed, his sickle deflated. Like jellyfish washed up on the shore, we probe the spectacle of death’s powerlessness because we are immune to its sting. Yes, some decorations can be tasteless. But so can preaching. Yes, someone could take away that spells and deals with the Devil pay off. But plenty of pastors have shown us the exact same thing of late. Yes, it revels in the unknown and unsafe. But the God who rescued Israel out of Egypt and raised Jesus from the dead is far from comprehensible and the furthest thing from safe. It seems to me that the complaints about Halloween from many Christians arise from a fundamental confusion over just how weird the object of their faith is. I say to you, fear not.
We need not fear All Hallow’s Eve because of the disturbing imagery. While, to be sure, there those who take this concept to uncomfortable extremities, the point remains that death has no authority or sting for those who believe and find their all in the death-defeating God. Death is a defanged foe, with all its ghoulishness evaporated and left behind in the grave out of which the Savior triumphantly walked.
Grace and peace to you, friends.