This morning was a first: I wheeled a woman dressed in a witch costume into Bible study at the local nursing home.
She giggled when I walked into her room. I could tell she felt kind of rebellious wearing her Halloween costume to Bible study. She then asked, “Should I bring my little [toy] Devil or my Bible?” I suggested that she could bring both.
It was a strange, contradictory kind of feeling. People laughed as we walked by and she had the perpetual giggles. “It’s all for fun,” she would say.
This was new for me, entirely new.
I was never allowed to celebrate Halloween when I was a child. I remember staying home on the day it was celebrated at school or, as we got older, my mom would take us to the movies instead of going trick-or-treating. We really didn’t mind.
My mom was taught that Halloween was the Devil’s holiday. My grandmother was very vocal against the celebration of the day. Grandma was certain that it was a day set apart for Devil worship.
I remembered the temptations of Jesus, so even as a child I knew that Devil worship was bad. In fact, I remember there were a lot of things as a child that were to be avoided, lest they introduced me to devil worship.
I remember that the name of the heavy metal band AC/DC really stood for “Against Christ/Devil’s Child.” So I didn’t listen to them.
There were games we couldn’t play and television we couldn’t watch, so I didn’t.
It was almost like I was tiptoeing across American culture as if it were a minefield full of bad or evil things that would destroy my faith if I stumbled upon them.
Luckily, evil things, when they are really evil, can be avoided easily enough.
But as I have grown in my faith and understanding, I have come to realize that our greatest temptations, the greatest challenges to our faithfulness, are not the really bad or evil things in this life, but rather they are the seemingly good things that we can justify our total devotion, adoration, and worship to, all in the name of God.
If we want to be Christians, we can easily enough say that we don’t worship the devil. But in the same breath, how often do we justify our unquestioned devotion to our families and our children above all else?
An entire Christian industry has been created to support the concept that our families are the God-ordained institutions through which God’s kingdom will be built on earth (our families, not the church). Therefore our families should get our fullest devotion and our protection, all in the name of God. It feels almost heretical to question this concept, because family is a good thing.
I recall the relief I felt when reading the Bible in my early years when I would read about worshiping idols, because I was grateful that was never my temptation. I knew better.
Idolatry, the worshiping of gods carved of wood or stone is luckily bad enough that we can easily avoid it.
However, idolatry, as in the thoughtless and unquestioned devotion or adoration (worship) toward money, nation, success, politics, family, education or even our church—all seemingly good things—is actually quite inviting. They are such good things that it feels heretical to even question our devotion to them.
Perhaps we have experienced the almost visceral response in one way or another when we question what the church’s response to military service should be. The entirety of people’s emotional and even physical response to whether we should or should not support the military betray where they put the devotion of their heart, soul, mind and strength.
But don’t we share those same full-bodied responses when we start thinking about the role politics should or should not have taken in our churches?
Do we align our political party’s ideology with God to the point that we defend their agenda with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength? And we don’t even question how it relates to who Jesus was and how he interacted with the world.
Do we share the same emotional and physical compulsion to defend wealth, all in the name of God?
Can we find every reason to defend our family and our family’s success (however you may define it) as our number one priority, all in the name of God?
Can we vehemently defend with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength the need for us and our families and businesses and churches to be successful, no matter what it takes?
While we may confidently go into this Halloween knowing that we are not going to worship the devil, can we be so confident that we are not worshiping something else: something good, even, but something that’s still not God?
It is my prayer that God gives us the eyes to see the contradictions that we wheel into our Bible studies weekly without ever questioning. May we as a church grow in discernment: not just between good and evil, but between what is good and what is God. And may we never confuse them again.