Across the street from our new home is the holiday house. You probably have one in your neighborhood. They go all out for every holiday. On Saturday, cars stacked up on the main road leading into the neighborhood as families drove by slowly, taking in the massive display that must have cost the owners tens of thousands of dollars.
Last week I drove by a home whose Halloween decorations weren’t nearly as massive or ostentatious, but the lawn display was certainly the eeriest I’ve ever seen. A life-like severed head hung from a tree limb. A decapitated corpse with a visible spinal cord jutting out between slumped shoulders sat underneath. Swaying gently on a swing in a nearby tree was a ghoulish young lady. The scene spooked me, but I couldn’t look away.
Horror movies have increased in popularity in the past few decades. Horror movies are well known to have one of the best rates of return for investors. Our culture can’t seem to get enough scary. In our dopamine-addicted world, horror movies offer some of the biggest dopamine hits out there. They toy with our anxieties and spin out our fears.
Surprisingly, Jesus wasn’t averse to utilizing the power of spook in his ministry.
The difference is, Jesus doesn’t spin fictional fears to create a reaction. Jesus, rather, points his audience to what they truly ought to be afraid of: not imagined fears, but fears that will come to pass.
Three times in his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus invokes hell. He says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matt 5:29). Pause for a second and take in the gory image Jesus just painted. Like the author of a grisly horror movie, Jesus describes an eye being pulled out of its socket and thrown to the ground. He paints the disturbing picture and then says that that macabre scene is far better than what hell will be.
I love Eugene Peterson’s lively (and rhyming) paraphrase of the end of Jesus’ warning in The Message: “Better a bloody stump than your entire being discarded for good in the dump.”
Later, Jesus warns of the severe ramifications of giving in to sin. He explains that hell is “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. For everyone will be salted with fire” (Mark 9:48-49). Salted with fire!? Tortured worms unable to die? What a shocking picture of hell.
Why would Jesus provoke this kind of fear in his audience? Because of his love. Jesus, the Eternal Son, knows the horrifying fate of those who reject him and he cries out, “Repent! Turn away!” He is us watching the horror movie yelling to the actors, “Don’t go in that room!”
Our world loves the dopamine hit of a good scare on Halloween. In contrast, some Christians paint the gospel and the world in Thomas Kinkade pastels, expunging all fear from it. Both are wrong. If we do not know Christ, there is something we ought to be afraid of. But it isn’t the ghoulish creatures of our horror films. It is life without God: damnation. Hell looms, more frightening than anything we can conjure up with our earthly imagination.
Walter Hooper, C. S. Lewis’s secretary, once commented to the great Christian writer about a clever inscription engraved on an atheist’s tombstone: “Here lies an atheist. All dressed up with no place to go.” Not bemused, Lewis quipped: “That atheist probably wishes now that were true.”
If your security is not in Christ, you do have something to be afraid of this Halloween. Turn to the one who offers the warning and put your trust in him.