To our considerable interest, an article touching on pet blessings recently appeared in WORLD (a bi-monthly magazine which strives to lend a Christian perspective to world events). Its November 17, 2012, issue contained an article titled “Halloween’s real ghouls” (p. 80, by Marvin Olasky). The subtitle indicates the article’s thrust: “It’s a mistake to say history’s evils couldn’t happen here [in America].”
The article’s author (who is purported to be Christian) refers to blessings of pets and the like with considerable negativity. He leads into his subject matter by referring to The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in uptown Manhattan practicing “groovy celebrations such as the blessings of bicycles in April, bees in June, and animals generally (from a tortoise to a yak) early in October.” And he continues: “The cathedral’s most recent extravaganza was the Procession of the Ghouls that came this year on Oct. 26….”
Some stark, tragic world history is then rehearsed. The writer speaks of Cambodian killing fields and of how he once visited such fields and a torture chamber in Phnom Penh, North Korea. (The article is accompanied by a photograph showing human skulls on display in Phnom Penh’s Genocide Museum which, in turn, is described as “a ghoulish 10-story platform holding hundreds of skulls.”)
There’s no need to share more details of the writer’s account of similar evils in world history. For our intents and purposes we would simply share his compelling concluding paragraph. It reads as follows:
“God has so blessed America that we can happily relegate such terror to Asia and Europe and say it can’t happen here—but it could if churches content themselves with blessing bicycles, bees, and yaks instead of teaching about sin and what happens to societies that encourage it rather than restrain it. We need to learn about real ghouls.”
Most interesting to us is the fact that the paragraph draws a connection between the practice of nominally-Christian churches pronouncing blessings upon pets (cf. “Pet Blessings” article in this issue) and the failure of many of those same churches to “teach about sin and what happens to societies that encourage it….”
It’s a Bible-based assessment with which confessional Lutheran Christians can agree. Surely the label “real ghouls” applies to sin in all its many guises and ugly ramifications.
For, you see, it was when sin first happened in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis chapter 3) that the whole world became a veritable “killing field”! As the holy Creator-God had forewarned, if our first parents would choose the path of disobedience to Him, they would surely die. Adam and Eve chose the path of sin, and they died (spiritually, and inevitably physically). Soon enough they had undeniable (ghoulish!) proof of their disastrous fall when their first-born son killed their second-born (Genesis 4).
Everything was destined to go downhill from there. “Just as through one man [Adam] sin entered the world, and death through sin…thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Ghoulish!
If we were on a ghoulish tour, attending the “Procession of the Ghouls” extravaganza at the Manhattan Cathedral or touring Phnom Penh’s Genocide Museum, what are the chances of the dry bones/human skulls “fleshing themselves out” and becoming living, breathing, like-new creatures? Zero, zip, nada!
It’s sad beyond words. Since the disastrous fall into sin in Eden, the biggest lie the devil has perpetrated on the fallen world is that somehow ghoulish dry bones/dust can self-rejuvenate—for example, by supposedly earning God’s eternal favor by good works or by “making a decision” for Christ. The very idea of self-regeneration and rejuvenation is the devil’s lie. Biblically and theologically speaking, the idea is a truly ghoulish death-trap.
Yes, Ezekiel beheld the valley of dry bones coming to life, but only when God put His Spirit in them (Ezekiel 37)! God was the Doer, the dust and bones merely receivers. All of Holy Scripture agrees that only the God who first created man holy (from dust!) can provide the means for re-creating those “dead in trespasses and sins” and making them “alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…”
Such re-creation is what Jesus was speaking about when He told Nicodemus: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Such rebirth takes place in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism: “When the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4ff).
With all this, we are on board with the WORLD article’s suggestion that far too many “Christian” churches in our day water down the gospel of Jesus Christ with “groovy celebrations” which end up being blasphemous spoofs of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Bottom line, such celebrations are among Halloween’s real though superstitious ghouls.
Through His life-giving Spirit may God help all backsliding churches see sin for what it is so that they might, in turn, join us
in giving witness to all doomed and dying sinners of the one solution for the ghoulish consequences of sin:
“The wages of sin is death,
but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”!