Halloween, Reformation, and the Devil’s Defeat

At the end of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, the mother of the possessed girl says: “I’m still not sure I believe in God.  But I certainly do believe in the Devil.”

Sometimes it does seem easier to believe in the Devil than in God.  Certainly in our day, the Devil’s power seems to be running rampant.  Only a few weeks ago, almost 400 people were murdered by terrorists in a Russian school.  In Iraq, two American hostages were recently beheaded–beheaded, for heaven’s sake!–by their captors.  On an almost daily basis, people blow themselves up and kill innocent strangers to advance political causes.   All these things represent evil of unimaginable depths.  It’s easy to believe in the Devil when we’re faced with such events.

After Sept. 11, photos appeared in some newspapers showing the face of the Devil outlined in the smoke of the World Trade Center.  Perhaps on a literal level that’s a little fanciful–but there’s a deep symbolic message there.  When people are willing to take their own lives and the lives of thousands of others, something incredibly twisted and malevolent is at work.

Evil is real.  And that’s why it’s desperately imperative for us to believe in God, to believe the Gospel, to believe in Jesus Christ.  Because in a world where evil seems so powerful, our faith gives us assurance that evil does not, in the end, win out.  As powerful as the Devil seems, the victory in the end belongs to God.  Confronted with the evil in the world, we are tempted to despair and hopelessness–unless we believe that there is a mighty One  who defeats evil.

In the Garden of Eden, The Devil  triumphed over humankind when Adam and Eve succumbed to His temptations.  But God immediately made a promise: that He would send a Saviour, born of woman, to overcome the Devil’s power.  God said to the serpent, ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; he shall crush your head and you shall strike at his heel.’” (Genesis 3:15).   And that promise was kept with the coming of Jesus:   The Son of God came into the world to destroy the works of the Devil.” (I John 3:8) .  Indeed, the Devil has been humiliated through Jesus’ death and resurrection: “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in His cross” (Colossians 2:15).  Knowing he is defeated, the Devil seeks to destroy us: “Be sober, be watchful, your adversary the Devil prowls about like roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (I Peter 5:8).  But because He is defeated, we  can overcome him in our lives: “Submit yourselves to God; resist the Devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

The month of October brings us two celebrations that relate, in different ways, to the defeat of evil.  Oddly enough, these celebrations both fall on the same day, Oct. 31–Halloween and the Feast of the Reformation (the “birthday” of the Lutheran movement).

Halloween for many of us is a time to watch scary movies.  I love scary movies–especially the older ones.  Often these older films make some pretty powerful Christian points–in the Dracula films and in the 1941 Cat People, for instance, the monsters are repelled by the sight of the cross.  For Christians, this is testimony to the fact that Christ has triumphed over evil through  His death for our sins.   And in all the older films, evil is always defeated–again a Christian theme.  However much havoc Satan wreaks, in the end he is overcome.

During the 1960s, however, scary movies began to turn in a different direction.  In many films, evil triumphed.  When the closing credits rolled, the monsters were in charge.  Perhaps the first major films of this type were two by Roman Polanski, The Fearless Vampire Killers and Rosemary’s Baby.   The modern world that spawned such films had lost the Christian confidence in evil’s defeat.

But these cynical films, ultimately, get it wrong–because evil does not triumph.  It may seem sometimes to have the upper hand–but the final victory belongs to the One who crushed the head of the serpent through the cross and resurrection.

So if you watch a scary movie or two this month, always remember: however the movie may end, God truly is triumphant over evil.

And that theme resounds in a song that inevitably springs to Lutheran lips when Reformation comes around-- “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, In that hymn, Luther–who had a profound sense of the Devil’s presence and power in our world-- paints a grim portrait of the

Evil One’s dominion:

The old evil foe now means to work us woe

Deep guile and great might are his dread arms in fight

On earth is not his equal.

As we think of horrific things happening in our world today, we may indeed nod in agreement at that last line.  The Devil’s power seems so great.  But there is One greater:

But now a Champion comes to fight whom God Himself elected

You ask who this may be?  The Lord of hosts is He

Christ Jesus mighty Lord, and there’s none other God

He holds the field victorious.


Part of our heritage as Lutherans, then, is confidence that the Devil–as powerful as He may seem, –is doomed to ultimate defeat.  The victory belongs to Jesus!  And the victory also belongs to us.

In this month of Halloween and Reformation, then,  remember that we have an Enemy.   But this enemy has been overcome by  Jesus our Champion.  Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

God loves you and so do I!