Every year about this time around Orlando the big theme parks put up billboards promoting their Halloween events. Busch Gardens in Tampa offers "Howl-O-Scream." Universal Studios has "Halloween Horror Nights." To their credit, Disney World promotes what they call "Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party."
It's those first two events that I'm talking about. The billboards are over the top this year. If I were a kid looking at those pictures, I'd freak out. I'd have nightmares. The pictures are more graphic than ever before. The "Halloween Horror Nights" billboard features Freddy Krueger, Jason, and Leatherface, the "stars" from movies like Nightmare on Elm Street and Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The show is called "Carnival of Carnage." The Busch Gardens billboard is equally frightening. I bet every time you young parents drive past those signs you have to lunge for your kids to cover their eyes.
It's irresponsible to put up billboards like that.
At the same time, it's a commentary on our culture's fascination with death. There are an amazing number of horror movies made every year in the U.S. Each one seems to get more graphic and disturbing than the one before. Many (like Saw) are unnervingly violent. What does this say about us?
The Scriptures teach that human beings fear death more than just about anything (Hebrews 2:15). So perhaps making slasher movies and creating horrible Halloween experiences are ways we try to "tame" death - confining it to the screen or to a theme park - so that we can walk out of the theater or the theme park unscathed and feel like we've beaten death after all.
But death can't be tamed. It can be beaten, but only through faith in Jesus who conquered death when he rose from the grave.
When Jesus stood by the tomb of his friend Lazarus he wept (John 11:35). He was "deeply moved in spirit and troubled" (John 11:33). Death made Jesus furious. Death is hell's revolt against God, a spit in the eye of the Creator who breathed life into man. Death is a sign of the curse. It's no wonder that death terrifies human beings, because it ushers them into eternity -- an eternity in which many people find no comfort or reason for hope.
So in a strange way, I think people are trying to find hope. If they can only show that death may look horrible but it's really impotent, then they can be comforted about the future. What they need is real hope, which is found only in a relationship with Jesus.