Summary: Panicked people do irrational things, like attempt to live in the past or to live out of bad religion. Panic can be dealt with only by trusting God and living in integrity. Luther’s Reformation is a prime illustration.
Children are not the only ones who are afraid of the dark. You do not have to be a child to be subject to irrational, unreasoning fears, fears that take you over and leave you breathless.
Children may be afraid of dark rooms and of monsters under the bed, but the rest of us also panic. Don’t tell me you don’t get scared sometimes. Don’t tell me you don’t get apprehensive. I know I do. I even have occasional nightmares about this church! Irrational and panicky fears from which I wake with a jump. I feel sometimes like praying the old Cornish prayer:
"From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties and things that go bump in the night, Good lord, deliver us!"
All of us, even the most sophisticated, panic sometimes.
Last year about this time my daughter was making her rounds as security manager at Bloomingdale’s. The store had a display of Halloween gags and gimmicks, which included plastic skulls fitted out with small tape recorders and motion detectors. If you moved past one of these plastic skulls, the switch would set off the tape recorder, resounding with cackles and clucks and fiendish laughter.
Well, on a particular night, Karen was closing and securing the store. She had made sure all the customers and employees were out of the building; she had locked all the doors, and had turned out almost all of the lights. Only one thing was left to do: set the alarms. One of the alarms would not set. Maybe a clerk had left a showcase open. Or worse, maybe somebody was hiding in the store. Potentially a dangerous situation. But she set out through the darkened aisles to find and fix the problem.
You’re way ahead of me! Not thinking in the least about that display of fiendish faces, she inched along, all senses alert. The store was quiet, the hour was late, the room very dark.
Ah - ha - ha - ha - ha! Two dozen plastic skulls sent up their devilish laughter. Karen says she just about left her skin behind!
Even adults can be afraid of the dark, even sophisticated people can have frightening experiences. Every one of us can get caught up in unreasoning fears, sheer terror.
It’s Halloween. Behind Halloween is a grim reminder that there is a shadow world of things which frighten us ... a world in which life is beset with terrors.
How do you deal with the terrifying things that happen in your world? How do you handle the sudden jab of fear that clutches at your heart? There are really only two ways: you can either give in to the panic and do something irrational; or you can trust the love of God. When you are threatened, I say, you have two choices: either you can lose your calm and let anxiety take charge of you, surrendering to the demonic; or you can trust Christ, who faced down those demonic powers and defeated them for you.
In the Old Testament there is a real Halloween ghost story. It is the story of a king who let his panic take over, so that he got in cahoots with a ghost. Instead of obeying God and trusting the Lord to get the victory, Saul heard the cackling laughter of fiendish skulls and did something off the wall. There is no more bizarre story in the whole Bible than this one.
I Samuel 28:3-7; 15-18a
The problem, you see, is that panicky fears lead people to do panicky things. Deep anxieties lead us to do irrational things.
For example, when we panic we often turn to the ghosts of the past to solve our problems. When life gets tough and the problems seem beyond solving, our temptation is to develop a bad case of nostalgia and look for the answer in the past.
Saul saw his enemies arrayed against him, and did not think he could win the battle. So he remembered the days when the prophet Samuel was around, and wished he could get Samuel to solve the problem. Oh, if only Samuel were here, he could fix it. If only the old prophet were still around, he would know what to do! And so Saul summoned up the ghost of Samuel, the ghost of the past, to fix it.
We are much like that, you know. When we get panicky, we turn to the past, the dead past. We expect to find answers there. We see that we are about to lose a battle, and we think that something which is in reality dead and gone can be brought up to save us.
One of my pastor friends tells about serving a church more than twenty-five years, but it was stalled. It was going nowhere. The people started reminiscing about what church had been like in their childhood and they asked him to bring that back for them. Oh, if we just had revivals like we used to have back in Mississippi! Oh, if you would just preach the Bible and nothing but the Bible like my pastor preached it when I was a child! And oh, if we would just sing the old songs exactly the way we used to sing them on Sunday nights in Alabama! When that kind of panic took over my friend’s church, they soon sent him packing, and then dwindled down to a precious few! They defeated themselves by panicking and calling up the dead and distant past!