Halloween began as a Christian holiday, the eve of the Feast of All Saints (or “All Hallows”) Day, on which the church celebrates and thanks God for her saints. Halloween was long ago given over to ghouls, goblins, and devils. More recently big business has haunted it—Americans are expected to spend over ten billion dollars on Halloween this year. Perhaps I shouldn’t draw too fine a line between ghouls and big business.
But Halloween is the eve and vigil of a Christian holy day, and it once helped me learn an important Christian truth. I was probably nine or ten-years-old. For the first and last time, I went trick-or-treating on the east side – the nice side – of our city. My cousin was from the east side, which is where the more affluent folks lived.
I don’t remember how long we’d been at it when we came to the house of an older woman. When she opened the door, we shouted, “Trick or Treat!” and held out our bags. She looked us over for a long time and somehow deduced that I was not from the neighborhood. “You don’t live in this neighborhood!” she said to me. Then she preceded to lecture me on the etiquette of Trick-or-Treat and told me I belonged in my own neighborhood, not in hers.
After all that, I didn’t expect to get anything. But once she had reproached and lectured me, she reached into her bag and took out two pennies, one for my cousin and one for me. That was the last time I ever went Trick-or-Treating on the east side. I had learned my lesson. I was never again going to ask those people for anything.
All of us have experienced similar situations. We ask a parent for something, and they give us what we ask for, but not until they lecture us on being more responsible, tell us to keep our room clean, and remind us of how much worse they had it when they were our age.
You go to your boss for needed supplies and she okays them, but only after she lectures you on the realities of the department budget. You ask a friend for forgiveness and are told you are forgiven, but that doesn’t stop the person from giving you an unabridged list of all the wrongs you’ve ever done. You take your purchase back to the store for a refund and, a half-hour, three clerks, and one manager later, get your refund, but are informed they didn’t have to give it to you because you didn’t have a receipt and were warned that next time you wouldn’t get one.
I once assumed that God was like the old east side woman I met on Halloween: he doesn’t really want to give us anything. He needs to be coaxed into it and, even then, will only help after he lets us know how disappointed he is in us. But that is not the God of the Bible, the God to whom Jesus introduces us. He is – as a literal translation of James 1:5 puts it– “the giving God.”
This is the God Jesus knew. He is a giver. He loves to give, and he gives because he loves. He so loved that he gave. He knows what people need before they ask, and he is ready to give when they ask. If you know how to give good gifts, Jesus once said to people, “how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11). He is the God who “graciously” – not grudgingly – will “give us all things” (Romans 8:32). He is the Father who is “pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12: 32). This is good news about God!
Returning to the letter from St. James, this God gives generously to all people. The word modern translations render “generously” can also mean “simply.” In other words, God does not give with ulterior motives. He does not give in order to get. He doesn’t give so that he can later say, “You owe me one.” He gives to people because he loves them.
(First published by Gannett.)