Why Should We Know about All Souls' Day?
- Candice Lucey Contributing Writer
- 2020 8 Oct
Exploring similarities between Halloween, All Souls' Day, and All Saints' Day can be an excellent starting point for discussing God’s word on the subject of the afterlife.
All Souls' Day is particularly concerned with purgatory. What is purgatory? Is there really such a thing? When asked about it, Christians should have an answer, both to help unbelievers who are curious and confused, and to deepen their understanding of Christ’s teaching about what happens when we die.
What Is the Meaning of All Souls' Day?
Heather Riggleman explains that “All Souls' Day commemorates the faithful departed.” November 2nd is set aside by the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches. All Souls' Day originates with the belief that dead Christians might need more cleansing of their sins before they can enter heaven.
According to this idea, certain believers will remain in a place known as “purgatory” until God considers them fully cleansed—thanks to the diligent prayers of faithful family and friends. During All Souls' Day, adherents continue the “custom of setting apart this day for intercession” in the hope that any loved ones awaiting release from purgatory will enter heaven at last.
Where Does the Bible Speak about Purgatory?
Roman Catholics argue that “the concept of purgatory” comes from several verses in both Protestant and Catholic Bibles which include apocryphal works. One reference they turn to is 2 Corinthians 5:10 which says “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” The concept of purgatory turns salvation into “a works-based process instead of a gift given freely by the grace of God through his son’s sacrifice and resurrection.”
In “What is Purgatory?” Hope Bolinger talks about an ongoing “refinement process,” in which the Christian becomes “more like Christ” during his or her life but is never perfected. We cannot reconcile the spiritual waiting room of purgatory with what Paul says in Ephesians 2:8—that we are saved by grace. We can’t save ourselves by being better people.
If there is a middle ground, this is the literal bridge Christ formed between us and God. Christ is our intercessor, but we don’t wait with him in a state of uncertainty until we are accepted into the kingdom or rejected from it. Christ left us the Holy Spirit when he went to be with the Father, so he is always with us while we live this imperfect life.
We can’t lose our salvation when we sin: as Romans 8 tells us, “nothing can separate us from the love of God.” (Romans 8:31) He will not be parted from us. While we should try to be “more like Christ” every day, our souls are safe in Christ now and for eternity. A person is either saved at the time of death or is not.
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History of All Souls' Day
“There are some differences between Halloween, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, however, they are tied together” writes Heather Riggleman. Setting November 2nd as the church’s official day to pray for dead believers began with “Odilo, abbot of Cluny” in France who died in 1048, and whose choice of date “became practically universal before the end of the 13th century.” He selected November 2nd so that All Souls' would follow All Saints' Day. Having “celebrated the feast of all the members of the church who are believed to be in heaven, the church on earth turns, on the next day, to commemorate those souls believed to be suffering in purgatory.”
Meanwhile, “to mark the end of Summer, the Celts held a harvest festival known as Samhain steeped in superstition and fear of evil. It is celebrated on the 31st of October beginning at sunset and ending at sunset on November 1” after which, the “dark side” of life—fall and winter—would begin. The Celts were right to fear darkness, but in the spiritual sense. Jesus said “we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” (John 9:4) At some point, it will be too late to share good news with someone.
Choosing the beginning of November for All Saints' and All Souls' days was done to Christianize pagan celebrations of the dark side (death) even as far back as the 7th century with a “celebratory remembrance for all of the Church's martyrs.” Churches were making “an effort to combat pagan worship.”
Scriptures to Consider
In Revelation, death is depicted as a rider on “a pale horse” and “Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth. (Revelation 6:8)
Death, the pale rider, embodies murder, destruction, and eternal separation from God. Christians do not celebrate a dead rabbi but a risen Messiah; the living God. Believers’ names are written in the book of life, not the scrolls of the dead.
The Bible does, however, warn Christians against the otherworldly enemy described in Revelation. “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against [...] the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)
We put on the full Armor of God as defense against our own sin and the sins of others because sin is death and it’s dangerous. When we rebel against God, we don’t glorify him, and glorifying God is life-giving testimony which makes Christ attractive to the suffering unsaved; the walking dead. As for the veil being thinnest at one time of year or another, Satan is always present, prowling like a lion in search of prey. (1 Peter 5:8)
The heartbreaking truth is that we can’t intercede for departed loved ones, but take comfort from God: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) Turn to him. Be inspired by the faithful Christians who have died, but don’t turn them into idols. Their faithfulness was meant to direct your focus onto the one true God.
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3 Things Christians Should Know about All Souls' Day
1. The day can be redeemed for Jesus. Paul used the Greeks' own philosophies to help them understand the Gospel. Use All Souls' Day as a catalyst for Gospel-driven conversation.
2. It’s natural to grieve death. Therefore, be kind to a friend who is fearful her spouse or parent has not gone to be with God. Lead her gently to scriptural truth and the comfort this offers.
3. Salvation is accomplished by Christ. You aren't the actual savior of your friends while they're living, and you can’t save them after death. Believing you have some responsibility to pray fervently on All Souls' Day for loved ones who might be in purgatory perpetuates a burden. “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Luke 11:46)
If you are loading the burden of salvation onto others’ backs, or onto your own back, you might not believe that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus (see John 14:6).
What Can Christians Do about All Souls' Day?
1. Worship God. Idolatry sneaks in disguised as grief when you replace the living God with a departed spouse, child, or friend. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” said Jesus. (Matthew 6:21) Is your heart with the dead, or with the living? God wants to protect you from sin and pain and he also demands your worship. “You cannot serve two masters.” (Matthew 6:24)
2. Show empathy. Support the bereaved with love and empathy, but you can also gently encourage their focus onto Christ.
3. Feel the urgency. The finality of it all should leave Christians fired up to share the gospel with everyone, and not take for granted that every church-going friend is saved. Remember how All Saints' Day celebrates those who were thought to have entered heaven? How does one appear to be good enough? Perhaps your dutiful Christian friend doesn’t actually believe in Christ for salvation, but is putting faith in duty and works. The grave truth is that once we die, there is no purgatory; no second chance. Our eternal destination is heaven or hell without exception.
Paul wrote to the disciple Timothy “there is one God, one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:5)
Lord, thank you that we are saved by grace alone. Show us how to help those around us deal with death in healthy and God-honoring ways. Thank you that you save, and only you. Lead us into prayer for people still living in darkness, that they would see the light before they die or Christ returns. Amen.
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.