As someone who is relatively timid, I tend to get jittery and fearful whenever the seventh-month comes around.
Some people believe that on the first day of the month, spirits of the dead are released from hell to come back to earth to visit their loved ones. During this period, commonly known around Asia as the Hungry Ghost Festival, some families burn paper money, effigies, candles, and joss sticks along the streets and at void decks to appease the returning ghosts. Food offerings would also be left for the wandering ghosts who are hungry. Temples would also organize stage performances, with the rows in front left empty for the spirits.
When I was growing up, my parents would burn offerings to my late grandparents. As a kid, I helped with the burning too. My mother, a non-believer at the time, would tell me to avoid walking at void decks where a funeral had just been held in case the spirit of the deceased has not left. I was also warned to avoid kicking or stepping on the offerings in case the spirits got offended.
Frightened that the spirits would follow or harm me, I obeyed my mother’s instructions religiously. Although I never had any encounter with spirits, the fears that I had since childhood stayed with me even after I became a Christian.
During the Hungry Ghost Festival a few years ago, I remember walking home alone past midnight one day and having to take a 10-minute walk through a dimly-lit park. There were burnt offerings on the ground and the sight reminded me of the supposed spirits of the deceased lurking nearby. My thoughts immediately ran wild and I felt the furious thumping of my fearful heart. Even the slightest noise of a rat scurrying into a drain startled me.
I picked up my pace, making it home in just six minutes. As I lay on my bed that night, my mind was filled with my earlier fears. Why was I so afraid?
That’s when Psalm 27:1-2 came to mind. The psalmist, who described the Lord as the stronghold of his life, wrote: “He is our light and salvation, whom shall I fear?” David had absolute confidence in God and knew that his enemies and foes would stumble and fall. I was immediately comforted by the verse. Indeed, He can be my refuge and there is nothing to fear.
As I continued to read, I came across Hebrews 9:27, which confirmed that people die once and after death, face God’s judgement. Since the Bible made it clear that the dead do not return to earth, my fears started to seem illogical in light of the gospel truth. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit within us is greater than Satan (1 John 4:4). God is living in us, is always with us, and is greater than any other spirits.
As I write this piece, the Hungry Ghost Festival season has come around again. However, I no longer subscribe to the superstitions surrounding the festival or feel the fear that used to keep me captive. Instead, this annual event now reminds me of how my mind has been continually transformed and renewed by the Word of God.
Today, I can walk through the same park at night without fear. Instead of fearing spirits of the dead, the only fear I have is for the One who holds the power of eternal life and death (Matthew 10:28).