It Hurts So Good

Let’s talk about fear.

I used to think that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse would be real, tangible, visible creatures riding giant demonic horses that would suddenly appear at some future date in history, ushering in the End Times and bringing terror and war and death to the earth.

In the last year or so, I’ve begun to see Revelation 6 in a very different light. It now seems obvious to me that these four horsemen are spiritual – demonic – forces that are already here and very active on the earth. I’m pretty certain they’ll never be seen with human eyes.

Consider the second horseman, the rider on the red horse.

Revelation 6:3-4 says this:
“3 When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him was given a large sword.”

I always understood this horseman to represent war. I think that’s fair, but I also never noticed that the first power the horseman was given was “to take peace from the earth.” Sure, it results in war and making people kill each other, but to get to full-blown war first you have to take away peace.

How would that be done?

Create fear. It’s pretty easy to do, after all.

With that perspective, I have some observations about what I’m seeing in today’s American culture.

Today in America

The COVID crisis and a very contentious presidential campaign and racial unrest all coincided during 2020, and spilled over into 2021, with plenty of signs it will continue into 2022.

A lot of the rhetoric coming from both sides of the political fight was and continues to be fundamentally fear-based.

  • “If they get elected, your American way of life will end!”
  • “They are going to end welfare and cast millions of oppressed Americans on the street!”
  • “They’re going to take away your guns!”
  • “They’re going to take away your control over your own body!”
  • “They’re going to take away poor people’s health care!”
  • “They’re going to take away your existing health care plan!”
  • “They’re going to end abortion!”
  • “They’re going to get us in another war in the Middle East!”
  • “Israel will be overrun by terrorists!”
  • “The Taliban will rule the Middle East!”
  • “They’re teaching your children to hate other races!”
  • “They’re trying to keep your children from learning the truth about history!”
  • “Free and fair elections will be gone forever!”
  • “They’re taking away your right to vote!”
  • “They’re ruining the climate and killing the earth!”
  • “They’re destroying businesses on a misguided fear of climate change!”

There was little campaign messaging on either side that didn’t try to scare people into voting for Their Guy, to save the world and the American way of life – at least, whichever version of “way of life” they were promoting.

And the rhetoric from both sides of the COVID and vaccination discussion was similarly fear-based.

  • “Get vaccinated or you’ll die!”
  • “The vaccine will kill you!”
  • “The COVID vaccines will bring about the end of human life on earth!”
  • “People not being vaccinated will lead to even deadlier variants!”
  • “COVID will never go away!”
  • “The vaccines keep COVID from going away!”
  • “500,000 Americans will die in the next year!”
  • “They are destroying our economy!”
  • “They want to kill the weak and elderly; it’s eugenics!”

It doesn’t matter which side you took – you were getting slammed with constant fear-inducing news and articles and videos.

The Paradox of Fear

Here’s the paradoxical thing about fear: it’s addictive. You can’t get enough of it, even as you simultaneously hate it. It’s why people watch horror films, or bungee jump, or ride roller coasters, or fly wingsuits. They crave that adrenaline rush. It’s like eating spicy food. It hurts so good.

Here are a handful of articles discussing this fact about the human body.

Ironically, even this idea can make you fearful. Am I addicted to fear? Oh, gosh!

As Jo Emerson says, “Fear is addictive because it causes us to live in a state of constant over-production of adrenaline, which … can be habit forming.”

The truth is that many of us are addicted to fear, without even realizing it.

And our culture is swimming in fear lately.

Inspecting Your News Stream

Take a moment and open your primary news sources. Consider the headlines alone, and evaluate each individual headline. Chances are the majority of those headlines raise your anxiety level. That’s no accident. It’s designed that way, if for no other reason than to make you click the link so you can find out just how bad the situation is. Look at the first paragraph of the article, and you’ll probably find that it’s even more fear-inducing, even if the rest of the article presents more balance.

The thing is, editors KNOW that fear sells. So they write headlines that make you NEED to click the link, to find out how bad things are. Then they write the first paragraph to cause an even stronger fear reaction, so you MUST share that link to warn all your friends of the danger.

Even the most thoughtful and careful websites that truly are interested in making things better are prone to this pattern, because they will do whatever they need to get more page views and advertising dollars, so they can spread the word better.

And fear does that VERY well.

Think back to Revelations 6. Do you see the hand of the 2nd Horseman at work here, who “was given power to take peace from the earth“?

The Bible’s Position on Fear

Let’s consider what else the Bible says about fear.

  • So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” – Hebrews 13:6
  • Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. – John 14:1
  • The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. – Deuteronomy 31:8
  • I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. – Psalm 34:4
  • The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? – Psalm 27:1
  • Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:7
  • Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. – Psalm 23:4
  • Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7
  • So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:10
  • The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? – Psalm 118:6

Filtering Fear

So what do we do?

It’s pretty clear from all those (and many more) scriptures that we’re not designed to live in a state of fear, that the Lord is encouraging us to not fear, that we should focus on thanksgiving and rest, and know that He has it all under control.

That doesn’t mean we need to be unconcerned. But we can choose sources that don’t intentionally create fear in us. My recommendation is this: look at each news source you follow, and decide if that constant drip of fear in the headlines is really in your best interest. Are there sources that don’t use these tactics, but still give you valuable information?

The Fearful Church

This problem isn’t purely secular, either. Even the church is increasingly becoming fear-based, from self-appointed prophets to the pulpit.

Some denominations have always specialized in fear-based gospels – the classic “hellfire and brimstone” sermons depend on fear as motivation to behave right. Many interpretations of end-times theology are strongly fear-based, so much so that the only way to survive is to be raptured out of here before it begins. Other theologies have long used fear of being poor or sick to raise money – “send us a gift of faith so God can keep you healthy and bless your finances.” Sometimes it’s more subtle – “The more you can give, the more you’ll be blessed!” – which makes you fear not giving enough.

But more and more over the last year or so, many churches increasingly used fear to motivate their congregations with regard to COVID and politics.

  • “They’re trying to shut churches down permanently!”
  • “You’ll go to hell if you don’t meet together regularly!”
  • “The government is trying to control how you worship!”
  • “The church will lose its influence in American society!”
  • “America will become a socialist nation and churches will be outlawed!”
  • “They’ll take away your tax deduction for donations to the church!”
  • “BLM is demonic and wants to shut down Christianity!”
  • “White supremacists are trying to destroy black churches!”

The Shaking

This is obviously a season of shaking. But if the Lord is truly in control, He is truly in control of all of it, including the troubles.

Here’s an interesting thing about Revelations 6:3-4: One of the four living creatures under the throne summons each rider, and the third rider “was given power” and “given a large sword.” We also see a few verses later that the third rider was warned by the third living creature that there were limits on his power.

So these four horsemen may well be demonic, but they are specifically released by and tasked from the throne of God, and operate only with the permission of the throne and under its limitations.

Furthermore, several verses in Revelations specifically describe the protection of God’s own people in the midst of the upheavals. Revelations 7 describes God’s people being marked with a seal on their forehead, BEFORE the tribulation begins, and later chapters describe their protection. In Revelations 12, during the war between the dragon and the child (symbolic of Christ), the woman (symbolic of the church) is repeatedly and miraculously protected by God. Even in Revelations 13 and 14, with the mark of the Beast, there still remain those who are “blameless” (Rev 14:5).

So maybe there’s some influence by the rider on the red horse going on right now – we’re not supposed to fear, but many are fearful.

And unfortunately that’s not surprising. In Revelations 13:7, “Then the beast was permitted to wage war against the saints and to conquer them, and it was given authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation.” At some level, these demonic spirits, unleashed in Revelations 6 and implementing part of the Beast’s empire, will conquer even the saints, to the extent that the Lord allows it.

Implications and Responses

This implies two things.

First, God has always had a plan in all this. He directed it. It didn’t catch Him by surprise. He’s up to something, and it’s our honor to uncover what that something may be. As Proverbs 25:2 says, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” And we are His kings and priests.

Second, the power of the rider on the red horse is limited, and more than that, God protects His people. The rider can take away peace, and cause war and murder, but ours is not to fear. We are not under his authority, and we can choose to operate outside of his influence. We are citizens of Heaven, and our provision and protection come from our King.

I’m increasingly convinced that our focus needs to be on the Kingdom, not the politics of the nations. I’m still trying to understand the balance between “having my head in the clouds” and the imperative in 1 Timothy 2 to pray for our leaders and for the peace of our God-given societal situation. But I’m certain of this: God is in control, and He has a plan, and I don’t need to fear.

So in that context, I find a need to filter what I put in front of my eyes, and what I fill my mind with. If something is designed to induce fear, when God has told to not fear, I need to rethink whether it’s a good source of information for me.

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