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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “For Whom the Sweetie Belle Toils”

As I noted in an earlier devotional, trying to substitute fear for love, especially where God is concerned, is a dangerous path to follow. Yet this episode seems to fly in the face of that idea.

One of the reasons I like Princess Luna is that she conveys a sense, unlike Princess Celestia, of what an actual god might be like in Equestria. She always comes off as powerful and mysterious. She always evokes a sense of greatness and fear from her persona. More than Celestia, she’s often stern, forceful, and even “great and terrible”; especially in episodes like this one. When Sweetie Belle develops a sense of misplaced jealousy for Rarity and tries to sabotage her in a petty act she sees as getting even, Princess Luna holds little back in showing her the shallowness of her cruelty as well as the end result. Even when Sweetie Belle begs her to end the nightmare, she lets it continue to scare her further and “drive the point home”.

Fear, like any emotion, is God-given. Not only that, but much of human civilization throughout history, from the earliest parts of the book of Genesis to the present day, is built around fear. Fear is a primal defensive response. It’s an emotional sensation we get when we are confronted with danger. The goal is to prime our body to avoid the source of the fear and thereby obtain safety and relief. And since we are thinking and feeling creatures capable of conceptualizing the results of our actions and life possibilities, fear has been harnessed for civilization by creating legal consequences. Don’t steal or you’ll be imprisoned. Don’t hurt other people or you’ll be punished. Don’t kill or you in turn will lose your life, either through execution or a life in prison. Even as a child, we learn to fear scoldings and punishment for breaking rules. Chances are before we learn about consequences our parents telling us to do something didn’t really matter. But once we received punishment the first time, we were more apt to fall in line because we feared what we would get.

Fear is a key aspect of the psychology of behaviorism, which propound that humans operate mostly on hedonism. We seek to either be given rewards or have negative consequences taken away. Fear focuses mostly on the latter of these. We know if we do certain things we’ll suffer for them, and so we strive to avoid doing those things or to quickly make amends for them if we do them. If the consequences are harsh enough, those can actually work better than a reward. In fact, the argument has been made that the Bible itself talks more about the consequences of sin than the benefits of righteousness. I point out Leviticus 26 myself. In that chapter, God speaks to the Israelites for eleven lines about the rewards for obedience to the Law (Leviticus 26:3-13), and twenty-six lines about the punishment for disobedience to the Law (Leviticus 26:14-39); more than double. And while the saying “there are no atheists in a foxhole” might be just a hint of a stretch, it’s definitely true that someone will do a lot more praying when their lives are in danger by factors out of their control than when they’re in a safe situation, and will likely spend more time going to Church as they get older and realize death, and judgment, is coming up faster all the time. Certainly it was true in the Old Testament that when threats and dangers loomed the Israelites would turn back to God and take up praying more fervently and committing themselves to him, and it seems in modern times the Church is the more on fire and fervent about reaching others when it’s being persecuted, such as in China, than when there’s no threat, such as in the United States.

And fear of negative consequences, as demonstrated in today’s episode, isn’t necessarily bad as it got Sweetie Belle to abandon her petty jealousy and realize how hard her sister worked for her. Likewise, fear of hurting those we love has stopped many a thoughtless action and unkind word in our own lives.

Does this contradict my earlier devotional? Is fear actually a good thing?

Like I said, fear is a God-given emotion and serves a useful purpose in the right situation. What fear should ideally do is make us aware of danger and flee from it. In that sense, so long as it’s healthy fear and based on reality and not perception or irrationality, fear is good. It’s good in the same sense that pain and anger are when properly applied, because they drive us to avoid things that hurt us and act against things that are wrong. One can think of it like leprosy. Most people have the misconception that the disease of leprosy causes your body to rot away, but it doesn’t. What it does is deaden you to the sensation of pain, such that you end up injuring yourself more than you should, contracting infections, and the infections are what causes the loss of body parts. It’s the inability to feel something bad that hurts you. In a similar way, without fear we’d wander into dangerous situations and hurt or destroy ourselves.

Yet these emotions can also be bad. Out-of-control anger just makes us balls of destructive, toxic rage. Out-of-control pain is crippling, debilitating, and leaves us avoiding others. And out-of-control fear simply leads to resentment and anger, and eventually hatred. Godly fear (which can also be understood as reverence and respect for God), on the other hand, motivates us to change and then is quickly resolved.

Going back to the model of Princess Luna…again, she’s all of those great and terrible things that inspire awe and dread among the citizens of Equestria. But after the events of “Luna Eclipsed”, note that even if she inspires fear…the characters aren’t actually scared of her. They reverence her and respect her, but don’t cower and tremble in terror every time she looks at them. As harsh and disciplinary as she can be, she’s still a source of power and comfort for them once they resolve what’s wrong in their lives. I think that’s a good model for the relationship of man with God.

As many “threats” are there are in the Bible, it also makes it clear that godly fear is actually a source of security and life. “And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’” (Job 28:28). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” (Psalm 111:10) “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.” (Proverbs 14:27) “And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” (Luke 1:50).

For some people, it’s important to know the difference. With true fear rooted in reality and in faith in God, you can know it’s godly fear because the point is to turn you aside from a certain way or from doing a certain thing. Once you have turned aside, the fear goes away. Worldly fear and anxiety, on the other hand, causes you to live in constant dread and despair, in which nothing you do can take away the fear or terror or sense that something is coming for you or hanging over you. This kind of fear is a sickness and disease and might require not only confession and the help of friends and loved ones, but also professional help.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for all of my emotions and my rationality, and thank you for every time fear has preserved me from making a bad decision or wandering into a dangerous situation. Thank you also for your promise that one who has a ‘godly fear’ gains wisdom that leads to understanding and life. If I am suffering from an irrational fear and dread, or am substituting fear for love and reverence in my own life, please confront me with it so that I can face it, resolve it, and do what I must to be made whole. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”