A Fondness for Fear…

Over the last few days the newspaper has been filled with Halloween events all over the Chicagoland area. A few towns are actually closing off some streets to everything but walking traffic so you mingle and shop with zombies and monsters. There are haunted pumpkin patches, haunted wagon rides on haunted trails, haunted corn mazes, you can even get married in a haunted wedding venue.

I remember the days when church youth groups sponsored haunted houses, spook walks, and horror nights for evangelistic outreach. There was no intention of scaring people into the Kingdom of God, but using it as an opportunity to get teenagers to come for the scary event and then stay for a meeting where they would hear the gospel. It was based on the premise that fear attracts. Our culture recognizes that people pay good money to get scared at Halloween; the scarier the better.

All of this raises the obvious question as to why this is true—certainly not for everybody, but for a significant number of us, we just like getting scared. I trolled a number of articles on the subject, which all said about the same thing. So, I added some of my own reasons (I like haunted houses- just ask my kids) and came up with this list:

  1. People like to be afraid when it is a controlled fear as opposed to the kind of fear which make them feel out of control.
  2. People like the feeling of satisfaction that comes from having pushed the envelope of their own cautionary nature and survived the anxiety and fear which usually makes them stay within their comfort zones. Remember the feeling you had after you finished riding the scariest roller coaster, seeing the scariest movie, making it through the scariest haunted house “in the world?” After you finished throwing up, you probably felt like you could do anything.
  3. Of course, a part of that “high” is due to the endorphins and other chemicals released in your brain because of the body’s fear/risk reaction. Scientist call it a “biochemical rush” which results in an opioid-like sense of euphoria. Perhaps this was part of the reason why Eve Knievel kept going (after he had fractured 433 bones) in his dare-devil career of motor cycle jumping—that and the money, of course.
  4. People also find that controlled fear creates a sense of bonding with others. We usually don’t go to a haunted house or to a scary movie alone. We go with a group or a date. Thus, being with others in a deeply emotional but “safe” environment can create deeper ties of friendship. By the way, research shows that younger men (under 25) are more likely to go to scary things than any other age group. I remember when I was in college and took a date into Chicago to see Alfred Hitchcock’s Wait until Dark. The advertising for this movie had to be targeted toward college-age guys because it dared you to see the movie. (Guys love to be double-dogged dared to do anything). The advertising also claimed to have a scene guaranteed to make you scream. (Guys respond to this as well—”There’s no way I’m gonna scream dude…) Anyway, the movie started and we all anxiously awaited the scene. My date was clutching my arm like a tourniquet—another thing guys like. And then it happened… WOW! It came out of nowhere and the whole theatre erupted in a collective SCREAM! Not me of course, at least not on the outside…just in my bladder. Suddenly, I realized my date had disappeared. I searched and found her under the seat in front of me. I couldn’t believe that she could actually fit in that small a space so quickly- no joke. Poor kid, she wasn’t quite the same after that. I don’t think we ever went out again. She ran away every time she saw me on campus (just kidding). Guess my story doesn’t help to prove the point about fear creating deeper emotional relationships, does it? But it was fun to tell it.
  5. People also find that controlled fear is a distraction from the other things in life that really do concern or terrify us. In other words, it functions as an escape from our problems. This distraction, combined with a little alcohol and being with friends, makes Halloween a fun time for a lot of adults. But then, there’s the next day…

I realize that many Christians struggle with Halloween because they see it as glorifying evil and the diabolical. They might be having a hard time with what I’ve been saying. However, this raises a whole other subject and not the point of my blog. I merely wanted to explore why many people in our culture like getting scared in a safe and controlled way. And I also want to make the observation that even though it serves as a feel good, self-satisfying, relationship-building, escape from life event, it doesn’t last. Unless we choose to medicate, we eventually have to come back to the reality of living our lonely and unsatisfying lives that often do not feel very good. We also have to face the anxieties and fears that are not safe or controlled. So, how do you do that?

Cancer has been the scariest thing I’ve ever had to face in my life. I thought I knew fear in college when I had to wrestle or play football against 500 pound gorillas posing as large humans. With cancer, there is little that is under your control and there is nothing that is safe—not even the treatment, which is sometimes worse than the disease. Scary movies can get your blood pounding, athletic opponents can hurt you, but cancer can, and in many cases will, kill you.

I’m reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body, but not kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” Jesus wanted his disciples to know that if they were going to be afraid, then they needed to be afraid of the right thing. They should fear the One who can destroy both body and soul—God. It should be the scariest thing you could ever imagine to stand before the God of the Universe at Judgment Day and have him take you and your sin and cast you into the pit of hell for all eternity.

Perhaps it is hard to imagine that Jesus would say such a harsh thing, but it must be remembered that he also personified the very way by which we can escape such judgment. Since cancer can only kill my body and can’t touch my soul, then I should not fear it. Believe it or not, that brings great comfort to me. I can thumb my nose at cancer because while it’s taking a toll on my body, it cannot destroy who I am. In fact, having cancer has developed me as a person and made me stronger in my faith and in my relational ties.

Jesus has become the Shepherd of my soul through his death and resurrection. He has transacted the forgiveness of my sins and made the promise of eternal life to me and to all who would trust in him as Savior. He has also pledged that no one or nothing could ever snatch me out of his care and that God would never cast me away. “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me and no one shall ever snatch them out of my hand. And my Father who has given them to me and is greater than all, no one shall snatch them out of his hand.” (John 10:27-29)

For the believer, and I hope that term describes you, fear will always be a controlled fear. It will always be bounded by the love of God, who has us safely in his grip and will not allow anything to touch our lives without first passing through his Fatherly hand.

So we can keep having our jollies getting scared at Halloween, but we no longer need to be slaves of fear, especially the fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15) Enjoy the link below: