Posts Tagged ‘apocolypse’

What will you eat today? What will I consume? I know I am too quick to “eat” gossip, those juicy tidbits doled out by well meaning colleagues and friends. But no matter how sweet the information seems at first, it’s ultimate value is bitter to the soul.

Revelation 10:10
I [John] took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.

I have said before that I struggle with judging others but I”m beginning to see that the gossip thing is seriously vying for first place. As a gregarious person, I am always talking with people and the tendency to gobble up unbidden news is always there.

Today, then, just today, I must be aware of this tendency and flee. “Tell me later,” I can say or “Just a minute, I think I hear my cell phone,” or “Hold that thought” and run to the ladies room. Truly, I must flee.

And what about the gossip I long to tell. Lord, help me count to ten before I say another word.

Focus. Focus.

I know this verse from Revelation is not about gossip, but it reminded me of the phenomenon all the same. In reality, the little scroll that John consumed, held an unspoken prophecy, a piece of news that could not be shared with the world. Will we ever know?

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The four horsemen of the Apocalypse are well known by all, particularly as a metaphor for global death and destruction. But I want to know is what these passages have to say to me as an individual. Who are these horsemen to me?

Revelation 6:1a, 2-3a, 4a, 5a, 7a, 8
I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals.. . and there before me was a white horse! . . . and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest. . . When the Lamb opened the second seal, . . . 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. . . . When the Lamb opened the third seal, before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. . . . When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, . . . and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were [all] given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
[emphasis mine]

Whether it’s the new enthusiasm in the coming close of the Mayan calendar or extremist predictions of the end of the world, they all focus on a cataclysmic finale. The four horsemen fuel this expectation. Historically, the most popular meanings of the horses and their riders are:

  • White Horse: tyranny and the threat of power
  • Red Horse: slaughter
  • Black Horse: famine
  • Pale Horse: death

In actuality, the commentaries and books about these horsemen and their significance are innumerable. Amazon alone displays almost 3,000 titles about the four horsemen. Many speak of the end times, while some hold the view that these destructive events have already happened in the post-Jesus era, and still others view the horses as representative of various epochs. See a concise Wikipedia article on these interpretations for an overview.

But can I relate to any of these interpretations? Am I to watch the skies and quake at the slightest inkling of the end? Do I pray for a quick finale or plead, as Abraham did, for God’s hand to delay for the sake of ten righteous souls? [Genesis 18:16-33] Does it really matter to my daily life whether I believe the horsemen and their seals portend the future or the past in this world? Does it build my faith or set me on fire to act for the good of humankind?

I am thinking the four horsemen, their weapons, and their capabilities are broad stroke types for the attacks on the individual soul. Human is the microcosm of earth. Which horse will strike a person most effectively? I can see how each individual is taunted or seduced or tempted by one or more of the horsemen.

For me, the white horse is plenty effective. I can see where the machinations and impact of the rich and powerful through our Western culture on me every day. Truthfully, haven’t I succumbed, buffeted by a desire to have more and more, both in worldly goods and personal power and influence at work or in my community? This attack begins from the outside but consumes the soul all the same. For others, this power may be more manifest through local governments, dictatorships, verbal abusers in a family, or control freaks. It’s pressure, it’s pushing the right buttons, it’s influence.

The red horse brings the evil of violence against one another. Individuals are hurt every day through the lashing out of physical power: shootings, beatings, torture, and unrelenting restraint tear away at the fabric of the human spirit. Where the white horse evil is exercised through laws or rules or containment, the second one is hands on and brutal.

The black horse symbolizes famine or deprivation. Any news story of third world countries will show the power of lack, whether it’s food or water or shelter. The human’s will to survive is strained to its greatest limits physically and mentally.

And lastly, the pale horse, the one that brings death, may not necessarily bring death to self (a release from pain and sorrow), but the death to those around us, loved ones and innocents. It is a mind game, a despair game, telling the survivor that life is no longer of value when death cheats love, family, community. Catastrophic illness is another player in the game of soul killing, putting the specter of death before a person each day as he or she faces trauma, humiliation, weakness, and body disintegration.

Recently, I had sinus surgery, a minor operation really, and although I had some days of pain and discomfort, it was a far cry from a death march. And yet, those days were spiritually empty. I did not pray or contemplate my inner life. I did not rest in the arms of spiritual bliss. It was all about my physical discomfort. I didn’t need one of the four horsemen to visit, a little pony was plenty.

So, this is my own discovery: the four horsemen may not be some future phantasm at all, but a way of identifying the main pressures along our quest to be fully human. These are our archetypes.

Of the few commentaries I read, I was struck by an older one written by Earl E. Palmer, a popular Presybterian minister, now retired. What captivated me in his comments about the horsemen was the reminder that they were given “boundaries.” They may not be the boundaries that I would like or want, but there is comfort in knowing that they exist. Pain and sorrow and loss and death will not carry the day. This release may come through discovery, through grace, through stubborn resistance, but it will come.

I am looking for this boundary. I want to come out from the influences of the white horse. This is something tangible and real, hand in hand and heart in heart with the Holy Spirit who can direct me onto the more unlikely path, the paradox road, where true power manifests in humility, service to others, and sacrifice: the road less traveled.

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