God and Anxiety
When I think of the National Geographic channel, incredible things come to mind; mountains, bears, whales, and ancient tombs. These programs spark the imagination to adventure and curiosity.
National Geographic also boasts a lesser known program…Doomsday Preppers. As tacky as the show was, it tapped into a fascinating subset of people living among us in America. We all know a conspiracy theorist, but fewer of us know a guy who has buried a shipping container in his backyard anticipating the end of the world. These “preppers” stockpile food, bedding, water, and anything they think they’ll need to survive the end of the world.
While watching interviews of “Preppers” there was one question that caught my attention — “Why do you do it?” As they answered, one underlying theme ran through them all. “When our world crashes down, no one will be there for me. I have to look out for myself.”
For many of us, whether we would like to admit it or not, we have felt this same need to take care of ourselves and prepare to the fullest extent…because if we don’t, who will? We may never actually utter such a thing, and we certainly won’t admit when we feel that fear rise up into our chest, but for all of us, that same narrative plays through our minds on some level. There’s a “prepper” mentality somewhere in all of us.
We see a similar posture when we study how humans react in fight or flight biology. “Fight or Flight” is a nervous system response to hormones released because of acute stress. Most animals have both fight and flight in them, but they usually lean more towards one over another. While rabbits tend to run away from you (flight), bulls tend to run toward you (fight). When animals are responding to a very present circumstance, they fight or they run.
Humans, however, are the only animal on the planet that go into fight or flight responding to a hypothetical threat more often than a real and present one.” Yep, you read that right. We go into fight or flight thinking about what could happen, more often than when recognizing what is actually happening. That may or may not be surprising to you.
As a man prone to anxiety, it can be so easy for me to look at the gospels and grow discouraged by the words of Jesus. Statements like this — “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25) — seem only to point out how I fall short. I actually grow anxious about how anxious I am. “What a mess!” — I imagine Jesus scoffing.
But, we know that Jesus doesn’t scoff at his beloved. In fact we know often that his posture more closely resembles a father who cares for his hurt, sick, and scared children with tenderness. “It’s okay,” He says lovingly. “I am here and its going to be okay! You’ll have everything you need. There’s no need to worry.”
In Romans 8:28 we are reminded that God works everything together for our good and for His purpose. And while this is a beautiful reminder in an anxiety driven time, sometimes we desire more than a declarative statement. It’s just not helpful to simply read that verse on its own. We yearn for relational and emotional comfort. Amazingly, Jesus provides that too, giving us the what but also the how.
When we jump one verse forward to Romans 8:29 we read the how — “For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed into the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
Here is that relational comfort. Comfort from a God who knew you before time and knows you still now. A God who knows where you’ve been and what you’ve done, but also where you’ll be and what you will do. And if that is not enough, he doesn’t know us in the way our limited minds can comprehend, he knows us intimately, including your inner world, and still loves us. And, if that is not enough comfort, we are reminded that our salvation and transformation was and always will be a part of the plan. If you are in Jesus, you will always be a part of the family of God. If you are in Jesus it has been predetermined that you would be conformed into his image. If you are in Jesus He has already begun this process and predetermined that it will take place. That is unbelievably good news.
The second or third time we watch a movie, the emotional experience isn’t the same. The tears don’t fall, the heart doesn’t jump. Why is exactly is that? It’s because we know the ending. This promise of Jesus in Romans, reminds us that we know the ending.
Christian, we do not walk through life and not know how this ends. We have been given the final outcome, the end scene — we are His children whom he deeply loves and intimately knows. We are chosen by Him and are being pushed, prodded, and molded to look more like Him. This means that any and every thing that comes was decided beforehand and is being used by God to make us look more like Jesus. We get to be people who have peace, because regardless of what takes place, we know the end scene.
Friends, take heart in knowing that the promises of God are good in calamity, just as they are good in abundance and stability. Take heart, knowing that your Father is leveraging this uncertain time to make you more like His Son, because you are a part of His family. Take heart in knowing that our God is a gentle, loving Father who is with us in our distress, who walks alongside us, especially in the dark. Freedom from your anxiety lies in the guaranteed completion of Jesus-likeness in you, regardless of what comes.