Antidote to Anxiety

8786185166_31e2f2f978_mWhen W. H. Auden published his Age of Anxiety in 1948, the title caught wide attention in western society. The Second World War was over but there was a massive cleanup to follow, and many war wounds would never fully heal.

At the same time, the continuing influence of the industrial revolution was making life more and more impersonal and relationships increasingly fragile.

But if those times were marked by an undercurrent of anxiety, what shall we call our prevailing state of mind now?

War machines in the skies, on the ground and in the water have become thunderously destructive. We live in a world where children are no longer safe. There are recurring predictions that the economy will collapse. And worse, even in a land at peace terrorism threatens our well being in every city of the western world? A terrorist may live next door.

The trouble with anxiety is that we often don’t know we have it. Or it has us. Our fears lack a personal focus so we can’t very well fight back. We just carry our anxieties quietly, but at a cost.

Is there an antidote to anxiety for our times?

Here’s Simon Peter’s word to believers scattered from their homes, probably by persecution, and in peril of settling to live under a cloud of anxiety: “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7 RSV).

The most important element in our struggle with the terror of our times is the view we have of God. If he doesn’t exist then we’re on our own through all of life’s perils. If he’s only “the man upstairs” then our situation isn’t much better for he may not know what goes on downstairs. Or if he knows he may not be able to do much about it.

But if he’s the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and everywhere present, then our issues are different. We know from both Jesus’ message and his life during his stay on earth what God is really like. He is as a Father to us.

That doesn’t mean he’ll protect us from every cold blast or sweeping storm. He knows that struggle builds muscle of body and mind. But if we live in faith he’ll never let perils and fears go beyond what we can take, and in our most troubling times he will stand in the shadows “keeping watch above his own.”

When our two boys were teenagers delivering papers I left them to deliver papers on bicycles or on foot because I believed the effort required would make them stronger and more self-reliant.

But one morning very early they came to our room before we were awake to tell us it was pouring down rain outside. I let them take the car for their task. Both decisions were fatherly. Some struggle was good for them. It would make men of them. But there was a time for a father to step in also. Our God knows when to step in.

Whenever our anxieties build up we should ask ourselves: Am I living as though I have to keep the whole universe on its course? Our first need in coping with anxiety is to realize this world is still God’s world and to renew a genuine faith in him. When Jesus said to his immediate followers, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” he was addressing them — and us too.

This brings us to the main verb in Saint Peter’s assurance to the scattered ones. It occurs only one other time in the New Testament.

During his passion, when the disciples brought a colt to Jesus, before he mounted they threw their coats on the animal. Peter tells us that is what we are to do with our anxieties. We are to cast them on God. Then, unburdened we are to live in the confidence of his love.

 

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Photo credit: Pietoso sollievo (via flickr.com)

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One thought on “Antidote to Anxiety

  1. 1948 was a milestone year for literature describing the state of things in the modern world,particularly on features of modern life which cause anxiety.

    W.H.Auden’s Pullitzer prize winning long New York poem came out.inspiring Leonard Bernstein’s symphony of the same name.

    Also George Orwell’s dystopian novel, ‘1984’ was published,warning of a future society governed closely by a big brother centralized state.I think the state of things in Nazi Germany,which state the Allies had just overcome in a world war,informed Orwell’s novel.As did Stalin’s Soviet Union.

    Both books came out before I was born ,but the world I was born into was a dangerous fragile world,a world living in fear of a nuclear holocaust.After 9/11 in New York and 7/7 in London ,and now with the daily genocides of Christians by Islamic State,things seem to have got worse.

    For me the great Christian philosopher of anxiety was the founder of existentialism.Not the nihilist existentialism of Nietzche nor the cold ,empty,despairing 20th century atheist existentialism of Sartre ,but the Christian existentisalim of Soren Kierkeaard, the original existentialism put forward by a true Bible believing servant of Christ.

    Danish Christian theology student Soren .Kierkegaard offered a clear Christian solution to angst,based on the Bible,which has been obscured by later atheist existentialists.

    Of Christian writers of the last few centuries ,two have especially called me to Christian faith and back to the genuine Christianity of the early church of the first 3 centuries after our Saviours crucifixion.These writers are John Wesley and Soren Kierkegaard.Wesley I believe is universally accepted as a great Christian writer.Sadly Kierkegaard has been confused with later unChristian atheist philosophers who called their approach existentialist,so muddying the waters.What a shame if as a result Christians don’t read the good Bible based Christian writing of Soren Kierkegaard. For he saw clearly the Christian antidote to anxiety – faith.

    Just as in 18th century England Wesley called for a Revival of original Christian values ,so too Kierkegaard did in 19th century Denmark.Of course Wesley started a great Revival movement ,wheras Kierkegaard wrote Christian philosophy,a philosophy offering a Biblical solution to modern angst.

    Kierkegaard stressed the importance of a personal relationship with God, that we must be united with God through the person of Jesus Christ.Kierkegaard cautioned that people will suffer from the anxiety of indecision until we choose the right way to live and that the right way to live is in obedience to God through Jesus Christ.That every choice we make,every action we take should be evaluated according to God’s Will,and that God’s Will is clearly expressed in the Bible.

    Kierkegaard believed that by the 19th century Christians had begun to deviate from the original New Testament message that we should live our lives in grace ,humility and love.Soren Kierkegaard equated God with Love.In the 19th century the Bible was questioned as never before.A dangerous path as Kierkegaard saw it ,for he posited that sin is choosing a path not in accord with God’s Will. God’s Will is expressed in the Bible so 19th century refutation of the Bible put us in great danger.

    In his seminal text of Christian existentialism,’Fear and Loathing’ of 1843.Kierkegaard offered a Christian solution to modern anxiety.’Fear and Loathing’takes as it’s subject,the episode in Genesis of Abraham’s ascent of Mount Moriah ( whose Hebrew name means ordained by the Lord,I believe).This was Abraham’s unreserved leap of faith,his full commitment to the Lord.Kiekegaard ,who chose to dedicate his whole life to God believed that each of us has an exceptional mission in life – to dedicate our life to God.Only through unreserved submission to God’s Will can we ever overcome our human anxiety.

    In other words faith and obedience is the only solution to anxiety.By his example Abraham showed the rightness of faith.We can and must trust in God absolutely.This is the Christian existentialist philosophical approach ,put forward by Kierkegaard.Unfortunately his message has been obscured and confused by later atheist existentialists who miss the whole point that God and faith must be at the heart of this philosophy or it will not work.

    Our lives are determined by our choices and actions ,our decisions.These must accord with God’s Will.We must choose between the hedonistic path of self gratification and the ethical path of obedience to God’s Will.God gave us free will to make the right choices.

    .We can remain undecided in which case we must live in the anxiety of indecision and live a life of angst.We can choose to follow our own will.That way lies sin and catastrophe.Or we can put our whole faith in God ,in obedience ,in love of God with all our strength.That way lies salvation and freedom from anxiety.But we must choose for we have free will so that we can make the right choice for ourselves.

    This is what Soren Kierkegaard’s Christian existentialism taught me.Whenever I read philosophy or any idea I always test it by the Bible.So when I read Wesley I saw it came from the Bible and was good..When I read some basic Kierkegaard I saw it came from the Bible and was good.

    In fact I’ve come to see that the true originator of the philosophical approach of existentialism is Christ Himself. For at the heart of the Christian existentialist approach lie Christ’s parables.When Jesus is asked a question in the Bible,notice how often he replies with another question.Or he offers a parable that requires the questioner to answer his or her question for themselves.Jesus requires us to understand His message for ourselves.That way we truly learn,truly choose.

    I notice this is not only the New Testament way.For in the Old Testament, when David sins,Nathan teaches him to see, through the technique of parable.Nathan offers David the parable of the poor shepherd with but one lamb.With what shock and epiphany David must have realized the poor shepherd was Uriah.Oh how dreadfully David came face to face with his own sin ,so that he judged himself,saw for himself.

    .If angst is our fear of making the wrong decision,the cure is a faith powerful as Abraham’s .Soren Kierkegaard’s first existentialist text,’Fear and Loathing’ was all about the superhuman faith of Abraham as he climbed Mount Moriah with his greatest treasure,his beloved son,his precious link to future generations of Israel,God’s greatest gift to him was IsaacAll the greater his faith.His faith was proved correct the moment God’s angel bid him stay his hand.Is there any greater moment of relief in the Bible? We see faith in the Lord is well founded.

    Faith in the Lord is the answer pointed to by the first existentialist philosopher..But modrn society seemed to prefer it’s existentialism to be Godless ,without faith,following the siren voices of Nietszche & Sartre to a philosophical dead end.

    Later Christian existentialist philosophers developed Kierkegaard’s philosophy.I’m thinking of Paul Tillich and his monumental 3 volume’ Systematic Theology’.He would say God doesn’t exist which can be terribly misunderstood.In Tillich’s philosophy .only we ,His creatures exist,having been created by HimWe exist,.God more than exists.He is the very ground of our existence,what Tillich calls’the ground of our being’ .God is everything upon which we exist.Without Him we would not be.I like this thought which seems to have a truth to it.

    But I fear it could confuse In the end this is only quibbling with words.We know God is.He is present.We believe in Him because His presence is known through the Holy Spirit.Because His Son made Him known to us.Because the Angels and the Prophets carried His message to us so we know He is present in our lives.

    Even according to this way of using words,Jesus existed in purely human terms,for He was wholly human and wholly God.So did Jesus both exist and not exist ,being both a creature with being and a person of the creator and so the ground of being ? I think such an idea too easily confuses and is not helpful.It reminds me of Meister Eckhart’s ‘theologica negativa’ ,which,while it reminds us of the unknowing vastness of God,can confuse .So it is unhelpful to many.

    Great philosophers like Soren Kierkegaard ,the Christian philosopher of anxiety have given me great comfort,leading me to deepen my faith in the Bible, in God

    But in the end evey idea developed is already right there in the Bible.

    What great comfort are Peter’s words.By trusting God we free ourselves of anxiety.Faith heals anxiety.After all Kierkegaard’s message to heal our anxiety through faith in God is right there in the Bible ,has been all along.All knowledge is in the Bible.

    “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7 RSV)

    Words of comfort!

    God’s not upstairs,He’s right here right now.Every Lord’s Supper He is manifestly present.In fact He is here always.John Wesley knew.His dying words on that day of March 2 1791 were :

    “The best of all is, God is with us!”

    Apparently Wesley repeated this several times that March 2 1791 in London,where his great life culminated.

    God is with us ,ever present.So when we are in anxiety,we know what to do with our angst.With faith in His unconditional love,we cast our anxiety upon Him.Faith is the answer .

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