When 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.
Photo credit: Pietoso sollievo (via flickr.com)