Last night we looked at the root and core of a struggle common to all of us (in different ways, and at different levels)–Anxiety. Here are the notes from the study:
I opened by reading two quotes. The firs was from the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, from his 1844 book The Concept of Anxiety, which was necessary for understanding what the second quote was disagreeing with. Kierkegaard wrote:
Anxiety may be compared with dizziness. He whose eye happens to look down the yawning abyss becomes dizzy. But what is the reason for this? It is just as much in his own eye as in the abyss, for suppose he had not looked down. Hence, anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, which emerges when the spirit wants to posit the synthesis and freedom looks down into its own possibility, laying hold of finiteness to support itself. Freedom succumbs to dizziness. Further than this, psychology cannot and will not go. In that very moment everything is changed, and freedom, when it again rises, sees that it is guilty. Between these two moments lies the leap, which no science has explained and which no science can explain.
So, according to this way of seeing things, anxiety is intrinsic to being human, and arises from the simple fact that God has granted us freedom. (As illustrated in the feeling of freedom to jump off a high cliff when we stand on its edge.)
But a few years ago I heard a series of lectures that set me on a different path in terms of understanding what anxiety was. The idea appeared in a series of lectures by Henri Blocher. Here’s what he said about anxiety:
[Adam, the first man] delighted continually in the presence of God and of Wisdom, [and] was bathed in the sunshine of God’s blessing…
I suggest that the mere deprivation, I’m not saying there is no other factor, but the mere deprivation of God’s fellowship, “bathing in the sunshine” of his love as felt, in fetal life—for the fetus is able to sense environmental situations—I say that the mere deprivation of this fellowship in fetal life would already be enough to severely perturb the construction of personality. And I think that Kierkegaard’s idea of anxiety could not have arisen if he had thought of precisely that idea of Divine fellowship which has been lost through the fall…it is enough, it seems to me, to affirm that alienation from God (which follows immediately upon the first act of sinning), [that] the deprived and depraved condition effects Adam’s descendants from the very start of their existence.
Now, read Psalm 8. Notice,
v.1 There is a Name “in all the earth.” There is a glory greater than the universe…and that’s what makes the universe glorious [and not meaningless or terrible.]
v.2 This Name is personal. It’s the name of someone who is in both the biggest (v.1) and the smallest. God uses things that seem insignificant to work out his plan.
v.3 In view of the hugeness of the universe, if verse 1 is true then the size of the universe is a cause for wonder. And what do we wonder? What blows our minds as we look out at the night sky is not just how big it all is, but how the One who’s big enough to be behind it all actually still cares about us. But notice how important it is to have all the verses together. It’s a package deal that starts in verse 1 and ends in verse 9. If there is a personality behind the universe, someone with the power to make it all, and if that someone has a name—he’s personal, in other words, and the whole universe is stamped with his personality, and if this universe-maker is the kind of person who loves small things that seem insignificant to others, and has a plan for his universe which includes granting real significance to even the smallest things, then… looking up at the night sky becomes a source of awe—in a good way. Looking out into space is just another way to have a moment—one of those moments where you touch reality and feel that it’s huge and mysterious but also that it’s good to its core, and you know it’s because the King of All Reality is really really good and he hasn’t forgotten you in all your smallness.
And to continue the string of logic—life has purpose in that world—notice verses 5 through 8. Humans are not God—God made us lower than divine—But then, only a little! But even though we aren’t God, humans, by nature, are “crowned with Glory and honor” and we’re rulers over God’s earth. You know how all the histories are all about kings and presidents and generals? We humans have a huge, epic purpose in God’s story—we’re the rulers.
But notice…what if someone thinks verse 1 is not true? If there’s no verse 1, then the truth is that the hugeness of the universe inspires terror. Looking out into the night sky, we only feel our smallness and our insignificance. And…it would also mean that verse 6-8 aren’t true…we’re not over anything, we’re just a small naked part of a big hostile world that doesn’t care if we live or die. (Behind a lot of materialistic philosophy is this nagging feeling that we’re out of joint with the world. Our humanness doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the impersonal universe. We’ll just be absorbed back into the Soup of Everything soon enough.)
And all I’m saying is that when we look at the world this way, what rises up in a human heart is anxiety. Anxiety is what a human feels when he or she thinks that God’s presence isn’t there, and especially, if God isn’t there at all. If it’s true that there’s No One There, no one who’s big enough to run everything and good enough to still care about me, then the bigness of the universe might start out kinda cool, but it always ends up freaking us out. [One note: Of course, there are different symptoms and more “proximate” causes for why a particular person would struggle with anxiety. Sometimes we need things doctors prescribe, for instance. But here we’re just trying to the root–why do humans have this struggle at all?]
What Psalm 8 tells us is that the fact of God (he’s there), and the presence of God (he’s near–“omnipresence” and”immanence”, for you theology students) take away this existential anxiety in the face of the world’s bigness.
Now read Hebrews 2:5-18. Notice,
v.8 Even though Psalm 8 said we rule, and even though it’s true in terms of God’s plan and his intention for us, humans don’t currently experience the kind of rulership over the earth that Psalm 8 talked about. In other words, it doesn’t really seem like Psalm 8 is true. And this is also a source of anxiety, right? When the world seems out of control, and it’s bigger than us and can hurt us…?
v.9 …but, God’s answer was for the Father to send the Son, for God to come himself and enter into the situation. To live with us actually in our world, and then to die, and then to be “crowned” all the way, just like Psalm 8 says.
v.10 Why did God do it this way? Why enter into humanity and become a man himself? In order to bring humanity to glory along with him!
v.11 …and to make us his brothers!
v.14-18 …and to destroy death! Specifically (v.15) to deliver men and women from the fear of death…aka to deliver us from the anxiety attached to death.
So maybe we can we say that these are the two primal sources of anxiety:
Fear of a big hostile world,
and fear of death.
So…knowing God by trusting and following Jesus Christ destroys these two sources of anxiety.
- The hugeness and hostility of the universe is dealt with by the knowledge that God is there, everywhere, loving Man!
- The certainty of death because of sin is dealt with by the knowledge that Christ has come, taken on flesh and died to defeat death for us. So death no longer defeats us by ending our existence on earth. And currently, Jesus helps us by: helping us defeat temptation (v.18)
So: to defeat the root and core of anxiety,
- Know Jesus, understand his defeat of death, identify with it through faith. Learn the way of overcoming temptation (v.18) so that sin doesn’t rob you of your peace.
- Then, cultivate an awareness of God everywhere.
But notice, you can’t skip #1 to try to get to #2. Because you won’t feel anything real in terms of closeness to God until you identify deeply with Christ through faith.
So…we have a universe with a God in it who is our Father who knows and cares about what we need. And death is defanged and disabled because Jesus went through it. And by these two things God affirms that he loves humans—by his presence, and by his incarnation and death for us.