Thursday, July 30, 2020

Letters to My Grandchildren: Anxiety

My Dear Grandchildren,

Well, another letter. But I need to warn you. This one is going to be long, and I suspect that it will stretch you a bit. But I have read or been told things that didn’t make much sense to me only to find that later they made a lot of sense. Let’s see if that describes you too.

The topic that I want to write about is anxiety or being worried. And, of course, the place that we’ll start is by offering a definition. Anxiety or worry are just different words for fear. 
Now, I think that helps, but it leads to a question. Afraid of what? There are, of course, many things that people fear. We could create quite a list. But let’s take the simpler path and summarize what everything on that list is actually about: death. Anxiety or worry is the fear of death.

I’m sure that what I just wrote wasn’t what you were expecting. Death?!? That can’t be right! But it is. And I can say that because of my definition of death. Or better, God’s definition of death in the Bible.

Most people think that death is about what happens when your heart stops beating. That’s when you’re dead. Well, that certainly is one aspect of death. But God’s definition is much broader than that. And we can know that by the way that God uses that word.

So, think back to the Garden of Eden. (So many questions are made much clearer when we take them back to the Garden.) You’ll remember what God said to Adam.

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:16–17
You know that Adam and Eve ate from that forbidden tree. And when they did, did they die? That is, did their hearts stop beating? No. Isn’t that interesting? So, did God make an empty threat when He said that they would die if they ate? No, God never does that. The fact is that they actually died. But they died in the sense that God meant that word.

So, what we need is another definition, God’s definition of the word death. And here it is: a person has experienced some aspect of death when he is no longer fully human.

When God created them, Adam and Eve were fully human, perfectly human. But once they ate the fruit, that was no longer true of them - or, in fact, of any other person ever to live, except for Jesus. Death is losing what it means to be human. So, what happened once Adam and Eve sinned was that they no longer enjoyed aspects of being fully human.

So, instead of a deep friendship with God, there was distance between them and God. Remember how, after their sin, when God showed up for another pleasant stroll through the Garden, Adam and Eve ran away and hid from God. Distance.

At first, Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed. But once they sinned, they made coverings for themselves. Do you know what that’s about? It’s about hiding from each other. More distance, this time from each other.

Their sin even affected how they would relate to the callings that God gave to them. So, Adam would still be a farmer, but it would be frustrating work that would produce so many thorns and thistles. And Eve, who was called to be a mother, would find that giving birth and caring for children, which was supposed to be a joy for her, would now be something she would pursue in pain.

And along with all of this terrible stuff, different aspects of death, the day would come when their souls would be separated from their bodies. Distance of a different kind. And that’s when their hearts would stop beating.

While we’d need to take a look at other places in the Bible to prove this, death, as God defines it, also affects how we relate to ourselves. This includes doubts that plague us or concerns for what others will think of us or the confusion that causes us to freeze up sometimes, and lots more. This also is a taste of death.

So, you see, in so many ways, these two once-perfect people, these two who had been fully human, now suffered what God calls death. They experienced different forms of death - and so do we. And that is what the Spirit means when He says,
For the wages of sin is death…
Sin results in becoming less than fully human. And each day can hold another experience of death, another way in which a person can go even further down the path to being less than fully human. (I wonder if people in hell - that’s eternal death - will be barely recognizable as human.)

Fortunately, the Spirit adds more to that verse I just quoted.
…but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23
Eternal life is also defined. It’s not just living forever. It’s living as a person who is becoming fully human, a person for whom death is becoming less and less of a problem. It’s a process that starts now and ends when we are resurrected.

Now, back to where I started. Anxiety or worry is the fear of death, the fear of another terrible experience of becoming less human in some way. And it might be about almost anything. But this fear will always be about experiencing some aspect of death as God defines it.

Now, that we have a handle on the problem, we can work to find a solution. So, what does the Bible have to say about dealing with the fear of death?

Here’s something.
The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death. Proverbs 14:27
We really do want to ‘turn away from the snares of death’, snares that confront us all around. So, what does this bit of Scripture offer as a way to do that? It points to the fear of the LORD. It even labels this fear as ‘a fountain of life’. That is to say, the fear of the LORD actually gives a person life, makes him more human. It reverses, bit by bit, what death does.

Now, obviously, we need to do more defining. So, what is this ‘fear of the LORD’? Actually, lots of Christians have a hard time understanding this. But it’s not that complicated. And this gives me an opportunity to teach you a little Latin.

Life lived in the fear of the LORD, is lived ‘Coram Deo’, in the presence of God. It makes a huge difference to daily living when you understand that God is watching you as you live. And as He watches, He is evaluating you.

Now, I’m going to guess that you’re going to think about that in a way that is not very comforting. So, here’s a verse that I hope will change your mind.
For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. 2 Chronicles 16:9
God watches and evaluates. And to those whose hearts are blameless, He is right there helping them.

You might think that this doesn’t apply to you because your heart is not blameless toward God. But you know what? It is. You think that ‘blameless’ means ‘perfect’. It doesn’t. In simple terms, a person with a blameless heart is someone who is working at following Jesus. This is related to that membership vow that you took.

Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ?

Any Christian working at following Jesus in this way has a blameless heart. So, when God sees you doing this, and that includes repenting of sin and trying again, He will give you strong support.

Now, I have to mention the other side of the coin. Any Christian who is refusing to live in this way will not get that help. In fact, God will stand against that person. But note how I wrote that. ‘Any Christian who is refusing…’

So, the fear of the LORD is living Coram Deo. It’s living aware that God is near, watching and ready to help.

All of this is an encouragement to do two things: believe His promises and obey His commands. God’s promises are the different ways that He says to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am right here. Trust Me to help when you need it’. God’s commands are different ways that He says to you, ‘Do it this way. It’s so much better if you do’. Will you do that perfectly? Absolutely not. No one, except for Jesus, has ever done that. But are you working at that, sometimes repenting but then returning to work at it? I’m quite sure that you are.

And now, let me bring this back to the issue of anxiety and worry, being afraid of some aspect of death. If you believe God’s promises, what is there to be afraid of? If you obey God’s commands, won’t your life work well? There is nothing to be afraid of if you live in this way, believing the promises and obeying the commands, Coram Deo, ready to receive God’s strong support.

What should happen now is for me to mention some of the particular issues make you afraid but no longer have to. But this letter is long enough. So, I’m going to give you some homework. (I’m sure you’re excited about that.) Pick something that makes you anxious. Put into words how this makes you fear another taste of death. Then, find an appropriate promise or an appropriate command that would help you to enjoy more life from God instead of tasting more death. If you need help, talk with your Dad or your Mom. You might even discuss this with one of your siblings. This is where it all gets practical.

I’ve told others that we as Christians have nothing to fear except God alone. I hope that what I’ve written will help you to believe that that is true.

With my all love,
Grandpa B

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