A beloved relative is dying before your eyes; the syncopation of an EKG monitor punctuates each heartbeat. Bleep… Bleep… Bleep…. It’s not the sound of hospital equipment, however, that is dragging your soul into despair; it’s the conflicted thoughts and emotions swirling within.
Beautiful memories from the past, tender and most lovely, stand in contrast to the cold, sterile confines of a deathbed. You seek to apply your faith in God’s providence, but the torrent of emotions rains down mercilessly upon you, causing you to feel hopeless.
Such an experience can be replicated in a thousand different scenarios. We’ve all been there at some point. Some of us live there. You understand quite well the concept of Philippians 4: think on things that are praiseworthy and true, with prayer and supplication, shunning worry in favor of thanksgiving, and God’s inscrutable peace will guard you heart. Indeed, this is a precious promise that is altogether true. But in some moments of crisis you find yourself so exceedingly distracted that you feel unable to control your thoughts and thus incapable of finding peace. What then?
The Essential Problem
The Lord of glory unifies creation under the reign of Christ in the Holy Spirit’s bond of peace; the devil, on the other hand, comes to steal, kill and destroy. He divides and conquers. It is a strategy that has been around from the inception of sin. The Son of Man sows good seed into his field, producing a harvest of life that redounds to God’s glory; the devil sows weeds that threaten to choke it out. Such is the pattern. The Father extends his hand of redemption to subdue and organize the chaotic creation under his care; sin manufactures more and more chaos.
When the chaos of sin engages one’s soul, anxiety naturally follows. The word translated anxiety in Philippians 4:6 comes from the Greek word merimnao. Based on its use in various contexts, it seems to gather meaning from the words merizo “to divide” and nous “mind.” This divided mind is the unhappy condition of the man whom the Apostle James describes as “double-minded, unstable in all his ways” (1:8). Such instability routinely focuses on the object of anxiety to the exclusion of God. In such moments, the sick feeling in our stomach and shortness of breath in our chest confirms that flaming darts have pierced our spiritual armor. We’ve been hit and we are in trouble.
We inherit some of our emotional instability or double-mindedness from previous generations. Because human society concentrates its attention below the horizon–at the cacophony of human affairs without reference to God–our thoughts and emotions are vulnerable to disorientation. Hellenistic culture, for example, said “know thyself,” the Roman said “rule thyself,” the Buddhist says “annihilate thyself,” the Muslim says “submit thyself,” and New Age religion is concerned to “love thyself.” Jesus, however, says, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
This notion is offensive to some. It aggravates human pride to suggest that we need Christ. In reality though, we need God’s liberating power, without which we are dead ducks before the destructive power of anxiety.
Thankfully, there is hope. The hypnotic trance can be broken. If you’ve ever read The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis, there is a vivid illustration of such liberation. It’s the scene in which the evil Green Lady, ruler of the underworld, seeks to bewitch Prince Rilian and his friends. You may recall that just when she seemed to have permanently enslaved them with her lies, Puddleglum stamps out the enchantress’s magical fire and breaks her spell. Rilian then awakes, conquers the serpent, and leads the travelers to safety.
Christ, our Prince of Peace, has promised, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). What is this truth? That he, the crucified Savior, has disarmed principalities and powers, triumphing over them through his cross and resurrection. He broke the power of sin that keeps us enslaved, so that we may now enjoy genuine freedom.
In Jesus’ own words: “Take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).