(Note: This post is about the act or habit of worrying.It is not intended to address clinical anxiety or other mental health issues that may predispose someone to worry excessively. If you’re concerned about your mental or emotional health, consider talking to a qualified counselor.)
Some people seem to have the rare gift of being perfectly imperturbable. They never seem to worry or give “what-ifs” a second thought. The future has nothing on them.
But a lot of us (dare I say most?) struggle with worry at one time or another. We peer into the murky depths of days and months and years to come, drawing shapes in the shadows the way children do in clouds – but more often coming up with a dragon instead of a ship.
Sometimes well-meaning friends or family say, Don’t worry! Things will probably turn out fine.
But they might not, we argue.
Well, there’s nothing you can do about it.
I’ll try to find something I can do about it.
But you don’t need to. God controls the future. So why worry?
This last point can really stump you. You know you should have faith in God. You know His control ought to be reassuring. And sometimes it is.
And yet other times…somehow you’re still worried. And you might not be sure why – because in your head you know God is in control. But somehow it yields less comfort than you think it should. It might even make you feel more unsettled, even a little angry.
Maybe it would help to articulate those deeper fears. To take at face value what’s often meant as a rhetorical question. To let ourselves spill out all our worries – so we can then let them go.
Ready? Here we go.
So, if God is in control – why worry?
Because He might hurt me. He might not do what I want, or plan what I plan. And if the God of the world, who controls the future, decides to do that – who’s going to rescue me?
But God is good, you remind yourself.
Yes, but He doesn’t always do what I want. Sometimes He lets me get hurt.
There you have it. The argument could go on and on.
Because, even with a sovereign God, we can find plenty of reasons to worry. Indeed, the Bible never said God will never let us hurt. Jesus even assured us we will suffer.
And yet that same Bible and Jesus tell us not to worry.
Why Not Worry?
I think the worst kind of worry boils down to the unpredictable, uncontrollable nature of the God who knows and controls the future. We can get into theological tangles over how He knows and controls it, but ultimately we know (or believe) that He does. At the same time, we know He doesn’t always use His sovereignty to do what we’d like Him to do.
So how do we get past that? How do we believe in God’s control without worrying about it?
I think the key lies in God’s promise of redemption. Yes, He allows bad things to happen. In fact, He allows some pretty horrendous things to happen. As someone has said, He is “terrifyingly patient with evil”.
And yet devastation and heartbreak are not His purpose. They are not the end of the story, nor the whole story.
The same God who allows sin provides a way for forgiveness and restoration. The same God who allows death provides a way for us to have a meaningful life, no matter its length or physical quality. The same God who allows suffering turns it into a vehicle for personal growth and interpersonal connection. The same God who puts up with a world out of whack promises to set it right at the right time – and is already preparing to do so.
He doesn’t let us suffer and struggle because He doesn’t care about us. In fact, He cares so much that He became one of us in the form of Jesus Christ, who through His suffering set redemption in motion, and who is coming again to complete it. And the reason for the delay? He wants as many people as possible to have the opportunity to accept the gift of that redemption.
Because He loves us.
A Time to Trust
Sometimes our response to worry boils down to a decision of whether or not to trust God’s love and His ability to redeem any situation we face.
Sometimes we’re in such throes of suffering that it seems almost impossible to reconcile God’s goodness with His wildness. Our intellect and imagination fail us, and we can’t see where in God’s good plan our crisis fits in, or how and when He plans to offer “full redemption” – or if all this pain is even worth it. And why should we even have to go through anything that needs redeeming?
We struggle to be able to say, boldly, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
In those times, trust is all we have left. Although we often want reasons for trust, trust doesn’t need reasons. Or at least, it doesn’t need a lot of them. It certainly doesn’t need a complex theology or great understanding.
It just needs a decision. We can hang on or let go.
When I was in the hospital last year, wondering if I was going to die, I realized how horribly little I trusted God to get me safely through that door (or whatever door He wanted me to go through). To move forward, I knew I had a decision to make.
I had been following Jesus since I was nine years old. Now I felt like a horse standing at the very end of its lead rope, staring at the leader who is gently asking it to walk towards a gate.
I didn’t understand why He was putting me through this, after everything else, just when things seemed to be going so well. But I knew He was the reason I’d made it this far. And trying to live without Him would crush me.
So I stepped forward and said, “I will follow You wherever You lead me.” I still didn’t understand. But I found that I could follow.
For several weeks now, I’ve been reading the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah. These books contain some of the most shocking passages in the Bible – God promising to destroy and scatter His own people (Israel) through the Babylonian invasion.
Yet, even as He banishes them, He promises to redeem them and bring them back. And it is in these books that we find some of the most beautiful pictures of His love and grace: promises of renewed strength to the weary, His intimate presence with the humble, His faithfulness to the aged , His concern for the vulnerable, and His abundant forgiveness for the penitent. And it is Isaiah who gives us the most complete prophetic picture of the Messiah (Christ) whose own suffering would bring ultimate redemption.
Because all God’s actions stemmed from love. Israel had abandoned the God who, millennia before, had chosen their ancestor Abraham to have a special relationship with Him, and who freed his descendants from slavery in Egypt for that same purpose. The Israelites had broken the rules that God intended to ensure justice and a peaceful, moral life in harmony with Him. Their decisions were not only harming them but the very land in which they lived – not to mention the heart of the God who cared for and about them. And so He disciplined them – not to obliterate them, but to ultimately reconcile them to Himself.
I read this and thought, I am a stupid person. We’re all stupid people. Who wouldn’t trust such a God?
Maybe I’ll be saying something different the next time I have a health crisis. But at the end of the day, trying to come up with solutions to a billion problems that don’t (yet) exist, or scrambling to control the ones that do, is not sustainable. It is not going to add an hour to my life, and might even subtract one.
I get tired of fighting the God who controls everything. And I think He loves me, which makes it worse.
So I’m going to stop. To let go of the control I don’t even have. And I’ll do it as many times as I have to (which is going to be a lot).
I don’t know exactly how He loves me when my world falls apart, or why He keeps loving me when I do something He warned me not to do.
But I know He loves me enough to do what He did 2,000 years ago. What He continues to do in my life today. And what He has promised to do when Christ returns in the imminent future.
And I’m going to believe it. And trust Him.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your cares on him, because he cares about you.”
– 1 Peter 5:6-7 (CSB)