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Australian Consolation: Anxiety

posted by xscot mcknight

In the book The Consolations of Theology we are treated to a series of essays into various emotions and conditions, and Peter Bolt examines anxiety. Here’s how he defines anxiety: “that feeling of apprehension and dread that comes with the perception that something bad might happen” (75).
How important is the concept of anxiety for your life and thinking and ministry? How do you deal with anxiety? How do we approach this issue — through psychotherapy? through theology? through an attentive awareness of both?
Two points: first, I’m not so sure this is the best way to define anxiety for this definition of Bolt’s is closer to worry than to panic (and this definition wavers over that line) but, second, this definition is so greatly expanded and adjusted in this chp that the definition simply serves to get us going. And get us going is what Bolt does.
He discusses the ages of anxiety, and just about loops all of history into an age of anxiety — and by the end of the chp he has done just that. This is a big point in this chp: anxiety impacts the whole human condition. I think we have to be careful not to overdo it — which is just what that introspective, melancholic Dane, Kierkegaard did. Before we get to him, though, Bolt guides us through a short study of “anxiety” in the NT. So we look at Matt 6:25-34 and some at 1 Cor 7:32-34. Then he shifts to good anxiety of Paul the apostle (2 Cor 11:28).
This leads to his discussion of Kierkegaard, who not only was personally swamped at times in existential anxiety, but wrote about it: The Concept of Anxiety is a famous book. And Bolt has a nice analysis of the themes:
1. Anxiety defined: it arises from the human act of becoming spirit (this is important to Bolt’s description), the ultimate aim of all humans. Thus, anxiety arises from the very human experience of freedom — hence, we are all in a condition of anxiety. The key to Kierkegaard is that so much is filtered through this term “anxiety” that it becomes code for a set of ideas surrounding what it means to be human, in this cracked world, as we live before God and with others.
2. Anxiety is connected to original sin: “Sin originates in a leap of freedom from innocence to guilt, under an awakened dread [=anxiety]” (91).
3. Objective anxiety: our mortal bodies, fear of death, a drive toward sin.
4. Subjective anxiety: “the dizziness of freedom.”
5. But it is necessary in order to be human in this world as we live before God with others.
6. Anxiety is about evil and about good.
7. And anxiety prompts faith.
Bolt then turns to the consolation of anxiety:
1. This is the age of anxiety.
2. This is the age of the Messiah who guides us through anxiety into love of God and others.
3. This is the age of anxious longing for the redemption of our bodies.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted July 31, 2008 at 12:59 am


Quite interesting. Does cast anxiety in a light which I’ve hardly seen it, if at all, before.
Thanks, Scot.



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Diane

posted July 31, 2008 at 2:53 am


Interesting to cast anxiety as, in part, a byproduct of freedom. Especially for Protestants and especially as we move toward the primacy of individual conscience, the anxiety increases. In a cracked world, how do you discern whether you are doing the right thing? Is my (free) decision really God’s will or am I looking through the lens of a world that is so warped I am headed away from God? Jesus would seem to have addressed this anxiety in parables like the Good Samaritan and to have said that religion can get so warped that it can lead us astray. However, complicating all this is that we’re often not truly free (or don’t feel free), even if we can discern God’s will and this also produces anxiety. A single mother may ask, do I tend my sick father at the cost of my job or it more important to keep the job to support my children? What if my prayer life is leading me to stay home from work to tend to my mother, but my head is saying I just can’t jeopardize my job? That’s where social justice and building a just society becomes so important.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 31, 2008 at 5:27 am


Diane,
Those are Kierkegaardian kinds of questions!



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josenmiami

posted July 31, 2008 at 5:50 am


Interesting! This seems to agree with a 2004 sociological study of attitudes toward religion in Europe and the United States by Inglehart and Norris, called Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide, in which they found that religious participation tends to decline along with the decline in economic security and the increase in health care. They attributed the higher levels of religious participation in the Untied States to greater economic insecurity (due to our individualistic free-market political culture) and the lack of universal health care.
The one area of unfulfilled need that they found in what they called the ?postmodern? democracies of Europe that tended to create space for spiritual interest was what they called ?unfulfilled sense of personal purpose or significance.?
Although I think their study was a bit reductionistic, it agrees with this post about the redemptive role of anxiety. I am reminded of James? observation that the ?poor are rich in faith.?



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josenmiami

posted July 31, 2008 at 5:52 am


oops! I meant to say above that “religious participation tends to decline along with the decline in economic inssecurity sorry … must have MORE coffee!



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John W Frye

posted July 31, 2008 at 6:58 am


I live in an area smothered in good Reformed theology. You would think, given that theology, that there would be no anxiety here. Why? Because all that happens is, in fact, God’s will. What’s to be anxious about? Yet, I find anxiety-ridden believers everywhere. Isn’t this curious?



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Brian

posted July 31, 2008 at 9:22 am


John, as one who used to live in your town (just a few miles west of you), and now lives where the other side of the theological divide is dominant…
I live in an area smothered in good Arminian theology. You would think, given that theology, that there would be anxiety all over the place. Why? Because God is paralyzed since he won’t tread on anyone’s free will. Why not be anxious? Yet, I find believers everywhere trusting in God’s providential care. Isn’t this curious?
I hope you appreciate my humor. There is plenty of laughable inconsistency on both sides of the fence.



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MatthewS

posted July 31, 2008 at 10:14 am


I always seem to have anxiety knocking at my back door.
Jamieson (Chrysalis) spoke to one aspect of anxiety for me when he suggested we need to think about how to do what we are called to do but not focus on the intended impact of doing it. I have a (cracked) internal desire for control. This leads to worrying about the many variables and future eventualities which I cannot control.
Often, the times when I feel most at peace and at rest are when I return to the thought of the grain of wheat falling into the ground and dying. I picture my own personal ambitions and desire for success, etc. dying – just as if I were killed in some tragedy. I picture living a new life for which I don’t set the parameters, which I don’t control, and I don’t answer for all the outcomes.
In some ways, I think this process coincides with the process of putting off the old and putting on the new (Gal 5, Eph 4, Col 3). Undo anger, rage, worry, etc. in some part come from fleshly attempts at control. Peace, kindness, gentless, etc. result from new life in the Spirit.



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Dana Ames

posted July 31, 2008 at 10:16 am


Scot,
did Kierkegaard believe that “the human act of becoming spirit…the ultimate aim of all humans” was something like shedding the material (body, created world) for something “better” (“spirit”, the immaterial), like what we would call a gnostic point of view?
Being introspective and enjoying being alone, I sort of identify with that melancholy Dane and much of what I have read of his. I could understand if he were actually advocating this kind of dualism, knowing where he stands in the stream of philosophy, but it certainly makes me twitch…
Dana



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Brian

posted July 31, 2008 at 11:37 am


The relationship between health care and anxiety is an interesting one. Most of the prayer requests at my church revolve around health care, but much of health care is about utilizing known cause and effect relationships in which the outcomes are highly predictable.
In those highly predictable cases it is unclear to me just what we are asking God to do on the medical front. Some take a rational view and say there is little need to be anxious. Others look to God to reduce their anxiety.



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josenmiami

posted July 31, 2008 at 11:42 am


MatthewS: I can relate to what you are saying. When I am feeling frustration or anxiety, often the best solution for me is to picture myself releasing or surrendering the item that is causing my worry, accepting the worst case scenario and praying the prayer of Jesus in the garden: ?not my will, but thine be done.? When I stop trying to control the situation (going against my instincts and a lifetime of habit), peace almost always comes, and the situation often resolves itself.
I enjoyed the advice from the old priest in the movie Rudy. He said that he had learned two things in life: ?There is a God, and I am not him.?



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John W Frye

posted July 31, 2008 at 12:53 pm


Brian #7,
Your comment did bring a smile to my face. I wonder if our psychologically-trained theologians here at JESUS CREED will speak to the emotional spin-offs of theological positions?
The killer for Calvinists is thinking, “Oh my God, He has decreed my anxiety! What shall I do?”



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Brian

posted July 31, 2008 at 1:33 pm


John,
Funny how people have a hard time using their free will to stop being anxious, isn’t it?
If I am ever back in your neighborhood I’ll stop by and say hi. I think it is great that there is a denomination that is broad enough for both of us.
A discussion on emotional spin offs would be very interesting. For some people it might be the other way around – one’s basic disposition leading to an easier acceptance of some viewpoint.



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J-Marie

posted July 31, 2008 at 3:08 pm


What does your wife have to say on this subject, being a psychologist and all?



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Rebecca Maccini

posted August 2, 2008 at 6:21 am


I believe that anxiety has to do with the preservation of life. Jesus talked about anxiety. I think in our churches we are dealing with anxiety all the time. It’s in the emotional process of peoples’ families and work. It comes to light when change occurs. Bolt’s understanding of anxiety is very intriguing. Are we too anxious to let go of our chains or can we embrace the freedom that Christ offers?



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