I’ve been reading Edward Welch’s masterful Running Scared: Fear, Worry and the God of Rest in an effort to minister better to brothers and sisters struggling with worry and anxiety. It is a truly marvelous book for several reasons. It is easy to read (good prosody, short chapters) and thus easy to recommend to lay people, it is full of rich biblical insights that focus on the spiritual aspects of worry and anxiety without downplaying their physiological results, and it is richly redemptive-historical in its answer to the idolatrous core of worry and anxiety: the answer is the resurrected and ascended Christ, seated now in his glory, enthroned in a new heavens and new earth that is already breaking into the present!
If anyone thinks that a robust redemptive-historical eschatology and biblical-theology downplays concrete pastoral applications in counseling situations, Running Scared is a fine way to disabuse them of that error!
Welch’s discussion of how the desire-demand continuum plays a role in worry is superb. Note how idolatry, a theme shot through good counseling literature (and even some recent biblical-theological studies), comes into play:
We’ve seen that there are words that cluster together: fear, worry, anxiety, trust, treasure, control, need. Fear and worry reveal what we treasure. They show where we want control but lack it. They expose allegiances. To use everyday language, they point to what we think we need. We worry when our perceived needs are threatened. (Pg. 182)
We tend to give our needs very little scrutiny. But for me to say that I need a Ferrari suggests that the word need is elastic, stretching all the way from food and shelter to personal lusts. Where along that spectrum will I find my desire for the good opinions of others? (Pg. 183)
At one end of the continuum, these desires are normal and appropriate. Call them mere or simple desires. Without them you are not human. At the other, they are complicated desires, self-serving demands that are guaranteed to damage relationships. As you drift from desire to demand, the boundary is fuzzy but the distinction is critical. If I simply want love from my wife, expressed according to my own idiosyncratic definition, our relationship is not in any particular danger. But if I say I need that love, I will be angry if I don’t get it. One reason the boundary between these two is hard to identify is because our demand is relabeled as need…. Yet veiled beneath our use of the word need are the things we treasure, even worship. (Pgs. 183-184.)
What is the answer? The reigning Christ who never will leave us or forsake us:
Let’s say you still have lingering doubts. Does God really care? Past hurts still have a hold on you. You feel like you have been fooled once and you won’t be fooled again, so this tie you are going to trust yourself and try to control your world better than before. Or perhaps you simply believe that what God says is too good to be true. [Does this sound like another book referred to frequently on this blog? ~AC] You feel unworthy of his care and protection. Life becomes a spiritual stalemate and no one is budging.
But God, of course, is moving toward you. When you doubt, he reveals more of himself. When you think he is too good to be true, he reveals that he is so good that he must be speaking the truth, because no one could make up anything so glorious.
He speaks about the cross. The cross of Christ proves his love and faithfulness. What more can he say than that? When you allow your own history of abuse or disappointment or betrayal to challenge the love of God, the cross continues to stand as the conclusive proof of his care. No, it doesn’t answer all your questions, but the truth it conveys about God and his love is irrefutable. (Pg. 247)
How does this good (gospel) news play out?
If you believe that judgment still looms, then consider repentance. Not repentance for your many sins (most likely you have done that numerous times), but repentance for believing that God is like a human being. (Pg. 248)
Yes, when I am anxious I feel alone. I don’t want to necessarily feel God’s presence – my feelings are too unstable to serve as a barometer for something so important. Instead, I want to believe what God says in a way that no human threat could cause me to doubt that his name is Immanuel, God with us.
Do you notice a recurring theme? When emotions are strong, they want to tell us what is true. Everyone has experience that. It happens every day. But the fact that this experience is common shouldn’t numb us to the fact that it is a pivotal spiritual battle.
Who is in charge? God and what he says or me and how I feel? (Pg. 254)
This is just a sampling, but I hope it is thorough enough to show-off the excellent resource that Running Scared truly is. It has served me well as a guide for helping people struggling with anxiety, but will also serve well as a resource to give to people struggling with anxiety. (I.e., it will make excellent counseling “homework” even for people who aren’t necessarily heavy readers.) I’m glad I stumbled across this volume just when I did!
Christ Reformed Church, Anaheim CA