Can Hope and Worry Coexist?
Exploring the tension between the call to hope, and the anxiety we often canÍt seem to shake.
One of the defining marks of Christianity is hope—we know that no matter what happens, we always have hope in Christ, hope in the coming of His Kingdom, hope that in time He will make things right. But this doesn’t quite get rid of our worry—and sometimes, it seems we have a lot of it. We worry that we’ll get stuck in our entry-level job forever. We worry that we’ll grow up the make the same mistakes our parents did. We worry that we’ll lose the ones we love most.
And in the wake of so many acts of senseless violence like those of Aurora, Colorado, Sandy Hook and the Boston Marathon, we worry that we’re never truly safe anymore—that we’re vulnerable to tragedy at any second, that so much could be lost if we only find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Sure, we have hope, but we live in a crazy world and it’s not easy to forget that there are many things to worry us. As Christians, what are we supposed to do with this tension? How do we deal with worry and fear? And is there a place for it in our faith?
We’re not alone in our questioning. The disciples, who walked with Jesus and witnessed great miracles in His presence, had the same concerns. In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus speaks to those gathered—His disciples included—these words of comfort: “Do not worry about your life … can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
These are words of comfort—though also of challenge. It is incredibly reassuring to know that the God who created everything that has ever been and has power over all things loves us, protects us and wants only the best for us. He only wants good things for us. Yet, the reality of living in a broken world, where His Kingdom has not yet returned, is that we will experience pain. Our fears, sometimes, will come true. We know this from experience. We know this deeply. So we worry.
Perhaps part of the reason for this is that we struggle to fully take God at His word. After all, we live in a society of spin doctors and slanted bias where a taking person at their word is not failsafe, where even longstanding institutions lose our trust as we uncover their darker activities. So when we try to fathom that the God we believe in is unfailing, completely trustworthy and unquestionably good, we fall short. Our worldly knowledge blurs with our knowledge of God, and we end up with a distorted picture.
In the grip of our anxiety, we often start to question if God really is for us. We can lose sight of the work He has done already in our lives, the goodness He has brought and the blessings He has poured out. In His words in Matthew 6, Jesus reminds us that the birds of this earth are looked after every day, and that we as God’s children are so much more important. He doesn’t look on us as a faceless mass of people. He sees us lovingly, knowingly, as unique individuals. Yet in the midst of our struggles, this promise can be hard to remember.
Yet throughout Scripture, God constantly reminds His people—whether the Israelites in the desert or the disciples in Jerusalem—that He is for them and that He loves them. Again and again, through words and actions, He affirms His loving faithfulness toward His people. Within these pillars of God’s character, worry loses its power.
When worry comes, when we find ourselves awake at night fearful of what is to come, we would do well to realize one thing: no amount of worrying can change our circumstances. No amount of worrying can prevent what we fear the most. This realization can free us, if we let it. Instead of investing our thoughts in our worry and letting it grow, we can invest our thoughts in who God is and a remembrance of His character. This is not an easy process, and it has to be done intentionally. But with God’s help, it can replace our anxiety with peace.
That calm does not mean all life’s struggles and battles will disappear. The storm may still rage around us, but we can know that the anchor to which we cling is secure.
It is important that the situations we worry about are not belittled. Many of our worries are incredibly valid and real; and our anxiety is nothing to be trivialized. Some would even suggest worry is a sin, which is not a biblical argument and not in line with a God who constantly seeks to love us, care for us and walk with us. No, His teaching not to worry is a loving recommendation for our sake—to keep us from the stifling shadow of anxiety and lead us into peace of mind.
The directive not to worry is not another command we have to “get right,” but permission to lay down what’s been wearing on us. It’s a way out of the confining grip of all-consuming anxiety, that will slowly eat away at us if we allow it to stay. It’s a powerful invitation to trade our fears for the promises God has spoken to us, so that even in this crazy world, we can stand secure in who He is, and who we are in Him. When we can stand here, we will worry less and worship more.
The Apostle Paul understand this tension between worry and hope. He knew He worshipped a Lord who had overcome death itself, but he also knew the gravity of the danger he faced often. It’s safe to say Paul was human like us and never stopped worrying altogether. But he did have a perspective that grounded him when worry hit: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
This is what gives us hope. It’s not a glib hope plastered cheaply to any and all situations. It’s a hope that knows exactly what’s at stake—death, demons, incredible heart-shattering depth and darkness—and that’s what it makes it real.