Friday, February 11, 2011

Look in the Mirror

A 2010 book published by BBS/PublicAffairs (author: Francis Wheen) bore the title Strange Days Indeed: The 1970s: The Golden Age of Paranoia. One wonders if that "Golden Age" really ended a generation ago. You can still hardly turn on the news or visit an e-zine without encountering something along the lines of "20 Signs of Possible Terrorist Activity," "15 Signs of Drastic Climate Change," or "7 Warning Signs of Cancer." And, of course, the rumor that the world as we know it has less than two years to live, not unlike that Christian favorite, "Reasons Christ's Return Must Happen in Our Lifetimes." (Or as another recent book put it, "10 Prophetic Signs That We Are the Terminal Generation" [Can America Survive? by John Hagee].) 

Too much of this sort of talk can leave anyone convinced that everything from our next-door neighbors to the forces of nature is out to get us in the worst possible way. What may wind up getting us first is the strain of living in fear. Small wonder that the Mayo Clinic advises hypochondriacs, "Don't spend hours researching health information or looking up vague symptoms.... Skip disease-of-the-week stories.... Resist the urge to continually monitor your pulse or other vital signs or to check your body for signs of disease." Those inclined to paranoia have a habit of zeroing in on the worst possible options; once they hear that one symptom of kidney damage is severe back pain, the slightest ache in that region feels "severe." 

Part of the problem is that there's hardly a sign of serious trouble--at least in the abbreviated descriptions found on most "what to watch out for" lists--that something harmless can't mimic. If we took too literally the admonitions to "see a doctor immediately if you notice these symptoms," many of us would spend 90% of our time--and money--at clinics.

But why are even Christians--who should be living in the confident attitude of Heb. 13:6--so easily caught up in the idea that "something awful is bound to happen if you let your guard down for a second"?

Like it or not, the answer is usually that we're harboring the attitude, "I know I could never cope with this or that, and I don't have faith God will keep it from happening." We really shouldn't have that sort of "faith," which usually travels at high risk of being wrecked on the rocks of disappointment. With few exceptions, God doesn't promise believers any specific material forms of security--however desperately we want them.

But there's another tripwire in the attitude above: the word I. "I could never cope"--the truth is that no, you couldn't. The fallacy is assuming that the responsibility is yours to begin with. God never tells us to have faith in ourselves, any more than in material circumstances. He calls us to have faith in Him, to believe that He can handle anything--and that, through His strength rather than ours, we can as well.

There's a reason why the aforequoted Book of Hebrews (in 13:5) also links trust in God's constant support to the refusal to trust in things. Everything except God is highly fallible.

Even us.

If you feel blue and discouraged,
If life seems too hard to take,
Don't blame it on circumstances:
They may be ones you helped make!

If everything seems against you,
If life just looks gray and grim,
Don't blame what's called "luck" for your trials;
Consider your thoughts toward them.

Some say we control our own lives
By the power of how we care,
But don't think you can set things right
Just by whining they aren't fair.

If your life's too much to handle,
And you feel about to crack,
Consider it's not God, but you,
Who laid that weight on your back.

If you know just how things should go,
And will brook no change of plan,
Remember just one God exists,
And you can't know all He can.

It's human to take things easy,
It's human to crave control,
But you can't win by playing God:
You must let Him set the goal.

If you feel blue and discouraged,
If life just looks gray and grim,
You may just be neglecting God:
Stop, and give it all to Him!

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