If there is any one thing that takes the fun out of living and replaces it with a heavy heart, a nervous stomach, and/or a furrowed brow, it is anxiety. Unfortunately, life provides us with a lot of opportunities in which to be anxious: Are you sure our plane will arrive in time? Will we be able to buy it? Will our house still be there after the tornado? Do I look okay? Etc. Anxiety has little to do with whether or not the situation is real or imaginary, rare or common. It just is. It conflicts the young and the old, the rich and the poor. Anxiety is a common ailment of the human species.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses the issue. He tells the crowd not to worry about what he calls “little things” such as having enough to eat and enough to wear. We might question whether, in a day when most people spent their life close to poverty, it was accurate to say that food and clothing were “little” things. Government programs for the disadvantaged, food stamps, and subsidized living arrangements would have been dreams for the next world. Jesus went on to remind them that God takes care of the wild birds that didn’t plant or harvest, and provides beautiful attire for the wild flowers in the field, so wouldn’t it be far more likely that he would feed and clothe people created in his own image? The answer is clear: God is in control. Instead of being anxious people are to set their heart on the kingdom of God and he will provide them with all they need (Matt. 6:25-34).
There is an important point about anxiety that I want to emphasize, and that is its relationship to concern. To be concerned about having enough for the family to eat leads us to look for new ways to earn the necessary finances. To be anxious is something else because most of the things we are anxious about are those over which we have no control. To be anxious that we not have a major earthquake is irrational because there is nothing we can do to prevent it. The point is that concern is rational and appropriate but anxiety is irrational and beside the point. Jesus would encourage us to do something positive about issues of concern but not to waste time and energy trying to solve our anxieties about problems over which we have no control. Is it not true that anxiety is a form of what we might call “practical atheism” since it implies that God is not there so I have to be anxious about it?