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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Luke 12:13-34

It is significant that Jesus clearly commands us regarding anxiety. While I am not by nature an anxious person, I've dipped my toe into those frantic waters a time or two and have tasted just how precarious an anxious life can be. My own temperament is not to be actively fearful about what might happen or what is happening, but instead I tend toward an Eeyore depressive streak. I look at the great things I long for or the massive tragedies I fear and get morose about a future that is less joyful or more painful than I desire. I know many people who live in a heightened state of anxiety, however, and I feel for that fearful state of existence. It's rough to see someone you love in that edge-of-panic place.

I don't know the statistics, but I have heard that our society has become more and more anxious over the past few decades. I wonder about that. I wonder about our expectations, both our desires and our fears. How much anxiety is rooted in knowing too much about tragedies and traumas all over the globe, instantaneously, and having our view of our own circumstances colored by that fearful knowledge? How much anxiety is rooted in the fact that we are constantly bombarded with messages about what we could have, how good our lives could be, and these messages are by definition an illusion based on someone else's agenda to influence our spending, voting, participating?

Whether it is my depressive tendencies or the anxious churning of someone I love, I believe so much of this comes down to the internal voices in our own souls that point toward fear, toward disappointment, toward lack, toward loss. Perhaps this gets near the core of the problem. Maybe we are apt to listen to the wrong voices, and maybe this is where Jesus can speak in the imperative, "Do not be anxious." He is directing us to be careful about which voices we heed.

This section starts with a story of a man who is too obviously listening to the voices of his own arrogance, his own selfishness, his own baseless confidence. His treasure is focused on himself and his own accomplishments, his own wealth that provides some insulation against difficult tomorrows. He desires treasure for his own sake, not as an expression or an outgrowth of God's rule in his life. The difference is monumental. It is the difference between worship and idolatry.

After this caricature, Jesus gets to the meat of the necessary attitude change: Don't be anxious, don't listen to the voices of scarcity or deprivation or tragedy. (He will deal more explicitly with tragedy in the next chapter.) This is where Jesus begins to turn our focus, after a few examples of trust and dependence on God. He says first of all that your heavenly Father knows what you need. Food, clothing, and by extension the higher levels of old Maslow's hierarchy, love, meaningful work, a sense of agency, partnership in that work, the ability to shape the world around you -- your Father knows you need these things.

Martin Luther did a nice job of summarizing God's provision in his explanation to the first article of the Apostles Creed:

"I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock and all property -- along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true."  
Neither Luther nor scripture claims that the believer's life will be pain-free. Far from it. (Hebrews 12 is a good example of a healthy attitude toward the sometimes painful challenges of life -- God allows these factors in our lives that discipline us toward strength. If you've ever dealt with a spoiled child, you know firsthand why this is so important to God!) But Luther -- and more important, scripture -- point to a good God, a loving God who provides good gifts to his children.

Second, Jesus adjures us to seek God's kingdom. The trouble with the wealthy man in Jesus' parable at the beginning of this section is that he was seeking his own kingdom. Seek God's rule and God's glorification over this good creation, Jesus says, and let God take care of the details.

Jesus ends this section with the ultimate response to our seeking the kingship of God: He says, casting the imperative slightly differently, don't be afraid: It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. In other words, set out to seek the kingdom of God in your relationships, in your work, in your management of resources, in the clothes you wear and the food you eat. It may well be that as you seek these things, God will break down some of the systems in your life. Your diet may need to change if God is king over it. You may start shopping at different stores, or shopping considerably less, if your focus is on the kingdom. There may be relationships in your life that are so far from what God intends that they will need to be broken for the sake of his kingship. Treasure this sovereignty of a loving God who desires for you to live in this kind of trust, submit your longings to him, and he will supply the treasures you long for in his good timing.

Such a view of life is far, far from what the newscasts or the advertisers would have you living. Perhaps a life lived seeking God's kingship will mean decreasing your exposure to both advertising and news broadcasts.

The whole time I've been writing this post, a young woodchuck has been grazing in my front yard. I've seen him frequently these last couple weeks. In my mind I've always called him Fritz Junior because I believe he's the progeny of the older woodchuck I've seen here over the last year. This morning as I watched him at some length, I believe his name might be Wilbur. He's a good example to me of exactly what Jesus describes in this passage. God has richly provided for his needs here in my yard -- few predators, ample food, a secure hole not far back in the woods to the south. It's not a perfect life, but it's a very good one, and God deserves the credit for all of that. Therefore I will try to focus my day around thanking, praising, serving and obeying God. It might be a good step away from both anxiety and depression.

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