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No prowling wolves

Why do we envision a future in which Christ is inddifferent?

Issue: "Effective Compassion," Sept. 1, 2007

Do not worry about tomorrow. This is not the promise of a trouble-free life. It is workflow management advice (Sufficient for the day is its own trouble, i.e., you've got plenty to worry over now, buddy). But it is also a command, which implies that worrying is a choice.

This leaves me puzzled and hopeful. I am puzzled because I am fairly sure that I hate worrying. It gives me stomach cramps, and yet it is like breathing to me. I am hopeful as well, because in Christ's command there is the implication that I can become someone who does not worry but is peace-filled, even within sight of the Valley of the Shadow.

As I write this, my wife and I are praying that our baby, Isaiah, does not have a brain tumor. There is something wrong with him, and though the odds are that he will be fine, we find ourselves defying this enjoinment not to worry, and praying over and over: Please, Lord, not another one. This is what happens after you have buried a child, you see prowling wolves in every shadow. You hear mortal illness behind every cough. You worry about tomorrow, because today's troubles are nothing compared to what might happen next.

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So how did Christ manage it, I wonder, knowing what they would do to Him in the end? How was His mind not consumed with that dreadful tomorrow, seeing it as He must have, hearing its growl from the shadows of a foreordained future? He wept and prayed as the hour approached, yes, but that was practically, if not literally, the day it happened. How did He shunt aside worry all those years?

It must take discipline, this not worrying. I am wary of pull-yourself-up-by-your-spiritual-bootstraps theologies. There must be something else at work here than a steely nerve, because surely the Word who was from the beginning peered into me when He uttered this command. He saw my gut now churning with thick, cold fear, and my heart moaning: I can't do this again. The Lord must have been counting on more than courage when He chose the likes of me.

So what is the secret to not worrying? Perhaps someone has written a book about an obscure Bible verse that promises to protect me from suffering if I chant it like a mantra. Or maybe the secret resides in that scrap of Romans that the non-suffering sometimes throw out to the grieving: All things work together for good to those who love God, as if God's plan is a tidy sitcom, resolving conflicts to our liking and within our field of vision.

The truth is that we suffer, and sometimes we suffer without ever seeing, on this earth at least, any good come of it. It's hard not to worry, knowing the world is set against us. It's hard to trust, sometimes, a God who would send His own son to death. C.S. Lewis was right; Aslan is not a fuzzy pet, but wild, and sometimes dangerous.

And yet Christ, having lived in our frail flesh, knows what we can stand. Perhaps this is at least part of the answer, that the One who carried His cross up Golgotha out of love, the Savior who promises to blot out every tear, the man who wept for His dead friend Lazarus-this is the Christ who whispered, in plain view of His approaching murder: Do not worry, beloved.

Contrary to many popular preachers, Christ didn't promise deliverance on this earth from trouble. As Oswald Chambers noted, Christ promised deliverance in trouble. Perhaps He said not to worry because it constructs a future where He is absent. We imagine the suffering ahead, and not His comfort in the midst of it. We forget to commune with Him here, so deluded as we are by an imaginary there in which He is indifferent.

Still worse, worry affords no room for grace. Sometimes the worst does not come to pass. Sometimes, as happened between the first and last sentences of this essay, the doctor says our child is fine. All that worry wasted. All this grace ignored. I have overcome the world, says the Messiah. Do not worry about tomorrow. -Tony Woodlief lives in Wichita, Kan., with his wife and four sons.


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