By Ethan+ Harrison, associate priest at Immanuel Anglican Church
The COVID-19 crisis has unveiled the underlying anxiety of our culture. When we are anxious, it is tempting to turn our hearts and minds to our fears and lack of control. However, to properly orient our desires and thoughts, we need to turn our minds away from self to God and his gospel. According to Philippians 4:5-7, God is the God who gives peace beyond our understanding. This is not just referring to an indescribable experience of peace, but preeminently to the incomprehensible peace that is God himself. According to Scripture, the triune God is the eternal, changeless life—beyond our imagination for sure, but vital for proper theological understanding and living because it is in his perfect fullness that God is peace and gives peace.
God’s changeless life is good news for three reasons: 1) When we turn to God in our anxiety, we turn to the ultimate non-anxious presence: God is peace. If God isn’t perfect peace, and perfectly capable of sharing that peace, then we will be lost in our anxious selves. 2) The peace that he gives is not dependent on us; it is grounded in his own infinite life. God is thus free to give his peace to us and make peace with us. 3) Out of God’s free and full life he created the world and humanity to enjoy fellowship with God.
So far, I have briefly sketched the theological reality of God’s infinite life and gratuitous creation to properly order our thoughts about anxiety. In this the idols that drive our anxiety are already being challenged because anxiety, at its core, is centered on the self. Anxiety is a habitual emotional response to various pressures that draw out certain idols and fears connected to the desire to be in control, i.e., to be like God. We can distinguish between the emotional response of anxiety and the idolatry of self that fuels it. But we must recognize the idol behind the emotion if we are to properly hear the gospel.
In the plentitude and love of his life, God sheds his peace abroad in at least two aspects of his work in creation: 1) providence and 2) salvation. Jesus points us to God’s goodness and providential care in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:24-32). God the Father is good, in control and sovereign. We can trust him. However, pride bucks at such assaults against self-rule. Our disposition to selfish pride must be overthrown, and God does so through the humility of incarnate peace (Philippians 2:5-11).
To overthrow our idolatry of self and thus heal our anxiety, God’s peace shines forth in the radiance of the mission of the Son, who comes to bring peace through his life, death, resurrection and ascension, and through sending the indwelling Holy Spirit. The conflict between my control—my desire to be God—and God himself is vanquished in Christ’s death and my baptismal participation in his death (Romans 5:1; Romans 6:3-11). In faith, I am raised to receive the peace and fellowship of God, united to Christ through the Holy Spirit (Galatians 4:4-6). As I walk in the incomprehensible fellowship of the One who is perfect peace—beholding his face, hearing his voice, receiving the purifying work of his Spirit—my control and pride are turned to ash in the glorious blaze of the Holy One. He gives me something much more precious than the idol of control: life in him.
So, when we feel anxious, let us pray in the One who intercedes for us as our peace (Romans 8:26-27). God, in His mercy, will calm our fears and unclench our anxious fists. He will open our hands, mouth and eyes to give us a taste and vision of his incomprehensible peace—of himself. May we thirst for him and pick up the pace as we run the race to its end, where we will fully enjoy his infinite peace.
Ethan+ Harrison is the associate priest at Immanuel Anglican Church in Destin, Florida. He graduated from Trinity School for Ministry with his Master of Divinity and Master of Sacred Theology in Systematic Theology. He is passionate about theology, evangelistic discipleship and seeing all of life in light of Christ and his gospel. He spends time with his wife, Lindsay, and daughters, Maren and Lisette, as they adventure outside, go bouldering and cook at home.