When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.
– Psalm 94:19
Much like the stress we would all like to avoid but know we can’t, anxiety haunts us the same way. Some level of anxiety can be good, but even more so, some times we can get anxious just but its sheer absence. It makes us anxious when we observe a situation from a distance that we deem as requiring urgent intervention but the people directly involved don’t seem to be concerned. Think of a horror or suspense movie when the heroin is walking down the dark hallways, about to open the door and we know the predator is right there willing to attack. We yell at the screen (or in our heads) “don’t go in there”, “turn around and run away!”.
Surely such is the case with the story of Abraham and his Son Isaac told in Genesis 22. The Lord instructs Abraham to:
“Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
He is commanded to murder his own son, on command from God.
As the narrative progresses we see Abraham leading his son up the hill to burn an offering to God, not telling Isaac that he is the offering.
We, the readers, know what Abraham knows and the tension mounts along with our anxiety. “Abraham, stop, how can you do this?”. “God, stop this, how can you command the murder of an innocent child?”.
But, no intervention comes, instead:
9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
Finally, as the story reaches its climax and our anxiety is as high as it could be…
11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
Finally, the Lord intervenes. The one who started it, is the only one who could stop it.
12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
Finally, we have relief. Isaac is saved, a more suitable and traditional sacrifice is provided.
This is the cycle of anxiety. An event we don’t understand or don’t think we can control happens (or we preview it happening). Then our emotions take over and overwhelm us, inhibiting our ability to respond appropriately to the situation. It’s easy for us to get overwhelmed by events in society such as terrorism, crime, death, illness, or divorce of those close to us. We want to fix the situation, but feel we can’t and that can raise our anxiety because we care about these people, even if it is a broad concept of society.
Scripture is full of anxiety inducing stories, many of which are the “difficult” passages that we just don’t know what to do with. When we talk about walking in the tension of scripture, say between the teachings of Christ and the apparent opposite ethic present in the Old Testament, we literally mean sometimes we have tension or anxiety. How are we to understand the totality of scripture, in light of Christ’s teachings and a loving God?
This is the tension and anxiety present in any honest follower of Christ and it is an anxiety that only He can take away. Through prayer, honest searching of the scriptures we can know Him better. We won’t likely ever truly know how it all fits together, but we must continue to trust in the God as revealed through Christ and continue to be taught through the Spirit in all of scripture.