As I read this piece in Relevant Magazine (unaffiliated to Relevancy22 here) I was reminded of the spiritual helpfulness that can come in times of personal distress affecting our emotional, social, and personal self-awareness. We've all been there at one time or another. A time of great personal darkness and destruction. To many, these times are personally devastating and lead to greater helplessness, and/or stronger desires for avoidance and incoherent answers, addictions, or toxic lives (something known as an active "defensive position" of refusing to deal with the problem at hand because of its resultant magnitude of effect upon our lives). However, if attended to within the power of God, and faced honestly, we may find greater personal strength and more satisfying decisions than at first believed possible. David Guetta's "Titanium" is a good example of this dilemma where one's personal world must "blow up" if one is to grow beyond the confines of themselves and their limiting, or destructive, personal patterns of thought and living. Without letting go of the past we cannot move forward to our future.
All our questions, all of our struggles, all of our "black abysses," have become willfully entangled about our lives to the point of spiritually denying to us the power and freedom that God can bring to a life through Jesus. This is what Peter Rollins refers to as a personalized form of "pyro-theology' in its most basic reconstructive stages that comes into a person's life and must require one to be willing to deconstruct themselves in honest analysis (Christianity calls such actions by the cyclical pattern names of repentance and confession - which are a series of "death to life" sequences a believer must go through). Without such an effort of willful doubt, disbelief, and spiritual restructuring, a person can be left paralyzed to the Spirit of God's power of love and faith, becoming receptive to their darkest fears and hatreds without personal, positive effectual growth.
These darker times within our lives are not unusual. In reality they are quite normal when listening to the Christian testimonies one-after-another testifying to "leaving oneself behind" to find God's power of life and hope. Many, many Christians go through these darker times of "spiritual rebirth" by first going through their darkest afflictions and turmoils. That is, each has learned the lesson of coming to the end of oneself in order to be able to find oneself through Jesus' rebirth and spiritual liberation of spirit, soul, mind and body. More often than not this is the usual Christian story. Afterwhich this same form of docu-drama is necessarily replayed again-and-again within the growing Christian life as God's Spirit moves from room-to-room within our souls liberating us from the forces that would place us on Hell's doorstep and leave us for dead. At each entrance Jesus calls us forth to life just as He re-enacted in raising Lazarus from the dead... refusing death's hold upon our spirits which He has created for life and breath, renewal and reclamation, rebirth and resurrection.
I like to think of these cycles within the Christian life as cycles of applied atonement. That is, just as our Savior had to face His own wilderness of fear and temptation, His trial and crucifixion, death, and resurrection/ascension, so too must the Christian go through the same figuratively. We must not expect that any one of these stages must be left off in our own lives as deeply conflicted by sin and death as they are. However, in the struggle what we may expect is God's presence and deliverance - even when we feel most abandoned upon our own crosses of suffering and pain.... Spiritual deliverance is not a pleasant process. The cost is as high as Jesus said it would be - but it's attainments of contentment and peace will be well rewarded for all who submit to the Spirit's power of enlivenment. Doctrinally, these processes are known as "death and resurrection." Or, "justification and sanctification" (think "justified in Christ" and "sanctuary for Christ"). These are but aspects of Jesus' atonement being applied by the Holy Spirit into our daily living lives.
I speak of these times of life as one who himself has gone through personal sorrows and woe to the great grief of my soul. Mostly as a Christian. For my spiritual rebirth was one of a child coming into his pre-teen years realizing my need for Jesus' salvation in my life. And yet, this did not disallow me of sin's ruin and wreck upon my life. Whenever I gave in to sin it was there. And whenever I learned by God's Spirit to let it go it remained ever near and present, but absent its destructive power upon my life. Most of all I have trusted and believed in God's love to reclaim my life. It is by this divine power of love that hope and trust have grown. In times of personal anxiety or distress I am learning to claim God's stabilizing strength of love, hope, spiritual empowerment. Each time can be hard, but the practice of it has become more normal than my practice of disbelief, distrust, or hopelessness. Those Christians whom I know have gone through no less... it is a badge of honor that we each wear as reclaimed by Jesus' love and redemption however tattered and worn those badges are. In Jesus we may find hope. Love. Life. To Jesus I commend each reader His power of grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. It is freely given to all. Take this power and claim it for your own. It is meant by God to be yours forever and everlasting.
May 8, 2013
*ps - for further on this topic, see the sidebar "Deconstructing Ourselves."
How Kierkegaard Changed My Life
By Michael D. Stark
May 3, 2013
May 3, 2013
Michael D. Stark is an adjunct philosophy professor at Trinity Christian College. He previously taught philosophy at Colorado Christian University. He has been awarded a research fellowship at St. Olaf College’s Hong Kierkegaard Library for this upcoming summer. You can follow him on Twitter @michaeldstark.
On the famed philosopher’s message for anxious Christians.
I have always lived in anxiety.
In grade school, I was the kid who got picked on. I was timid and anxious, and the torment inflicted upon me by my peers only perpetuated my anxious behavior. Throughout my adolescence, my anxiety quietly festered. In college, I felt trapped, alone and terrified. It took every ounce of strength to go to my classes. If someone tried speaking to me, I would often shut down. What was very much internal angst began to show external physical signs. Panic attacks, sweats, shortness of breath and other anxiety-ridden symptoms took over. I was prescribed medication for this, which helped physically, but mentally I removed myself from the internal issues I needed to confront.
Kierkegaard taught me what I had been waiting to hear my whole life: Anxiety is necessary and even good.
Then I enrolled in a philosophy course. We studied the typical figures—Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, etc. It was the first time I encountered Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. I didn’t know it at the time, but my life was about to radically change.
Here was a philosopher—and a man of faith—who actually experienced anxiety like me.
Kierkegaard is unique among philosophers, in that he listened to and even trusted human emotions. Whereas some philosophers dispose of and do not trust the emotive state of individuals, Kierkegaard not only embraced them, he wrote entire books on them. I began to pursue my masters in philosophy, and Kierkegaard took a prominent role in my life.
Throughout my education, I’ve studied many arguments for the existence of God. While I believe some are successful, many lack the existential pull that is so prevalent in Kierkegaard. My second year living in Denver for graduate school was perhaps the most treacherous year of my life, but it was indeed the most formative. Despair is the single word that sums up that year of my life, a word Kierkegaard knew much about. As it is described in the The Cambridge Companion to Kierkegaard, “hopelessness is just a sign that one has reached a point where the goal of oneself must ... be re-conceived in a way that offers new hope.”
I remember vividly reading this line—sitting back in my rocking chair, putting down my pipe, and weeping. There it was. It seemed simple, really. But the moment was as profound as the quote itself. I’d been doing things all wrong. Everyone, included myself, told me I had to get rid of or at least suppress this fear. But the everyday task of taming and attempting to repress the anxiety and fear was futile. The anxiety, the hopelessness, was always there. It was a part of me.
So I read Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Anxiety. It’s a difficult read, perplexing at times, yet the lessons radiated in my being. Kierkegaard argues that anxiety is not, in fact, the enemy, but a part of humanity. The attempts to remove anxiety are futile, he says: “Anxiety is an alien power which lays hold of the individual, and yet cannot tear oneself away, nor has a will to do so; for one fears, but what one fears one desires.”
Hopelessness, Kierkegaard teaches, is a catalyst—it is a moment in which one must refocus, shift the paradigm and find new hope.
Kierkegaard taught me what I had been waiting to hear my whole life: Anxiety is necessary and even good. It manifests itself at the juncture where an individual realizes the power he or she has in making decisions. Anxiety is the realization of freedom and the possibility of choice. Some decisions are easy, and sometimes we become paralyzed in our decision-making. Anxiety provoked me to face those decisions, the seemingly infinite possibilities set before me, and walk forward. It provoked me to move.
This book so radically reoriented my concept of anxiety that I was able to develop who I am instead of run from it, condemn it or suppress it.
Society is so quick to run from what scares us—even if we are the object of our own fear. But such hasty movement away from ourselves leaves us feeling hopeless. Yet hopelessness, Kierkegaard teaches, is a catalyst—it is a moment in which one must refocus, shift the paradigm and find new hope.
What’s surprising is that many Christians don’t see it this way. Many will cite passages such as Philippians 4:6-8:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which
transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
They read this and think anxiety should have nothing to do with the life of a believer. From this passage, there seems to be a common—though unrealistic—perception that to worry or to have anxiety is to sin. This is not only false, but incredibly unrealistic. To remove anxiety would be to separate oneself with an attribute of humanity.
Without room for extensive hermeneutics, the Philippians passage speaks as to how one should engage with anxiety: Enter into it with prayer and supplication. It would be foolish to wrestle with anxiety without seeking God’s help through prayer. Whereas anxiety is a part of what it means to be human, it can indeed turn dangerous thing if not engaged properly. And it can lead a person into sin.
Being anxious does not necessarily imply that our faith is weak. Rather, anxiety tests our faith in relation to decision-making. Anxiety reminds us that they are free to make own decisions—whether that decision will better ourselves and our relationship with Christ, or glorify our own self-interests.
Kierkegaard voiced what many of us know already firsthand: “Anxiety is potentially present at every instant.” This seems true enough for my life. In his journals, Kierkegaard writes, “All existence make me anxious, from the smallest fly to the mysteries of the Incarnation; the whole thing is inexplicable to me, I myself most of all; to me all existence is infected, I myself most of all.”
Kierkegaard did not cure me of my anxiety. But he showed me what to do with it. Today, every time I enter the classroom to teach, I enter with some degree of fear and trembling. But the angst is not formed from a lack or preparation. Rather, it is the realization that I can influence my students. The angst reminds me of my own responsibility as an educator, and the seriousness with which I take such a role.
Today, I thank God for my anxiety. And I thank Søren Kierkegaard for changing my life—by teaching me that there is room for fear and trembling in faith.