Melancholy and Angst

Luther talked about Anfechtung. Kierkegaard talked about Angest. All manner of philosophers and theologians have put it in different ways. Ultimately, though, what they are driving at is something similar: life in a fallen world isn’t easy, and it plays with your psyche, your nerves, your gut. Anxiety is a terrible thing. It can shut a person down. It can overwhelm them. It can take captive an otherwise wonderful mind. It can cripple a body. Melancholy can do the same.

Life in a fallen world isn’t easy. Even the most beautiful things in our post-fall habitat can work fret and unease. Even things we really enjoy can become too much, and things we dread can kick the feet right out from under us. And, yet, often, as believers, we do our best to suck it up and serve, to eat our angst and press on. Jesus doesn’t want us to worry, after all, right? God wants to use us for our neighbors. And this is how it all compounds. It eats at us. It keeps us awake, even as it makes us want to do nothing more than sleep.

But isn’t it true, hasn’t Jesus told us not to worry? Hasn’t God numbered even the hairs on our head; isn’t He in control? When the “black dog,” as it has been known, comes, when melancholy strikes, when our nerves go haywire and everything seems shaky, too slow or too fast, it’s not that the Christian forgets that, or loses faith. No, rather, the Christian is struggling. The devil, his or her body or mind, the world, circumstances, all sorts of things are at work on her or him, the robbers are plotting, trying to overtake God’s child, and it’s terrifying, and it’s real, desperately real.

So what should such a Christian do, faced with Anfechtung, Angest, anxiety, or melancholy? There it is, that should. The should is great and all, but, as it’s often spoken, or heard by those afflicted, it implies a would that is beyond one’s powers at such a time. What the Christian needs is not an appeal to the will, a charge to try harder, a platitude, an untrained diagnosis or well-meant call to “cheer up” or “calm down.” What the Christian needs is Jesus, who is greater than our hearts, greater than our worry, greater than our fears. What the Christian needs is a crucifix that isn’t going anywhere, whether they cheer up or calm down, whether they “snap out of it” or not.

How have you been lately? Do you dread being asked? Do you worry about what you might answer? Does that question drive you down or wind you up even more? Christ Jesus is Jesus for you. He isn’t going anywhere. He’s your joy, even when joy seems unimaginable. He’s your calm, even when the storm doesn’t seem to have an end to its raging. He’s bigger than you, for you. And His Spirit is praying for you and through you, even when you can’t speak, let alone string together a thought. He has you, whether you like it or not in the moment, whether you can’t stand to think more or just need to stop thinking for a while. Jesus is Jesus, He who saves for you. He has been, is, and will be. He is patient with you, even as you worry. He is joyful in you, even when you can’t escape sorrow. He is Jesus, your Jesus, and He calls you His own, even when you don’t know who you are. Even more, He comes with water, bread, and wine, indisputable proof of His love, to make sure you know who He is.

Wade Johnston

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