Connections 05.28.2017: Worrying about Worrying

Stevie

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

I have two dogs. Or maybe they have me.

One is named Rainey, the other Stevie. They’re both mixed breeds. They’re also both rescue dogs; we adopted them from animal shelters. Each is about six years old.

Rainey

They differ from each other in lots of ways. Rainey is black while Stevie is brown. Rainey loves people while Stevie is leery of them. Stevie loves to get in the kiddie pool, but Rainey won’t (she does like to drink out of it right after Stevie steps out). Rainey likes to run around while Stevie likes to run away (that’s why Rainey gets to walk off-leash and Stevie doesn’t). Rainey devours her monthly heartworm pill like it’s the most delicious thing she’s ever tasted; Steve sniffs his, turns his head away from it, and, when I put it in his mouth, spits it out.

They differ in another way, too. Allow me to illustrate.

I’d been trying to correct a problem with their pen. Whenever it rained heavily, water got into it. (Yes, I have a roof over it. It’s a tarp, but it works well. The water comes from around and/or beneath.) I tried everything short of using a backhoe to dig a ditch around the pen, but water, which is very stubborn, kept getting in. Then an idea occurred to me. I spread some gravel in back of the pen, set some wood pallets on the rocks, and then put straw on the pallets. And it worked. Water flows right on through and they have a dry place to sleep and dream about chasing rabbits. (You should see Rainey light out after a rabbit. You should also see Stevie wrenching my shoulder out of joint as he pulls on the leash trying to light out after one.)

When I finished building their elevated bed, Rainey immediately got on it and rolled around in the straw. Stevie stood to the side, looking at it like he was pretty sure it wanted to kill him.

They’re just different that way. If I make the slightest sudden move around Stevie, he flinches. I could do somersaults (if I could do somersaults) over Rainey and she’d just sit there and grin, looking for an opportunity to move in and lick me.

Everything worries Stevie. Nothing worries Rainey.

Well, there was that one armadillo, but that’s a story for another time.

I don’t know why they’re so different at dealing with stress and fear. Maybe it’s genetic. Maybe it has something to do with things that happened before we got them.

Some people have more trouble with worrying than others do. There can be many reasons why someone is prone to anxiety. We’re grateful for therapies and medicines that can help. We pray for those who struggle with chronic and crippling anxiety. It’s not always possible to will one’s way out of anxiety, and there are people who simultaneously maintain great faith and struggle with great anxiety.

Sometimes, a well-meaning Christian will tell an anxious sister or brother, “Just do what the Bible says: ‘Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you’” (that’s v. 7 in the lesson text). And just like that, a verse meant to help us in our anxiety becomes another reason to feel anxious as your friend worries about why he or she can’t just do what the Bible says.

But that line isn’t meant to make us feel anxious when we don’t seem to be able to throw our anxiety on God. Taken in context, it’s more of a theological statement than a psychological one. God is working God’s purposes out. We can count on the promise the God “will exalt [us] in due time” (v. 6b). No matter what happens—even if what happens is that we’re worried—we can be assured that, in the long run, it’s all going to be all right.

There is practical psychological value in this theological insight, though. The more we cast our anxiety on God, the more we may find ourselves trusting that God will hold onto it for us.

And, if we find ourselves worrying about how much we’re worrying—well, we can cast that anxiety on God, too.

Discussion

1. What kinds of trials do we experience because we follow Jesus?
2. Why should we rejoice if we share in Christ’s sufferings? What does it mean to share in them?
3. Is Peter’s encouragement for the present as well as the future, or only for the future? Why do you say that?
4. What is the relationship between Christian humility and Christian exaltation?
5. Why is it important that we remember our sisters and brothers in the faith who suffer for following Jesus?

Reference Shelf

Finally we might consider the interpretation of v. 7 and its relation to v. 6. The theme of not worrying because God provides for the future presumably derives from the Jesus tradition that recalls Jesus’ teaching against anxiety (Matt 6:25-34; Luke 12:22-31). While both the theme of not worrying and that of divine care (“your Father knows that you need them”) probably find their source in Jesus’ teaching, their precise formulation has been suggested by the author’s use of LXX idiom: Ps 54:23 (“cast your care on the Lord”) for v. 7a and Wis 12:13 (“who cares for all”) for 7b—this is further evidence to postulate an author who makes frequent meditative and pastoral use of the Jewish Scriptures. The author’s meaning is quite clear: believers are to cast their every care on the merciful and caring God who provides what is needed. It is in light of this claim that one is to read the antithetical word pair (“humble-exalt”) of v. 6. Humbling oneself under God’s mighty hand (for the image, see Exod 3:19; 6:1; Deut 9:26; Jer 21:5) is not an image for submission to God’s judgment (as in 4:19—see preceding verses) but rather the acknowledgment of God’s dominion (see also vv. 10- 11) and the promise of future exaltation. Humility is therefore the creature’s submission and casting of all worry on a loving creator. Verses 6-7 therefore act as parallel statements concerning the believer’s relation to God and provide the basis for Christian behavior and perseverance that rely on God’s promise to “give grace to the humble” (v. 5c, citing Prov 3:34), for God is a creator and parent who cares.

Earl J. Richard, Reading 1 Peter, Jude, and 2 Peter: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Reading the New Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2000) 216–17.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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