Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
– Jonathan Edwards
Fear, anxiety, and guilt are often futile. And they often feel inescapable. They take you and control you. They guide you to one point of focus: “Did I really say that?”, “How can live after this?”, “Nobody cares about me?” And the point of focus only serves to feed your dour emotions. Like the sun’s setting, gloom slowly but surely covers you in darkness.
And yet, some people overcome the soul’s darkest nights, and Christianity promises joy that puts out shadowy gloom (John 16:24). How? The answer is, in part, that Christians live their lives with eternity on their minds. While fear and anxiety will not disappear when you place eternity at the centre of your life, they will be put in their place and easier to handle. But before we get to this, let’s talk about two kinds of fear, anxiety, and guilt.
Some Fear, Anxiety, and Guilt Is Good
The Bible talks about good kinds of fearing (the Fear of the Lord) and of worry/anxiety (2 Cor 11:28) and of guilt/sorrow (2 Cor 7:10). So the emotions of fear, anxiety, and guilt are not in themselves wrong. They are responses to life. And it is a good thing to fear burning heat, unless you want to sear your flesh.
The futility of these dark emotions, then, comes from their causes. Do you fear the Lord, good! Do you worry that your neighbours do not know the Lord, good. Do you sorrow over sin, good. But do you fear the lord with a terror unbecoming a child of God, not good. Do you worry to the extent that you cannot hand your worry over to God (1 Pet 5:7), not good. Do you harbour guilt and sorrow over sin which God has freely forgiven, not good.
Most Fear, Anxiety, And Guilt Are Futile
The second category of fear, anxiety, and guilt lead only to futility. How much time have you spent worrying about whatever it is that worries you? Have you ever been better off for doing so? In one year’s time will you have been better off by living with crippling fear or by putting that fear in its place so that you can pursue good things?
The the answer is clear. But, admittedly, the path to putting these emotions in their place is difficult and may feel impossible. Some people do overcome these gloomy emotions. Others, however, have to learn how to live with them. It is really this group of people that need to learn how to live their now in the future.
Live Now in The Future
An old American Theologian by the name of Jonathan Edwards hints at the right path to overcome our ails when he wrote: “Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.” What Edwards says here is that he lives “today” as if he were reflecting on today at the end of his life. When you are 60, the worries that you had at 25 will likely seem trivial.
The time wasted on a futile pursuit of fear, worry, and guilt will seem wasted.
Edwards, whether he intended to or not, points to a deeply biblical pattern of living now as we will live in eternity. In the Bible, Christians are declared just because Christ was just. But until we die and resurrect into our new life, we will never be without sin. And yet we are to live now justly just as God declared us to be in light of our future life.
By looking back on your present from the future, you will be freed up to no feel so pressured about “today” and to focus on what you want to be like tomorrow.
You might be a mighty sinner, but when you turn in faith to him who freely forgives, you can toss the burden of guilt aside: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).
The path to living life with melancholy involves seeing your present from the perspective of the future. By cultivating this habit of the mind, the source of your worry will be put in its place. You will see it as one event in a long sequence of life. It will at least put your foot on the right path as you pursue a life a god-ward flourishing.
Fear, anxiety, and guilt can cripple you so that you cannot live in the present, so that you cannot function normally in life. But these emotions are not meant to do this to you. They are meant to help you. Fear protects you from fire, sin, and gives you a respect of God. Anxiety should draw you closer to those who are lost. Guilt should draw you to repentance. None of these should dominate your life. If they do, you are sick, your emotions need medicine.
That medicine is eschatology, which is a big word that means “the study of future things.” Our future is glory when we meet God face to face. We are in the present declared just, holy, and pure. And we will be those things completely at the resurrection. In the between-times, we live as if we are in the future. We look at our present from the perspective of the future. When you do that, our presents anxieties are put in the rightful place.