Does trust in God remove anxiety?
“Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” Psalm 62:8
Have you ever felt bad for feeling bad? Have you ever felt ungodly for feeling uncertain about the future? For feeling anxious or depressed? Have you ever thought to yourself: “If only I trusted God more, I wouldn’t be feeling this way”? If you have, you’re certainly not alone, but you’re also not entirely correct.
Of course, our fears and anxieties can be, and often are, driven by a lack of trust in God; by our failure to properly and deeply apply the promises of God to our hearts. But it’s not exclusively or always the case. And the assumption that if we really trust God we will always be at peace and never struggle is just not correct. The fact is, it is entirely possible to trust God but experience an array of negative emotions.
How do we know this to be true? The short (or long) answer is the book of Psalms. The Psalms give us the language and permission to express our negative emotions and, most importantly, to turn them towards God.
Consider, for example, Psalm 62. The writer is under “assault” from others (v.3a). He compares himself to a “leaning wall” and a “tottering fence” (v.3b), likely to be knocked over at any moment by deceptive enemies who scheme, lie and deceive (v.4). But then he remembers and declares that his hope is in God (v.5) and that his help comes from God (v.6-7), before turning his attention on us: “Trust in him at all times, you people…” (v.8a).
This is a strong and comprehensive command; trust God “at all times”. But what does it mean? And what does it look like in action? Is it a perpetual state of peacefulness? Far from it, as the writer goes on to tell us. To ‘trust in God at all times’ is described in the next line: “…pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge” (v.8b). Trusting God looks a lot like venting, crying out in our confusion, sharing our fears and disappointments. It does not mean we give ourselves over to these things, but we do allow ourselves to feel them, express them, turn them to God, and allow him to speak his truth to our hearts. In fact, this is exactly what the psalmist goes on to do, reminding himself and us in the final two verses that with God is unrivalled power (v.11b), unfailing love (v.12a), and eternal reward (v.12b).
This pattern of honestly admitting our pain to God and then reminding ourselves of God’s truth is a far better picture of the Christian life than the false idea that we must be perpetually happy, unmoved and unperturbed by the pain and disorder in and around us. Indeed, God never promises to shield or remove us from the chaos of life but rather to be with us as we trust in him by turning to him with our troubles and then taking our stand upon his truth. As Christian psychologist Phil Monroe says: “If you feel guilty much of the time when thinking about your level of trusting God, consider this alternative narrative: it is the greatest act of trust to keep bringing God your troubles, even when things or your response to them do not get easier.”
If you’d like to explore this topic further I highly recommend a sermon preached at Holy Trinity Brompton by Timothy Keller titled ‘How to Deal with Dark Times’ and also a book by J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith titled ‘Untangling Emotions’.
With you on the journey,