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An Age of Anxiety

November 9, 2017

Tempus fugit – November Greetings! May this find us all grateful as we come to the Thanksgiving month: what a blessed time of year! Last month, I suggested that I might “rush in where fools fear to tread” with our November newsletter. When he was still with us, I had asked our dear brother, Lloyd Jonas, to write this letter…but he didn’t take the bait. No doubt, that makes me the fool! Disclaimer: This newsletter is not intended to diagnose or treat any sickness, nor is it intended to give medical advice! Do not discontinue your prescribed medications!

 

Personal History

When I was first making the transition into the ministry, some of you recall that I went through some difficult times with my health: elevated blood pressure, dizziness, rapid and irregular heart-rate, adrenal responses to the smallest things (like the phone ringing or a car passing), shortness of breath, and so on. I doctored through all of this – at the beginning, anyway (I finally gave up on the medical “stuff”). This “condition” lasted almost three years – it was a very rapid descent into that “valley,” and while there I was certain that I was not going to come out if it alive. The darkness of all that I went through at that time was overwhelming. I did make it, by the way, but it was a very s-l-o-w ascent out from that pit.

 

Here are some observations about that experience:

o There was nothing physiologically “wrong” with me – no bacterial, viral or fungal infection. Nor was there a “malfunctioning” or diseased organ involved…

o I was changing jobs – a potentially stressful thing; but I did not consciously feel anxiety about that – in fact, I looked forward to the change!

o I felt helpless beneath the scourging I was under. To this moment, I do not have an “answer” for what I went through; but let’s assume that there was no “physiological” cause for it… Is it possible that “nothing” can cause elevated blood pressure and the other symptoms mentioned above? Or, to put it otherwise, could there be a “psychological” – I prefer the word, “spiritual” – cause for the symptoms I was experiencing? I do not mean by this an alien spiritual cause – that is, a demon (though that is, biblically speaking, a possibility); I mean a cause “generated” from within myself: anxiety; stress; fear; worry, etc..

 

Can those “intangible things” cause the harmful physiological symptoms that I experienced? My guess is that most of us reading this would concede the possibility of “spiritual” causes for adverse physiological symptoms. Could anxiety or fear cause an increased heart rate or elevated blood pressure? What about “stress” causing a sustained – and adversely affective – adrenal response? Or organ damage because of that sustained adrenal response? Hmmm… Other than whatever was happening to me – I think the doctor called it “acute hypertension” – there seems to be a plethora of “conditions” which are “symptomatically diagnosed.” That is, a blood draw or tissue sample, or any of the imaging techniques – or any other “objective” diagnostic sampling or testing does not reveal anything out of the norm; nor is there any “organ malfunction” or injury. We must grant that there are things that we do not know – some virus or bacteria or fungus that may be outside of the scope of our current detection, but I suspect that that would be rather exceptional because of our very sophisticated detection capabilities. Perhaps we would agree that it is possible that the observable, physical symptoms – for example, rapid “at rest” heartrate due to (perhaps) increased adrenal production – might be brought about by a “non-material” cause: for now, let’s call it anxiety. In the old days we would have called this a “psychosomatic illness.”

 

When I was in the hospital following my heart attack in 2009, my primary nurse, who was a very experienced cardiac nurse, was in the room talking to Ginny and me – probably preparing me to go home. From down the hall, a female patient was calling for the nurse to come quickly – if I recall, she was having chest pain and couldn’t breathe. The nurse forbad me: “Don’t become like that woman. She had heart issues like you, but they have been addressed. Do you know what is wrong with her now? Nothing.” This dear, frightened lady who was crying out was being driven by fear. Was she apparently having symptoms? Yes. But was there a “physical cause” (such as blocked arteries in her heart or fluid on her lungs) that was producing those symptoms? No. But she was afraid that there was… What was “wrong” in this ailing lady’s life? I’m not sure; but it was evident that she had not come to grips with her mortality, and that she was afraid of losing this life – afraid of dying. And her entire spiritual demeanor was being shaped (and enslaved) by that misunderstanding and fear. In fact, she might have gone on to become (and I despise the way this word is used in our time) addicted to her fears; that is, she let her anxiety be her lord, bowing subserviently to it whenever it prodded her or demanded obeisance. Several considerations I checked online to see what the current medical observations are on the causes of (for example), acute hypertension (high blood pressure). I am fairly certain that if I had asked that question back in, say, 1985, the #1 answer would have been, “stress” (a “non-physiological” cause, by the way). However, what I found in 2017 was this: on the Mayo Clinic website, every cause of acute hypertension listed was physiological: forgetting to take your blood pressure medication (!?), or interaction between medications; stroke, heart attack/heart failure; kidney failure; etc.… A click over to the WebMD site revealed a similar but more expansive list – smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, too much salt or too much alcohol in the diet, older age, kidney disease, adrenal/thyroid disorders… In the middle of WebMD’s “causes” list, they did mention “stress.” My guess for an almost unanimous “physiological cause list” on both websites is this: secularist, evolutionary “biology” insists that mankind is the end product of an “unspiritual” process: we are a chemical/biological “machine;” we live in a material universe and we ourselves are completely material in our nature: there is no “spiritual” component to our being (no “soul”) and every facet of our body and behavior can be traced to chemical/biological responses. Our lives have only a physical dimension. Our actions, reactions and feelings – even our very life – are merely the result of the bio-chemical stirrings of our bodies. Human life is no more than a “body only” phenomenon; therefore, anxiety and depression are caused by not producing enough endorphins (or whatever other hormone). How then do we treat such ailments? The problem is a merely “chemical imbalance;” therefore, we will treat it “chemically;” and that will fix things or at least alleviate the symptoms. By this thinking, the underlying cause of our dilemma, whatever it may be, is chemical and not spiritual… A More Biblical Understanding First of all, the Bible teaches us that there is much more than a “physical only” dimension to our being: “the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” We are body – the material aspect of our being; and we are soul – the immaterial or spiritual aspect of our being. Furthermore, the soul is the “true you” – it is our personality, our character. Secondly, it is a reasonable, evident and biblical concept that our body and soul act together as an “integrated” whole: our soul finds expression through our body, and whatever affects our body affects our soul. If, for example, my brain, a physical organ, is damaged, it affects the operation and expression of my soul. Conversely, if my soul is “damaged” – shall we say, for example, by fears or anxiety – it stands to reason that my body will also be affected. Thirdly – and we are still speaking “biblically” – our entire being, body and soul, are affected and effected by sin: we are “tainted” by sin as a principle and sin as an act. Thus, because of the curse that sin brings, our bodies are mortal – subject to decay and death; and our soul is also permeated by sin: how I think (my intellect, my reasoning processes), the decisions that I make (my will), and how I feel (my emotions and desires) will all be tainted and corrupted by sin. Will I think thoughts that are out of line with God’s Truth? Oh, yes! And will I make decisions that indicate alienation from God and fly against His will? Certainly! And will I have desires and entertain feelings that are antithetical to God’s intentions for His creatures made in His image? Indeed! And I may expect all of these things that pit me against God to be manifest in my life. I am affected and effected by sin in all that I do – body and soul. The influence of sin is pervasive and it is detrimental: because of sin, I am at odds with the purpose for which I was created and that will, in God’s created order, cause problems in my life and being.

 

Having said that, we should also understand that not all sicknesses or symptoms are directly related to specific sin, or even to anxiety or stress. It would be foolish and biblically wrong to assert that “I got the flu because I thought an impure thought or said an unkind word.” A sickness may be inflicted upon someone because of a specific sin: consider David after his sin involving Bathsheba and Uriah: “When I kept silent {about my sin,} my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.” {Psalm 32:3} The suffering that David went through was both the “natural” consequence of sinful guilt, and specific hardship (i.e., discipline) that God brought to bear upon David because he tried to hide his sin. But excepting God’s specific discipline, remember that we live in a fallen world in a mortal body with a sinful soul! Everything is not going to be peachy! But on the other hand…there is a degree that we can say, “It is what you make it!”

 

Your heart – we are talking about the immaterial part of your being – can be an anchor, or it can be a bird set free! Motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar used to say, “It is your attitude, more than your aptitude, that will determine your altitude.” Mr. Ziglar was speaking more to “career success” than he was to the everyday stresses and anxieties that buffet us: but attitude counts! Listen to some biblical wisdom (notice that the things cited a being good or bad for the “heart” are not “physical” things but “spiritual” things:

o Proverbs 12:25 – “Anxiety in a man's heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad.”

o Proverbs 17:22 – “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”

 

The Key Objection… Most would agree, at least to some degree, that attitude is an important factor in our well-being; and attitude is not physiologically-based (unless you are a materialistic evolutionist!). But most would also object: “I can’t control my attitude!” Well…we’ve run out of room and we’re not quite done: we’ll have to pick it up next month!

 

Until then, Our Love to You All, Nick & Ginny

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