This isn’t a post I had planned to write any time soon. It’s a fear I’m ashamed to share. I was putting this post off for as long as I could… until very recently when I had an anxiety attack, which has only happened a handful of times in the last three years. And I began to think that, despite my fears of vulnerability, surely I’m not the only one who has experienced anxiety over the thought of an eternity separated from Jesus. So here’s that post now, instead.
The Judgment Seat
Thunderstorms always make me anxious.
One night I was lying in bed almost asleep, but the thunder and rain—and perhaps my own obsessive mind—jolted me awake with a sense of dread. I stood up to look out the window to see if heavy winds accompanied the rain and thunder; we had recently had several tornado watches. The trees were pretty still, though, so I wasn’t worried about that. I looked at the color of the sky—slightly pink even though it was dark out—and thought of how large and mighty God is. Then I thought what it would be like to be on the wrong side of that power.
In my mind I had an image of me standing before God’s judgment seat. My eternal fate was about to be pronounced, and I was waiting with dread. But Jesus wasn’t advocating for me. The people in my life whom I trust were completely powerless to help me, of course, as mere humans. I was separated from them. But worse than this was that I was standing alone clothed in my own sin before the righteous and just God of the universe.
I know he will do right and he will be just—and that’s what scares me. What if he isn’t equally as merciful?
Other doubts, well-worn paths in my thought life, filled my mind. I remembered the verses of judgment in Hebrews and elsewhere that had a record of giving me anxiety; thoughts that had lain dormant and in the background now came to the forefront, and I was overwhelmed. I imagined myself in an eternity of tears, despair, utter hopelessness that felt like this feeling but a thousand times worse. What if? after what if? with no comfort in them.
At first I had an anxiety attack. A flash of heat shot through my body, I felt nauseated, and I was trembling. I left my bedroom on the off-chance any of my family was awake, but since it was past midnight, the house was completely dark; they were asleep. This is just a forewarning, my thoughts told me. Nobody can help you now in your anxiety, and nobody can help you in eternity.
What made this thought even more piercing was that it’s actually true. No human can help me. And that thought is terrifying.
Rock of Ages
I know the right theology, and I know the normal Christian encouragements. Yet reassurances don’t last long for those with OCD; quick-fixes to diminish anxiety in the short-term isn’t productive in the long-term.
Essentially, I have two options: I can turn from Jesus, or I can turn to Jesus, who alone can shield me from the coming judgment.
Option 2 feels hard. But option 1 is out of the question; I don’t want to stand on my own!
I want to go back over the evidence of my life and demand certainty to determine where my eternal destiny lies. I know I need to rest in this place of uncertainty, but how when it feels like the very worst possible scenario? How can I rest here?
“Just turn to Jesus,” you may be thinking. But that’s when all the questions arise! Is my faith and repentance genuine? Is it too late? What if…? This is where obsessive brains just can’t turn off their thoughts. What may seem like a simple road to others is a twisting, dark, distorted path to the scrupulous.
I cannot figure it all out. I hate this ambiguity, yet I have no other place to live but in it. But I think the Lord meets us in that place, too. He says, “Come to me,” even as he draws near to us. My only hope is that the one who says “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” is faithful to keep his promises.
This truth does not take away my anxiety in the moment, ease the tension in my shoulders, or calm my breathing. It’d be nice to throw a Bible verse at my fears and find they disappear, but that’s not how it’s supposed to work. If this life is about deepening relationship with the Lord, continually learning to walk in step with him, then I can’t expect it to be a once-and-done, all-my-struggles-are-gone type of experience. But I have found that this is the best way to proceed.
The day after this night, I was babysitting my nephews and putting the two year old down for a nap. As I was thinking of a song beyond the normal “Jesus Loves Me” to sing to him, “Rock of Ages” came to mind, seemingly random and out of the blue. As I sang through the verses (as well as I remembered them), I was struck by how well these words spoke to what I was enduring. Here they are for you:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.
Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law’s demands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.
While I draw this fleeting breath,
when mine eyes shall close in death,
when I soar to worlds unknown,
see thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee.