Early in my Christian life, I remember thinking that spiritual warfare was primarily about exorcisms, bizarre happenings and the stuff of scary movies. Little did I know that the great majority of all spiritual warfare occurs in the battleground of our minds.
Paul makes this very point to the Corinthians. Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3–5 NASB)
So, let me ask you, how do you handle hopelessness, frustration or times when you sense that life is meaningless? Or thoughts that you might as well not live anymore?
I’m not sure how to categorize all of those feelings, but I think angst captures most of them. Angst is a feeling of deep anxiety and dread that is unfocused and hard to identify. It’s a sense of frustration and apprehension with the general state of the world and one’s future in it. And it’s often accompanied by depression.
Angst, hopelessness, anxiety and this whole package of emotions may be hard to identify, but they’re not hard to understand. Just look at the headlines. Look at the state of people’s relationships. Maybe look inside. We see a lot of terrible things happening in the world that, if you didn’t know better, might cause you to think life is meaningless. And you begin to wonder: What about me? Am I meaningless too? It isn’t difficult to get discouraged or depressed. Our world and our past experiences war against our own happiness and fulfillment.
Angst has some emotional cousins. One of them is a recurring thought of meaninglessness. Sometimes this is not a conscious thought; it’s just a sense, a mood, a lack of interest in or energy about life and its direction. It feels like your life has no value or significance or purpose—like no one would miss you if you were gone.
Another emotional cousin of angst is purposelessness — living without aim, a goal or a plan. Life feels pointless and senseless, with no discernible direction to it or even any way to create one. That was where I was after realizing my plans didn’t produce the satisfaction I thought they would. What’s the point? Why keep going? Why bother if nothing leads to happiness?
When you lose hope, horrible things happen. Suicide has skyrocketed in the last decade. A secular study investigating the causes asked whether it was education, the emotional support of family and friends, or some other reason that people were killing themselves in record numbers. Do you know what they found? The clearest cause they could identify was a combination of a lack of religion, no sense of meaning, and the decline of a coherent worldview and the belief that there is a God and a larger purpose that gives life meaning.
Angst is real, and it isn’t only about suicide. I believe most people experience angst at some point in their lives. We go through dips of discouragement and depression, and even the most good-natured and positive people still ask the big questions that bring moments of angst.
That’s one of the reasons I love to read the Psalms. David was a man after God’s own heart, yet he could be dancing before the Lord in worship one day and in a valley asking why God had forsaken him the next. He even asked God to take his life if that’s what God wanted. He was a faith-filled person, and yet some of his writings make him sound clinically depressed. So this may not be just somebody else’s problem. It may be yours or a friend’s or a family member’s. It is a common human experience.
Angst provokes some pretty unhealthy responses. People feeling hopelessness, purposelessness or meaninglessness tend to withdraw from other people, develop addictive behaviors or relationships, act out, cultivate a victim mentality, engage in trivial pursuits as a way of searching for some meaning or masking its absence, and in worst-case scenarios, commit suicide.
It isn’t easy to be friends with someone who is depressed or filled with anxiety, and the relational distance that results only makes the problem worse. The emotions and emotionlessness that come with angst and its cousins are extremely hard to deal with and cause us to worry about friends who are wrestling with them.
Apart from Jesus, what do you use to soothe or sedate your sense of angst? How do you respond when you feel like life is senseless? What do you do when you feel discouraged and depressed? How do you handle hopelessness?
Do you try to cover it by working more, eating more, shopping more, medicating yourself more and drinking more, or do you deny your desires, lose your energy and wish you could crawl into a hole and die?
As with so many of these attitudes and distortions of our true selves, responses tend to go in one of two directions: overcompensation or withdrawal. But each of those can take many forms. If you have any experience with the emotions or attitudes related to angst, which tend to characterize you?
This set of emotions has a paralyzing effect at a time when people most need to get up and do something. Whatever you do, don’t let it paralyze you. If you’ll take a step toward God, He will take every other step toward you, no matter how many it takes. But you have to respond.
Here’s the deal: We all have issues, and this is a really common one, but if you’ll identify your angst and muster up the courage to address it, God will meet you there. It isn’t easy, and if you need help, by all means ask for it. If dangerous thoughts are running through your mind, talk with your pastor, a counselor, a family member or a friend. But please do something. If you’re willing to be honest, even privately with God, the antidote to angst will make a lot of sense.