I was pulling onto 4th Avenue North in Franklin when my phone lit up.
“What biblical comfort would you give to someone struggling with anxiety/panic attacks?”
My mind flooded with those moments. Weeping on the bed of my hotel last year, fists clenched, doubled over. Pulling my car over in college to try and grab onto normal on wild backroads near my childhood home. Staring into the mirror at bloodshot eyes, whispering through my slow and steady tears, “God. I have nothing left.”
I texted her back, “Can you chat really fast?”
Here’s the thing about the world that we live in: it’s massively broken and that’s our current reality. Sometimes, we pretend that if we just skim the surface of things we’ll always skate on top and we’re never going to fall through the ice into the depths. But this life we lead is terribly deep and no amount of denial is going to change what it is.
So, confession: sometimes, I look at my Bible and I don’t even know where to start. I’ve read it and studied it and even translated parts of it, but I still feel overwhelmed by it. No, that’s not the word–I feel underwhelmed. I feel like I can just hop into some random chapter and follow a few steps and dig out a little gem to put into my pocket. Something simple and vague and easy.
But I don’t think that’s what we’re called to. So a few weeks ago, I asked the Lord to remind me that His Word is a really big deal. And shortly thereafter, I got a crazy idea: translate Genesis One. I sat down and read it and it struck me how insane it is that Moses was wandering in the desert and aging and agonizing and he was the one who had to write out how perfect the world was before sin. And how it would be really tempting to make things seem less awesome than they really were.
It’s like when you date someone and you think that they are amazing and then you break up and you say, “well, they weren’t that great.” But no–Moses leaves no beautiful detail out. Because in order to understand the weightiness of what we’re standing in, we need to know the weightiness of what we’ve left behind–and what we look forward to.
So I dug a little deeper. I busted out my Hebrew. And I opened my books and I parsed verbs (which means a lot of grammatical effort that helps us understand the real meaning of words) and what I found astounded me.
Typically, Genesis 1 starts like this in my head, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and the earth was formless and void and the spirit was hovering over the waters.” It seems a little strange and precious and once-upon-a-time-ish and maybe even confusing. So let me give you a literal translation.
“In the beginning, created by God, were the heavens and the earth. And the earth was formlessness and emptiness and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of the Lord hovered tremendously on the face of the waters.”
Suddenly, the Spirit of God isn’t a little floating ghost. Rather, it’s hovering with eager anticipation and awareness with power. And “hover” is in the piel tense, which is one of emphasis. It’s what turns “broken” into “shattered,” if you will. So, if this were a movie, it’d be that deep space, low base hum and epic moment of total edge-of-seat anticipation. That word meaning to “hover tremendously” is a loaded gun. It shows up another time in Deuteronomy 32:10-11:
“He found him in a desert land,
And in the howling waste of a wilderness;
He encircled him, He cared for him,
He guarded him as the pupil of His eye.
11 “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
That hovers over its young,
He spread His wings and caught them,”
Authoritative and strong and ready. The Spirit of the Lord hovered tremendously on the face of the waters. And that’s just in the first two verses.
You guys. The Bible is bonkers.
This book that we carry around or leave on a shelf tells me just in the opening two sentences that God is massive and powerful and moving and present.
This book that we pretend carries very little actual weight is, in fact, outlining for us the weightiest realities.
You can live all you want on the surface without ever feeling the ice crack beneath you, but one day, it starts to get a little thin. A friend passes away or a child gets sick or your car loses traction. A person you pictured forever with walks away or you choose a few terrible options or your parent walks out the door. An suddenly, the actual state of things starts to show.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. It starts with Him and it starts with something good and abundant and perfect. And when we get that, and soak it in moment by astounding moment, we almost want to cry out to Eve as she’s walking alone in the garden. As she hears a voice. We want to tell her to stop listening, to not even turn around, to never even consider it.
But she does. And everything breaks.
And when it breaks, it happens in all the worst ways. It ruins families and friends and motives. It seeps into my thoughts and my eyes narrow a little as I make choices that hurt and bruise and distance. And one day, I get a text that asks about anxiety and I think back to the ways the fall has made me afraid and when I get on the phone, I finally spill out everything I just typed and I say this: If we don’t understand that the Bible is really real, we live in a false and made-up world. When we’re anxious, we’re feeling that horrible tension of aching for better and living in broken. Because it’s spelled out pretty clearly how messed up this world is.
Frankly, I worry about people that don’t get anxious from time to time. I wonder if they’re feeling the weight of this world. I sat in my car on that phone call and a smile started to break across my face as I then paused and was reminded of what Jesus has to say about all of this.
And I hear the words of the sweet Saviour so clearly as he grabs me gently by the shoulders and looks me in the eye and says, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
May we not see the Bible as a series of quick grabs like just-take-one Halloween candy that we hoard and then discard over time. Rather, may we understand that from start to finish it is full and rich and the realest thing we can know. And may the weight of even the moments before creation point us to the reality that He’s always been ready and He’s always made a way.
To the anxious hearts: you are not alone. You’re just feeling the weight. May the weight of the Bible level things out for your heart tonight and may you know that in the world you have tribulation, but take courage; he has overcome the world.
You may not feel it until your feet hit the shores of eternity, but take courage: He is coming. He is for you. And just as He hovered tremendously, He covers you now.