Southeastern Perspectives: Dr. Steve McKinion
Dr. Steve McKinion | January 11, 2021
Instability leads to anxiety. Anxiety leads to questioning God’s kindness and mercy. And crisis is the greatest source of instability in the life of the Christian.
During times of relative calm and normalcy Christians tend to accept the goodness of God without question. When we have a stable job, we have stable friendships, stable families and stable churches, we are relaxed and confident. But when a crisis strikes, and stability crumbles, anxiety rushes in like a lion to devour us.
My own crisis came when my then ten-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer in 2011. Two weeks later he suffered a near-fatal stroke. After nearly four years of chemotherapy, and a year off treatment, the cancer returned in 2016. He was out of options. An experimental treatment saved his life, and he graduated from high school this year. But that crisis removed every bit of stability in my life.
When the COVID pandemic began in March, I had many of the same anxieties as when my son was battling cancer. Uncertainty about the future, loss of control, fear of the unknown. The only constant was instability. The Bible remained a regular reminder of the gospel’s application to life during crisis. Psalm 103 is particularly helpful when we want to find stability in God. The previous psalm had established the context for this one as “the day of trouble” (Ps. 102:2). How do we maintain our faith and trust in God during times of trouble?
Psalm 103:2 implores us, in our time of trouble, to “forget not his benefits.” While it may be tempting to focus our attention on our current circumstances, such focus only leads to greater anxiety. Even as Christians we tend to have short term memory loss when confronted with frustrations or even the slightest inconveniences. Scripture reminds us of the remarkable benefits of God’s work on our behalf in Jesus Christ and the blessings of his application of that work to us individually, to turn our attention back to God who loves us, has redeemed us and dwells within us by his Spirit. When we forget the benefits of our salvation we become slaves to our circumstances.
Remembering the amazing blessings of God enables us to see the relative insignificance of our current challenges. Paul tells us that our current experiences, as difficult as they may be, are not inversely proportionate to the riches that belong to us in Jesus. (Rom. 8:18) God will replace our suffering with blessing that is far greater than anything we have lost in times of trouble.
The Psalmist proceeds to encourage us to reflect on God himself. The text reminds us, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.” (v. 8) This reflection is genuine worship.
We do not worship an anonymous god who does not give us himself or a distant god who is so far removed from our circumstances as to make prayer useless. When we consider the greatness of our God, the God who became incarnate in Jesus Christ, who draws us near to himself through his indwelling Spirit, who promises never to leave us, then we can find our confidence in him and his grace. He has not left us! We can live confidently in God’s presence.
As we continue to remember the benefits of our salvation and to reflect on the person and work of Jesus Christ as God incarnate, the text tells us that God will renew our strength (v. 5). Losing apparent control of our circumstances, living with anxiety, experiencing significant suffering all weaken us. We become weary and greatly burdened, emotionally, physically and spiritually. The periods of weakness can lead to downward spirals of distrust of God, inability to love others and ultimately deep sin.
But our God renews our strength personally. He is our strength. By turning our attention and affection to this gracious, loving and merciful God who is present with us in his Spirit, we find renewal. God‘s past work in our lives was to redeem us. His future work is to give us an inheritance, and his present work is to sustain and strengthen us.
In contrast to the uncertainty of life during a worldwide COVID pandemic, God is a constant source of comfort and strength. When crisis tempts us to despair, we must remember. Remembering God’s work, reflecting on God’s person, and experiencing his work to renew us, enables us to cast “all your cares upon him, for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
Dr. Steve McKinion serves as Professor of Theology and Patristic Studies at Southeastern.
This article originally appeared in the fall issue of Southeastern Magazine. To read more stories like this, visit sebts.edu/magazine.