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Essay

Desperately Grasping for Security

By September 13, 2012 No Comments
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As I listen to presidential politics, analyses of our economy, and responses to the recent attacks on US embassies (and the death of an ambassador and others), I’m reminded again and again that we live in a world riddled with profound uncertainty. At every level of existence, from the global to the personal and from the domestic to the religious, we encounter change and upheaval. Instability and unpredictability in the world economy, proposed changes to social programs, and attempts at peace that yield its opposite: all of this threatens our sense of wellbeing.

Understandably, most of us (individually and collectively) expend significant energy in the pursuit of security. Some try to buy it, as if financial gain and material goods can secure their status in society. Others try to secure the good life through a rigid focus on God’s rules. Insisting that they know what is right and true, they squelch all doubt, questioning, and ambiguity. They treat those who disagree with them as outsiders or even evil-doers.  Not far behind this is the attempt to impose one’s views on others, and using government to do so.

At one level, all of this is an anxiety-ridden pursuit of security. Such pursuits are hardly new. When the Israelites demanded that Samuel anoint a king for them, they were desperately grasping for safety and security. All the other nations had kings who protected their literal place in the world. Unable to trust God, the Israelites got their king but at the high cost of their own spiritual vitality and eventually their land. By clinging to security, they paradoxically lost it.

When Jesus failed to adhere to the religious and cultural norms of his day, the anxiety of his family and religious leaders skyrocketed. Enlivened and led by the Holy Spirit, Jesus strayed from the officially sanctioned path for holy living. He was secure in God, but they were not. So they attempted to restrain, stifle, and control him. They accused him of being “out of his mind,” i.e., standing outside the bounds of what is good, right, true, normal, sane, and expected.

The longing for security isn’t bad or wrong. In fact, the need for security is fundamental to our creatureliness. (We depend upon God, whether we know it or not, for the gift of life.) To know that we can return home anytime; to trust that anxiety, grief, and unexpected consequences will not destroy us; and, to face difference, doubt, and ambiguity without undo fear: these are manifestations of security. To rest in God and trust, along with Julian of Norwich, that “all will be well: that is secuirty for the Christian (indeed for all).

Our security ultimately comes from God. As a gift, it cannot be purchased with money or power. And anytime we (individually or collectively) attempt to attain security by controlling others, we trod upon an insecure path. For quite ironically, our controlling, desperate grasping for security is precisely what increases our experience of insecurity in the world.

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