What Will Set You Free
- September 30, 2018
- Jared Odenbeck
Recently, out of fascination and curiosity on the topic of anxiety, I began to read “Man’s Search for Himself” by mid-20th century psychologist Rollo May. While the title lends an educated guess towards the subject matter, as I made my way through early pages of the book, May’s words began to ring in my ears with the familiar tune of the Gospel. Not that the book is in any way religious or centered on Christianity – it is entirely scientific and secular – but May probes into the full depth of issues surrounding anxiety, restlessness, fear, and worry, which, few of us reading this (or writing it) can say we are immune to.
May writes, “The chief problem of people in the middle decade of the twentieth century is emptiness. By that I mean not only that many do not know what they want, but often they do not have any clear idea of what they feel…it soon becomes evident that their underlying problem is that they have no definite experience of their own desires or wants. Thus they feel swayed this way and that, with painful feelings of powerlessness, because they feel vacuous, empty. The complaint which leads them to come for help may be, for example, that their love relationships always break up or that they cannot go through with marriage plans or that they are dissatisfied with their marriage partner. But they do not talk long before they make it clear that they expect the marriage partner, real or hoped-for, to fill some lack, some vacancy within themselves, and they are anxious and angry because he or she doesn’t.” (May, 4)
While I could immediately launch into a number of different topics and scriptures and discussions from the magnitude of this passage, I want us to go to John 8. “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31-32). If we take May’s words in conjunction with Jesus’ words to the believing Jews at the Temple of Booths, we will recognize the root of our problems. Unbelief. We do not fail to come to a saving faith in God, for we, like these Jews, believe in Jesus. But, here is the key, we do not believe him.
Jesus makes claim after claim. All of Scripture rings out like an echo in a canyon to say, “I love you! You’re accepted! I’ve done everything you could not and cannot! I am working all things for your good! I am sovereign over every detail of your life!” But we do not believe him. What does Jesus say? “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). So why am I not free?
Here is where May comes in. Our emptiness, our worry, our anxiety – all of our problems – stem from our lack of “definite experience of [our] own desires or wants.” What does that mean? It means that Jesus exists, in the realm of our belief, as a concept, an abstraction, or a distant truth in a far-off realm, so we “know the truth” in one sense, but we have not come to “know the Truth” in a way where we experience him so that he becomes our greatest reality and an unshakable security.
As such, we fail to experience our greatest desire. It is like standing on the edge of a dock and looking out onto a great lake, longing to feel the chill of the water that neutralizes the warmth of a late summer evening, but instead remain fixed to the edge, utterly dry. You see the water, you know that it is there, but it is not until you plunge in that you mingle with it in the fullness of all of its properties and therefore satisfy your desire. So, because our feet too often remain glued to the splintered wood of the dock, May explains that we “feel swayed this way and that, with painful feelings of powerlessness, because [we] feel vacuous, empty.” It is not enough to be around him. Or think about him. Or talk about him. You have to be in the midst of him so that you are one with him. If we desire a release into the tranquility of soul that anchors all who know the truth, we must realize there is one way as we look out upon that glassy lake. Jump.
Notice, secondly, but most importantly, Jesus instructs them to “abide in my word.” And what does it mean to abide? John Piper defines it as “the act of receiving and trusting all that God is for us in Christ” and thus he invites us to believe him and follow him – to see what he is like, to see that he tells the truth, and then we will know that he is for real, this Gospel is for real, and that will set us free. But, be warned that because Jesus qualifies knowing the truth on our state of abiding, unless we abide in him and attach ourselves to him, we will neither know the truth, nor will we be set free, but we will live a constrained, tight-fisted, gripping religiosity. And maybe today that is where we find ourselves.
But there’s a way to real freedom. And it comes by knowing the Truth, believing what he says to you, and anchoring your life in it all. What do you have to lose?