Thursday, September 3, 2009

Why catastrophize?

Listening to the debate on health care reform, I hear many doomsday predictions: "death panels," Medicare cuts for seniors, government-funded abortions, illegal immigrants overwhelming hospitals for free care, socialism.

The health care debate illustrates how powerful the fear of catastrophe is. Fear is our default setting, if you will; and today, pressure groups, politicians, the media are using it to control us.

By nature, we're fearful creatures.

Of course, that persistent ache or pain means terminal cancer. Of course, our trouble remembering names signifies Alzheimer's. Of course, that family member in crisis again won't survive, this time.

Our tendency to assume the worse outcome, or to catastrosphize, is ancient, primal. Our innate physiological alarm to flee from danger, or to take up a stone or club to protect ourselves and our loved ones from those hungry wolves outside our caves.

But today, we don't have to fear the wolves. Catastrophe doesn't have to be our default setting, unless we like Talk Radio and like being scared. Like that rush of adrenaline, as a psychologist friend described it to me yesterday.

In the gospel of John, Jesus says to His disciples: Do not be afraid. I have conquered the world.

I find myself thinking catastrophically, I remember I'm a Christian--one who believes in the resurrection and in God's power to raise Jesus from death to life. I live in the hope of the resurrection.

Yes, bad things happen and will go on happening to us and those we love. And there are times when we need that physiological flight/fight response to help us survive legitimate, real danger. After all, creation is still groaning, awaiting the fullness of new life in God.

It will be awhile before the wolf and the lamb lie down and feed together.

But for those whose faith is in God, catastrophe is not always a certainty. Not every dark cloud has an even darker lining. Not every medical test means terminal disease. Not every bad thing that happens leads to worse things.

I remember sitting in an ER room at the bedside of a family member whom I feared might die. And a wise and faithful friend--who knew something of near-death experiences--said to me, "Ken, don't think, 'What if',' but think, 'What is.'"

Her counsel redirected my attention, and imagination, from a catastrophic future, which was my response to the unknown, to the present moment. I got control of myself, or rather God got control of me.

Instead of fearing, I could do something else, something constructive and positive. In the moment, I could pray. I could wipe my loved one's forehead with a wet wash cloth. I could read the Scriptures. I could trust God.

I thank God every day that my loved one survived. I know the crisis could have turned out differently, even catastrophically. The worst could have happened. For in the end, we'll all suffer and die.

Nevertheless, because we walk in a dark world in the light of the resurrection, we Christians look to the future not in dread, but in hope. Not as the day of doom, but of gladness. The day when we shall meet our Lord face to face and are reunited with Him and with all those we love.

And on that day, there will be nothing left to fear, no catastrophe waiting to happen. But only joy, endless joy.

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