I suspect most of us have experienced anguish, excruciating or acute distress, suffering, or pain. It’s when “ordinary” distress, suffering or pain gets kicked up to the next level. It so horrible that we are willing to do anything just to make it stop. We witness it in dying cancer patients and those who have lost loved ones, It’s suffered by those who are hopeless, widows, orphans and the imprisoned. It would certainly seem like something to be avoided.
Yet Francis Chan speaks of a Holy Anguish, that anguish we should feel about the lost, especially those close to us. Yet many of us Christians, even some who have long walked with Christ and who seem devoted, even fanatical, don’t feel that anguish. Shouldn’t that anguish be part of it? Should it not motivate us to be compulsive about the great commission?
There may be many reasons for the Holy Anguish to be elusive. Perhaps we are so flooded with images of horror that we are dulled to their impact. The recent earthquakes with huge death tolls made me shake my head, but no real sorrow and certainly no anguish was felt. The persecutions of Christians, including murder, even crucifixion and beheadings cause me to pray but again my emotional response is blunted. We know that we can take on all the suffering in the world, but shouldn’t we suffer to some degree with others?
Maybe our world has become so sinful and so dark, that we just filter it all out and try to forget the just judgment that has to be coming.
When it comes to the lost, maybe we just don’t really believe in hell. Maybe we’ve bought in to the idea that God is so loving that surely he wouldn’t condemn anyone. There are so many portions of scripture we choose to skip over or blot out. Perhaps C. S. Lewis said it best: “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, specially, of Our Lord’s own words; it has always been held by Christendom; and it has the support of reason.”
Perhaps the biggest block to Holy Anguish is that it challenges our own salvation. If we don’t burn with a desire to witness, maybe we aren’t really followers. After all, isn’t what we do a function of what we believe? If we’ve never felt the anguish of our own eternal damnation, how can we really deeply rejoice in our rescue from it? Those who play the numbers game in evangelism by urging the saying of a prayer and focusing on a “wonderful plan for your life” keep the Holy Anguish at bay.
While we rest in the holy presence of our Lord, while we are thankful for His provision and His peace, it would be wise and helpful occasionally to glance into our rear view windows with fresh realization of the anguish and torment we’ve been saved from. Only that will infuse us with Holy Anguish for a world filled with those who don’t know Him.