What If the Worst Comes to Pass? Developing a What If Theology
What if the diagnosis is cancer?
What if my child is violated?
What if my husband is unfaithful?
What if there is a terrorist attack?
What if I never get married?
What if this plane goes down?
What if I just can’t keep it all together?
The what-ifs of this world press down on our chests and threaten to take our breath away. They are there in the headlines, in our friends’ prayer requests, on strangers’ social media posts, in our secret thoughts. Fear is an unwelcome and uninvited guest, but nevertheless there it is. Cozy, comfortable, at home even, in our hearts and minds.
Fear is like a security blanket. We wrap ourselves up in it, tight and certain. What would we do without it? We’re so accustomed to its texture, its weight, its presence. What would we hold on to if it weren’t for the what ifs? What would we clamor after, if it’s not to avoid the worst?
Play it Out
But what if we mentally carried out the what ifs to completion? What if we imagined the real life aftermath of the what ifs that we nurse all day? What if, rather than a cloudy image on the horizon, we played out the what ifs in our mind until we actually wrestled with their possible real-life outcomes?
What if the diagnosis was in fact cancer? How would we cope? What if our child was in fact violated? What would we do? What if the worst came to pass? What would that look like in honest-to-goodness reality?
The Christian disarms the what ifs when she carries them out to completion in her imagination because she finds she has an answer. She finds that she would actually be okay. That she would actually make it. That she would be devastated, yes, but not beyond the reach of her God.
Those who follow Jesus know that he sits on his throne. Even now, the Father in heaven and his Son reign over all. We who are in Christ know (at least mentally, theologically, biblically) that our God reigns. It’s often our hearts that need reminding. It’s our emotions, our feelings, our knee-jerk reactions, that need to be reminded and convinced and re-convinced that God is sovereign and good and able to see us through the very worst of what ifs.
When we come out from under the security blanket of fear and hold it up to the light, we remember how useless it is—how unhelpful the nagging worry is, how little the anxiety actually produces, how little our dread accomplishes. When we step back and compare our human fears to our great God, they lose their strength, they hold less power.
Our worst what ifs compared to the God of the universe? No contest. The blanket is revealed for what it is: counterfeit, full of holes, moth-eaten, useless.
Even If the What Ifs Come to Pass
Psalm 62 bears witness to the strength and surety of God in heaven, “He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken” (Psalm 62:2). We might be shaken, but not greatly. The what ifs will indeed be painful, but they will not remove us from our fortress, from our rock, from him who gives salvation. No, those things cannot be moved, they cannot be taken.
The psalmist goes on. What if we are attacked? Thrust down and lied about? What if we are cursed by others? “For God alone,” he says, “…for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation” (Psalm 62:5,6). Along with Israel we are admonished, “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us” (Psalm 62:8).
Whether we are born of low estate or high estate, poor or rich, able or disabled, we are all lighter than a breath (Psalm 62:9). We must not put our trust in our own abilities, our own skillful avoidance of the worst what ifs. “If riches increase,” he says, “set not your heart on them” (Psalm 62:10).
“Power belongs to God” (Psalm 62:11). Ultimately, you and I have no power to avoid the what ifs. We cannot control every person we love or every circumstance that comes to pass. Ultimate power is not found in money, education, medical treatment, housing, and more. Power belongs to our God. He alone is our rock. Our fortress. Our only hope.
And What If? Power and Steadfast Love Belong to Our God
The what ifs we nurse are useless. They are the enemy’s attempt to make us wonder if God really said that (Genesis 3:1). But God really did. It’s there in Psalm 62 and on every page of scripture. It’s there on the cross. It’s there in the heart of a Father who lost his one and only Son. It’s there in the Son who laid himself down for you and me. It’s there in the Holy Spirit, who lives in us, who teaches us and helps us. Power belongs to our God.
May you and I develop a what if theology. Rather than allowing our fears and worries to take up an unwelcome residence in our hearts and minds, let’s look at them, full-on and in the face. What are they, really? What can they actually do to you and me?
Even if our worst what if came to pass, our souls would wait for God in silence (Psalm 62:1). We would find that it’s on him that our salvation and our glory rests, not on us or on our circumstances (Psalm 62:7). We would find that even in the what ifs our Lord gives “steadfast love” (Psalm 62:12).
He would meet us. He would be there. He would hold us.
Let’s remove the nasty, worthless security blanket of fear and replace it with the substantial warmth and truth of the Word of God. Let’s remember who he is.
Even if the worst what ifs happen, we shall not be greatly shaken.