Anxious Impatience

Craig M. Gay, in his book The Way of the (Modern) World: Or, Why It’s Tempting to Live As If God Doesn’t Exist (Eerdmans, 1998), seeks to expose the symptoms of worldliness in the postmodern world. The organization of the book is quite thoughtful and the author builds a new theme off the previously theme, eventually tying all the themes together.

In a very basic form, the book develops around five progressive building blocks:

(a) Control—Man seeks to control his world through technology and rationalism. By this he refers to the impulse in the postmodern heart to control every area of life through technology, not merely to improve certain areas of life.

(b) Secularity—The aspirations of the modern man to this techno-rational control of the world leave little room for any god, save the “self-defining self.” God—if ever referenced at all—becomes a “god of the gaps,” a god whose necessity is limited to the areas of life that are outside of our control. Think “acts of god.”

(c) Individualism—The forces of control and secularity combine to encourage individualization, a fix-it-yourself mentality that breaks apart personal relationships and community.

(d) Anxiety—Man becomes an individualized self. But “the assumption of godlike responsibilities has turned out to be a heavy burden and that we have become increasingly anxious beneath the weight of this burden” (p. 308).

(e) Impatience—Combine control, secularity, individualism, and the anxiety from these godlike responsibilities and you end up with “what is possibly the master theme of modernity, and now of ‘postmodernity’: that of impatience” (p. 308).

This progression is helpful. And when the author begins to weave together the anxious impatience of our world his work really proves practical. Because, as Christians, we are called to cultivate an eschatological worldview and the spiritual disciplines of waiting and watching, distinctives directly undermined by modern forms of worldliness. I will leave the topics of prayer and community is for another post altogether.

I mention the five building blocks of his book because it provides an introduction to an important quote from the conclusion on the topic of “anxious impatience.” Gay writes:

…anxious impatience is evident in virtually all aspects of modern social and cultural existence, and not least in the increasingly frantic pace with which so much of life is carried on today. It is largely by reason of impatient frustration, after all, that we have been persuaded to try to perform the functions of the hidden—and, indeed, seemingly absent—God.

“God is either unwilling or incapable of helping us,” we say in effect, “therefore we have no choice but to help ourselves, to take matters into our own hands, and to try to engineer a habitable environment for ourselves.” Ironically, it is this same anxious impatience that has consequently moved us to surrender ourselves so naively to the dehumanizing techniques of the modern world.

Indeed, it is anxious haste that has incited us to mortgage ourselves to technical rationality for the sake of its promise of control. “After we have taken control of the world,” so we tell ourselves, implying that taking control of the world must somehow enable us to take control of ourselves, “then we will discover how to be human persons again.” But the horizon keeps receding, and we always seem to be waiting for the promised control to be established.

The longer we are forced to wait, however, the more anxious we become; and the more anxious we become, the more prone we are to placing what little hope we have left into the possibility of technical-rational control, and thus to giving ourselves over to dehumanizing modern systems; and so forth. It is an unfortunately vicious cycle.

Modern secular society is thus a culture of anxious impatience, a culture in which so much stress has been placed upon human abilities and human agency that the modern mind has effectively lost the ability to trust anything, or more importantly anyone, else.

—Craig M. Gay, The Way of the (Modern) World: Or, Why It’s Tempting to Live As If God Doesn’t Exist (Eerdmans, 1998), pp. 310–311.

So it’s not difficult to see why our postmodern culture find it difficult to understanding the value of faith, why it finds trusting in God difficult, why it’s unlikely that man waits patiently for God to lead and act, and how the cultural assumptions impinges upon God and distracts the heart by anxious impatience. Even as Christians, we feel the weight of this unbelief, this worldliness.

And so if you are looking for a book to help make sense of the modern world and to expose the subtleties of worldliness (and its costs), this book is an excellent—albeit studious—starting point.

3 thoughts on “Anxious Impatience

  1. I’m pleased to see someone referencing my very favourite book, and one sadly unknown. This is the most profound book on ‘worldliness’ out there.

  2. I bought a copy of this about 10 years ago and was impressed with it. There’s much here to ponder. There’s much in it to effectively quash the ideas of the emergent types, and those who pander after ‘relevance’.

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