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Is My Anxiety Sinful? (5 Quick Thoughts)

A biblical examination of anxiety

A quick Google search inquiring about anxiety will yield a seemingly endless stream of articles discussing the alarming levels of anxiousness. Most likely, you do not need Google to tell you that more and more people feel more and more anxious. Unless you live the isolated life of a hermit, you can see the anxiousness of others. Perhaps you know a rise in your own anxiety.

The church has not avoided the tsunami of anxiousness which has swept over our culture. This has left many Christians asking the question, "Is my anxiety sinful?" In response, I offer five quick thoughts.

‌1. Define Anxiety.

So often in discussion we work with undefined terms. This leads to confusion. To avoid such confusion, I offer you a definition which has several ideas.

Anxiety is an emotion. We feel anxiety with our hearts not our fingers. Anxiety in this way occurs in our hearts just - as anger, joy, love, sadness, and anticipation

Anxiety arises from uncertainty. We do not know anxiousness over those matters of life in which we sense our own control over the outcome. Rather we experience anxiousness when our lack of control over the news you will receive is undeniable.

Anxiety leads to action. Once we feel anxiousness in our hearts as a response to an uncertain situation, we are driven to act. We will toil and strive until A) we secure the desired outcome or B) We lose hope and are given to despair.

Anxiety relates to the body. We are embodied souls. The body and soul are woven together. Those with a tired, hungry body tend to experience increased levels of anxiousness. Also, our experience of anxiety will affect our bodies. We all know the acute experience of sweaty palms, tense back muscles, and an elevated heart rate. Some even know exaggerated effects which come on the body with uncontrollable force and quickness - the dreaded panic attack.

With these ideas in mind I offer this definition:

Anxiety is an unpleasant unsettledness in the soul aroused by the very real possibility that what we fear might come to pass irregardless all our efforts to secure a more favorable result.

‌2. Anxiety Itself Is Not Sinful.

The apostle Paul said, "Be angry and do not sin." We could likewise say to each other, "Be anxious and do not sin." We should expect each one to know anxiousness and experience anxiety. Several conditions of our human condition make the experience of anxiety a given.

We lack foreknowledge. We do not know what will happen tomorrow. Tomorrow may bring us great, unexpected trouble.

The world does not lack evil. I use evil in both senses used in the Scriptures. In the Bible, evil describes both morally corrupt and wicked forces which seek to destroy all that is good and right, and also natural disasters such as the "evil" experienced by Job. Evil lurks around the corner in all its forms. This makes our good uncertain in this world.

We lack strength. We are weak and fragile creatures. We know deep down, we lack the strength needed to secure our good and maintain it. We know we are but dust passing away. Our best efforts will not keep pain and trouble at bay.

We know our sin. We carry guilt. This intensifies anxiousness because we know deep down we do not deserve a good outcome. Our sin is before us; how shall we expect blessing and not cursing? In addition, we know in our sin we have sown evil seed. We know that the natural outworking of our lies, fits of rage, sexual immorality, laziness, gossiping, and selfishness produces brokenness, sorrow, destruction, and death. We sense doom awaits us because we know the kind of people we are.

For these reasons, men and women will experience anxiety.

‌3. Anxiety Often Leads to Sinfulness.

Sometimes anxiousness bears sinful fruit in the following flavors.

Self-Centeredness. Anxiety threatens to disrupt unity and peace by tempting us to prioritize our own self-interest. Anxiety rises when my own interests seem uncertain, insecure, and at risk. Anxiety may sinfully drive me to secure my own private interests and by default sets me at odds with other anxious people. We desire and need, but when we do not have we grow anxious and murder (see James 4:1-2) .

Self-Reliance. Anxiousness often calls us to take matters into our own hands. We will secure what seems insecure by working hard, storing up money in emergency and retirement accounts, earning the favor of the gods through religious performance, and becoming more disciplined than everyone else. We will make ourselves, build our lives, and then defend it at all costs.

Despair. Self-centeredness and self-reliance share a common element- hope. Though one's good seems uncertain, the self-centered and self-reliant still cling to hope that their good might be obtained. The despairing on the other hand see no light at the end of the tunnel and conclude the light will never come. Those in despair give up the pursuit of their good and turn instead to numb or eliminate the pain of the bad. Alcohol, drugs, mindless scrolling throughs reels, empty entertainment, constant pursuit of the next dopamine hit through unrestrained sexual pleasure, and suicide. Despair says," There is no point, stay in bed."

‌4. Anxiety May Glorify God.

We tend to place anxiety and anxiousness into a negative category and leave it there, but the Scriptures sometimes use anxiousness in a positive sense.

Care for Others. In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul the apostle hoped that instead of self-interested division the church would experience an anxiousnessness for one another. He hoped that the members of the church would out of concern for the good of the others take action to care for the interest of each member (I Cor. 12:25).

In his letter to Phillipi, Paul expressed his desire to send Timothy to them because he knew Timothy " [would] be genuinely concerned for [their] welfare" (Ph 2:20). The word translated" concerned" here is the same word translated anxious when Paul wrote later, "Do not be anxious" (Ph 4:6).

At another time, Paul spoke of the benefit of remaining single as an opportunity for freedom to be “anxious about the things of the Lord” (1 Co 7:32). A married man must divide his concern and care for he must be “anxious… about how to please his wife” (1 Co 7:33).

In each of these instances, anxiousness arises from concern for the good of others and leads to sacrificial care. In this way we glorify God by reflecting His care and concern for us. Such anxiousness is good, right, pure, and glorious.

Dependency on God. In our anxiousness a great opportunity to glorify God exists. Rather than sinfully turn to ourselves in self-reliance we may entrust ourselves to our Father by casting our cares on him who cares for us (1 Pe 5:7). If we rely on ourselves we will prove our own weakness as we stand" pitiable, poor, blind and naked" (Re 3:17). But, those who address their anxiousness by faith in God will stand as testimonies to God’s power and grace as He clothes them and feeds them with finer food and apparel than those enjoyed by kings (Mt 6:30-33). God’s glory goes forth as He cares for those who in their anxiousness look to him by faith.

‌5. Anxiety Must Be Tested.

If the anxiety we experience might be pure or corrupt we must examine it to see its nature and content. Here are a few questions that might help you test your anxiety.

  1. ‌What am I anxious about? What good or desirable outcome do I fear missing?

  2. Does pursuing this good or interest put me in competition with the good or interest of another?

  3. ‌In my attempts to secure my interest or good have I sacrificed obedience to the LORD?

  4. Has loss of hope that I will ever achieve the good left me in despair abandoning tasks and responsibilities I owe to others?

Knowing we all struggle with anxiety at varying levels I pray that God will grant us a calm and peaceful heart as we trust in Him.

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