Our Daily Friend in Disguise: Anxiety in the 21st Century - Part II
This is part 2 of a paper on Anxiety. You can also read part 1.
Fear and anxiety are not new, aren’t a phenomenon of our age only, they are almost as old as the humanity is. Since post Eden times (Genesis 3) humans added to their emotions other spectres of feelings linked to an act of distrust that lead them to disobedience and rebellion, producing feelings of shame and fear. Adam’s reply “…I was afraid…” in Genesis 3:10 is the first time fear is mentioned in the Bible. Adam and Eve broke their perfect relationship with God in the garden of Eden by distrusting God that resulted in disobedience and rebellion. Scholars say there are 365 verses about fear in the Bible, one for each day.
Fear is often mentioned as a good thing in the Bible if it is fear of the Lord as it brings wisdom and knowledge (e.g. Job 28:28, Proverbs 1:7, e.g. Psalm 111:10), is a fountain of life or leads to life (e.g. Proverbs 14:27, 19:23). Psalm 19:9a says: “The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring for ever… “ in Psalm 34:11 David says “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” It is very difficult to explain fear of the Lord. God is all powerful, mighty, the judge and He is also loving and forgiving. All these are in the Bible the reasons to fear Him. In different places it is referred to as reverence, worship and service to God (e.g. 2Kings 17:36 and Psalm 130:4).
Why Bible says we are to fear the Lord: because he brought his people out of Egypt, he forgives our sins, enables us to avoid all extremes(Eccles. 7:18), He is the master (Malachi 1:6), He is God (1 Peter 2:17). And fear of the Lord is about respecting, keeping, following His Law and living accordingly which results in doing good, avoiding to do bad and wrong, serving God, treasuring our relationship with him, worshiping Him. (Ecclesiastes 12:13, Psalm 2:11, Proverbs 3:7, Jeremiah 32:40, Romans 13:4, Revelation14:7). In Psalm 86:11 David prays - “Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” Apostle Peter also asks scattered believers “Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.”
But we also find many times in the Bible the imperative - “DON’T!!!” worry, be afraid/anxious. Old Testament abounds in this call to fear no evil (e.g. Psalm 23:4), no natural calamities, disease and epidemics, social and political disasters, mere mortals/people (e.g. Psalm 46:2-3, 118:6, Isaiah 10:24, Proverbs 29:25). The coming of Jesus in our world was accompanied by angels saying “ Do not be afraid…” - Luke 2:10. According to New Testament we are not to be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul as opposed to the fear of the One who can kill both - Matthew 10:28. When encountering death Jesus says “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” - Mark 5:36. And we are not to be afraid to love our christian community, our neighbour as God first loved us and in relationships to one another perfect love casts out fear. As God made himself vulnerable till death so are we to love one another, says John in his 1 letter, chapter 4:7-21. We have tendency to worry and be troubled about simple daily issues like food and clothes and God knows about this and reminds us through Jesus in the Sermon on the mount not to be worried (anxious in other translations) about these things, because he himself takes care of us, providing for our daily needs. This is actually fear of tomorrow as Jesus concludes this passage: “Therefore do not worry (be anxious) about tomorrow…Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-34). One of the major fears linked to real threat Jesus and Apostles warned us against is fear of all sorts of suffering and persecution. Jesus new his disciples will face opposition and persecution and he prepared them for this saying “… when (not if) they arrest you do not worry (beforehand) about what to say or how to say it.” (Matthew 10:19, Mark 13:11, Luke 12:11). John in Revelation writes to christians the words of comfort and encouragement Jesus gives him - “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer…” describing what exactly they are going to suffer and giving the reason for this “…and I’ll give you life as victor’s crown.” Peter writing from prison encourages believers not to be afraid of their threats. (1Peter 3:14). And Apostle Paul says to christians in Rome that they should not live in fear as they where adopted and given Spirit through which they can call God “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).
Bible story teaches us that we where created with free will, vulnerable and fragile and to have relationships of love and trust with God and with each other. So what caused first human beings on earth to fear was that they broke their relationship with The One who is the only trustworthy, stable foundation and source of life. As consequence relationships between humans became troublesome as each one wants to protect themselves from accusation and not being held responsible. “The woman you gave me…”; “ the serpent..” and so on till now.
Experiencing evil didn’t give humans dominion on it rather made them subject to it. This is the root of our tendency to always find something to worry about, to look with fear and tremble into the unknown future.
So we see that science and Bible say that we are anxious beings always alert to imagined, perceived or real danger and threats. Anxiety and fear became constant in our life, and for some of us or our precious ones, feeling too much anxiety can easily become a disorder.
Scientist have done a great thorough work on understanding the mechanism of our brain and body to threats things that Bible doesn’t explain but states about humans long before the science started to study. Mainly naturalistic approach science has on this subject is not opposed to the Biblical one. But Bible takes us beyond our brain and neurobiology functioning deep to our origin as beings and origin of our fear and anxiety which is sin. In dealing with anxiety as a tendency or a disorder we are to be aware that in some cases science can ignore or even oppose the idea that ultimately we depend on God although treatments, therapy, consulting helped many people to tame their monkey or monster. Facing situations (not avoiding), problems, circumstances, objects and things that are not real life danger but make us feel anxious is tested strategy by therapists and is also found in the Bible as mentioned above. But Bible takes as back on our journey to trust God who didn’t change despite people’s unfaithfulness but is still there to help and to comfort (strengthen).
As Christians we are not to be ignorant of the reality of troubles and hardships of life and our tendency to be alert towards them and desire to avoid. Fear became an inherent part of our being since we broke up with God but good news is he didn’t drop us from then on. God kept taking care of humans after their fall into sin and all the way through the Bible he teaches us what to fear and what we shouldn’t fear or be anxious about as we don’t know.
The opposite of anxiety is peace not safety and the way to it is the comfort God gives right in the middle of difficulties and adversities. God’s comfort is not keeping us away from troubles, persecution for our faith or other real dangers. Today we tend to associate comfort more with soothing. According to the Latin origin this word is formed from two parts ‘com’ + ‘fortis’. Fortis meaning strong so it means to strengthen.
In John’s Gospel 14-16 Jesus tells his disciples about his coming sufferings and death, about what they will go through in next days and in the days to come and as a conclusion tells them: “I have told you these things, so that in me (Jesus) you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 we can’t find peace in any other things but in our relationship with Jesus. Apostles had the same mind Jesus had, comforting each other in the same way: “…strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.” - Acts 14:22. So the point is not to say, you’ll be fine nothing bad will happen to you but to be prepared for what’s coming and not to be taken by surprise. I like my dentist because he explains me what is he going to do and how I might feel and how to be prepared to this.
Psychotherapy says apparently the same that Bible says we are to face our fears and anxiety not to avoid meaning to deliberately expose ourselves to our anxiety triggers to overcome anxiety. What Bible says is that we will face hardships and they are our opportunity to grow in our faith and trust in the “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort…”. Apostle Paul continues later in this chapter “For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”
We also have to be prepared to dealing with these feelings or disorders much longer than we would like to. In His book Pierce T. Hibbs was describing his dealing with anxiety disorder trying different ways and small steps of putting himself in the situations that usually triggered his Panic attacks: "The result—please hear this—was not the absence of anxiety. That’s not what you get from taking a baby step of faith—though self-help books try to build your confidence that way. The result was further reliance on God, a clearer sense that God’s presence and shepherding got me where I needed to go. It was strength in the Lord that emerged out of my weakness. My steps of faith led to a deepening, a strengthening of my relationship with God, a relationship built on trust in his speech, trust in his words." (1)
As you strive to find a solution to your anxiety (tendency or disorder) and practice different techniques or treatments, make sure you don’t rely on self or other humans help but on God’s help who can strengthen you and can use other people to help you through.
Keep working out your salvation let your weakness (in anxiety form) reveal God’s strength in your life and remember God is there to help to strengthen and to make you shine in the midst of dark times as his beloved child not as a superman or superwomen. He is interested in helping you to grow in Christlike character as you deal with this issue. Anxiety is not a tabu for our God it is our unfortunate state and he is dealing with it with gentleness, mercy and grace. So are we to relate to ourselves and others dealing with anxiety and expect that God will either heal it soon or walk with us through as he does in case of other sicknesses and disease and weakness we deal with in this life.
Find your comfort in your relationship with God learning to trust Him by praying studying his word and accumulating it in you heart. Growing in self discipline through this and persist in keeping a healthy life style and habits, or if needed to bring some order in your life. Make sure you have a community of believers who also can come along you and comfort (strengthen) you. If you find yourself overwhelmed by this feelings seek help in your community (pastor, elder, consultant, a christian friend). Also see a doctor and a therapist for professional help if you see that those feelings cause you feel weird or even get you out of your control.
And remember do not just listen to your heart as it is deceitful (Bible say). After listening to it ask your soul why? as Psalmists did:
“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?…”
And remind your soul about the hope you have in God - “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God. “ Psalm 42:5
May God help as to trust him more and more.
“If you look at the world you’ll be distressed. If you look within you’ll be depressed. But if you look at Christ you’ll be at rest.” Corrie Ten Boom
This is part 2 of a paper on Anxiety. Read part 1 here: https://www.cross-current.org/posts/anxiety-in-the-21st-century
Cover photo: Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash.com
- Struck Down but Not Destroyed: Living Faithfully with Anxiety by Pierce Taylor Hibbs, Truth Ablaze, 2020