What Does the Bible REALLY Say About Anxiety?

Anxiety in the Bible? Does that even exist?

Well, yes.

The Bible is a highly emotional book. Basically every human emotion under the sun can be found somewhere in the Bible! But Christian interpreters of the Bible have tended to have a somewhat weird relationship with emotions.

One one hand, they selectively ignore verses so they can preach toxic positivity, or they emphasize a few passages in the other direction and preach therapeutic deism, where God is basically your therapist and exists to make you feel good.

So how can we navigate these two extremes and understand what the Bible really says about anxiety and the full range of human emotions? In this article, we’ll talk about anxiety in the Bible.

(And by the way, if you’re prone to having lots of anxiety on spiritual themes, head on over and take my scrupulosity quiz to find out if your spiritual anxiety signals an underlying disorder!)

Can Real Christians Have Anxiety? A Hermeneutic Issue

The main problem that I have with some of the popular teachings about emotions in the Bible is the method of interpretation, or hermeneutic, that’s being used to get to the conclusion.

Typically, interpreters are using a proof-text method. 😣 That means they are arbitrarily going around, picking out a verse here and there, paying no regard for the bigger context.

For example, proponents of toxic positivity will tell you that real Christians are never anxious.

They’ll use Philippians 4:6, which says, “be anxious for nothing.”

But the Apostle Paul, who wrote these words, also wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:28 that he had “daily anxiety” for the churches he had planted. Some Bible versions will translate it as “deep concern,” but Paul uses the same Greek word in both passages. This suggests that there are spiritual nuances to what the apostle Paul believed about anxiety.

There are spiritual nuances to what the Bible says about anxiety

Proof-texting is kind of like going to America as a tourist, visiting Kansas, telling everybody back home that America doesn’t have any mountains, and using a postcard of rolling prairies to prove it.

Rather than using a proof-texting method to understand what the Bible says about anxiety, I prefer a canonical approach.

This basically means that we view the Bible as a whole book that’s meant to be understood as one united narrative. We allow every portion of Scripture to raise its voice on the topic. When we do this, we come to 3 important themes:

  1. Anxiety came into existence when the world lost connection with God
  2. Anxiety can be a signal of personal sin
  3. Anxiety is an unideal state of mind that God wishes to correct but it is not a sin

Let’s look at these three biblical themes in more detail.

Anxiety and the Bible, Theme 1: Anxiety came into existence when the world lost connection with God

Do you ever look on the ingredient label to find out what the “main” ingredient of your food is? It’s always disappointing when you think you’re eating a granola bar and then discover that the first ingredient is sugar!

For better or for worse, it’s good to know the main ingredient of our food. And actually, anxiety has a “main” ingredient as well: uncertainty.

Phobias, anxiety attacks, checking disorders, and OCD all have this common link with a sense of uncertainty.

The potential for danger + uncertainty = anxiety.

the potential for danger + uncertainty = anxiety

We are unsure of what will happen. We have no control or ability to influence that uncertain future. Therefore, we panic and engage in those unhealthy anxiety responses that we know so well.

But, imagine if you could be intimately connected to a divine Being who knew the future and could alleviate all your fears about what “might” happen. What if you were best friends with a loving God who placed you in a danger-free world? That’s the privilege that Adam and Eve had before they sinned.

There WAS no anxiety. Period.

They enjoyed such a close relationship with God that there was no sense of uncertainty, and there were no dangers in the world. Simply put, where there is no potential for danger and no feelings of uncertainty, anxiety just can’t exist.

But once they ate the forbidden fruit, these two elements entered the picture.

There was suddenly a potential for danger (after all, God said if they ate it, they’re going to die). And on top of that, now there was uncertainty (they didn’t die immediately, so would they? If so, when?)

Their response perfectly encapsulates human anxiety — we see:

  • Avoidance (hiding in the bushes)
  • Compulsive behavior (trying to cover themselves with fig leaves)
  • Feelings of fear (what is God going to do to us?)

It was in that moment that human emotions changed forever. Anxiety had its ugly genesis in the moment we lost our connection with divinity. 

anxiety and the bible

We no longer have perfect access to the mind of Christ. We cannot walk and talk with Him in the garden and get exact answers for all our questions.

Our knowledge is not absolute. It’s sufficient for navigating life and reaching heaven, but the many unknowns create an environment where anxiety grows very well.

We were not designed to live in an environment of danger, uncertainty, and fear. So in a way, anxiety is an appropriate response to a sinful context that should have never existed in the first place. 

We also know that in the end of all things, anxiety will no longer exist. Once we are fully reconciled to God and living in our glorified bodies, Revelation 21 tells us that there will be no more death, sorrow, crying, or pain.

And that means there will be no anxiety in heaven.

So the first theme that surfaces in Scripture is that anxiety first appeared after the fall and anxiety will not be present in Revelation’s description of heaven. This means that anxiety needs to be first and foremost understood as part of living in a fallen world that is not fully reconciled to God.

Anxiety needs to be understood as part of living in a fallen world that is not fully reconciled to God

Anxiety in the Bible, Theme 2: Anxiety can be a signal of personal sin

The Bible is clear that anxiety CAN come as a result of sinfulness, although this is not always the case. When sin is cherished, when we are deliberate about disobeying God, we may experience emotional crisis.

You may remember in the book of Deuteronomy when the children of Israel made a covenant to serve God. Chapter 28 lists the blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience. Verses 65-67 says,

“The Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and anguish of soul. Your life shall hang in doubt before you; you shall fear day and night, and have no assurance of life. In the morning you shall say, ‘Oh, that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Oh, that it were morning!’ because of the fear which terrifies your heart, and because of the sight which your eyes see.”

Deuteronomy 28:65-67

Yes, sometimes anxiety and emotional distress can come as a result of sin. If a guy tells me he’s having an affair but his wife hasn’t found out yet and he’s falling apart from anxiety, well, hello — cause and effect.

anxiety and the bible - Sometimes - but not always - anxiety and emotional distress can come as a result of sin

Again, the main ingredient of anxiety is uncertainty, and when we are living in sin we have a constant sense of uncertainty about:

  • if we’ll be caught
  • when we’ll be caught
  • what the consequences will be
  • what people will think when they find out
  • how God will respond to our choices

“The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked.”

Isaiah 57:20-21

The connection between deliberate sin and anxiety is another theme that emerges in Scripture. It’s not the only theme, but I think it’s important to mention because it’s very common for Christians to talk about emotional health from the perspective of therapeutic deism

Yes, God wants you to be happy, but it’s more important for you to live a life of kindness, integrity, and obedience.

If our Scriptural discussion of emotions only looks at what’s going to make me feel good in the present, it will leave out a huge chunk of what God has to say on this topic. Primarily, that negative emotions can be a way for God to send you a signal that something in your life needs to change.

Negative emotions can be a way for God to send you a signal that something in your life needs to change

Anxiety in the Bible, Theme 3: Anxiety is an unideal state of mind that God wishes to correct but it is not a sin

We’ve seen that anxiety can only exist in a sinful world, and we’ve seen that God sometimes uses negative emotional states to arouse sinners to their true condition. But I want to end on a third important theme: anxiety is an unideal state of mind that God wishes to correct, but having anxiety is not a sin.

(Click here for my article on avoiding anxious overzealousness in religion if you are the kind of person who is overly nervous about your spirituality.)

Again, returning to this idea of a canonical approach to scripture, seeing what the WHOLE Bible says about a certain topic, we see that God has always and consistently encouraged us to not be afraid. But we do not find commandments — either from Moses or from Jesus — that tell us how we have to feel.

There are commandments about how we have to behave, and even about how we have to think (like, don’t covet your neighbor’s property, don’t lust), but there are no commandments about emotions. Certainly, there is counsel about how to manage our emotions, but you will never find any verse that says that a particular feeling is sinful.

Anxiety may be unideal, but it is not SIN

Take anger, for example. Many Christians have the erroneous idea that anger is sinful.

After all, anger makes people do bad things.

I still have a vivid memory of someone getting so angry that he put his fist right through the sheetrock wall in front of my face. (Which was, after all, a better alternative than putting his fist in my face.)

But anger itself, though it often causes people to do unkind things, is not sinful. The Bible tells us,

Be angry, and do not sin.Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.

Psalm 4:4

Anger is a normal human emotion, and it does not need to drive us to be rude, violent, or vicious. Anger can be a useful emotion that motivates us to seek justice for minorities, prevent abuses, and fix problems.

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty,And he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.

Proverbs 16:32

Again, if human emotions like anger were sinful, this kind of verse would not make sense. It should rather say, “thou shalt not dare to ever become angry,” rather than advising you to experience your anger in a slow and controlled manner.

What’s the main point here? By experiencing normal human emotions, you are not breaking any biblical commandments. It’s all about what you do with those emotions that counts.

Furthermore, when we look at passages that talk about who will be excluded from salvation, all of these verses talk about actions and spiritual characteristics, not emotions.

For example, Romans 1 lists sexual immorality, murder, deceit, pride, backbiting, and envy, just to name a few. Revelation 21 excludes sorcerers, idolaters, liars, the unbelieving. Nowhere do we see that people will be excluded from heaven because of an emotional characteristic.

No, anxiety is not sinful, but at the same time it’s not God’s ideal. All throughout Scripture He gives us advice on how to not be afraid and how to put our trust in Him.

Paul spoke of spiritual maturity in stages. The newborns still need milk, but the mature can eat solid food. In the same way, emotional healing and emotional maturity is part of Christian growth. That’s why we’ll come across verses describing the ideal, which is zero anxiety and perfect trust in God at all times. 

anxiety in the bible: the Bible's ideal for our emotional lives is zero anxiety.

But it takes time to learn how to do that, and it definitely seems inappropriate to look at anxiety as sin when it is perhaps a less mature or less developed spiritual response to life’s stressors.

Conclusion

So in this article, we’ve looked at three themes:

  1. Anxiety came into existence when the world lost connection with God
  2. Anxiety can be a signal of personal sin
  3. Anxiety is an unideal state of mind that God wishes to correct but it is not a sin

I want to leave you with a verse that’s been very encouraging to me. Psalm 61:1-2 says,

Hear my cry, O God;Attend to my prayer.From the end of the earth I will cry to You,When my heart is overwhelmed;Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

Psalm 61:1-2

When we are overwhelmed with anxiety, panic, and doubt, we can come to God and He will receive us. Our anxiety may not be ideal, but he knows that we’re growing. The fastest way for us to grow is if we come to him and receive strength for the task of emotional healing.

What’s been your experience with anxiety and the Bible? Have you tended to have a very balanced approach? Have you felt discouraged by toxic positivity? Have you been lured into a confusing sense of false safety by therapeutic deism? Let me know in the comments below where you are in your journey with anxiety as a Christian!

Best wishes,

jaimie eckert signature


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