As we at the Summit go through our “Smoke from a Fire” series, exploring the ways our emotions reveal our inner struggles, we want to share follow-up resources from our Pastor of Counseling, Brad Hambrick. This week’s resources focus on the topic of anxiety. Here’s Brad:

When Is Anxiety Sinful and When Is It Morally Neutral?

There are many experiences of what we would call an anxious mood which are clearly not sinful:

 

  • Suspense over a good book, movie, or close ball game.
  • Anticipating a significant event (e.g., the birth of child).
  • The forethought of unpleasant circumstances that allows for wise planning.
  • The drive of an athlete who channels the possibility of failure into practice.

 

Read Philippians 4:4 and Matthew 5:4. Based upon the non-contradictory nature of Scripture, we must remind ourselves that the command of Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” does not negate the decree of Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” God does not require that his children perpetually live at the positive end of the emotional spectrum. The command of Philippians 4:4 should be understood in two senses.

 

1. A warning against allowing unpleasant experiences to rob our capacity for joy. When fear, despair, bitterness, or other unpleasant emotion removes our capacity for joy, we are in spiritual danger. God’s commands are an expression of his concern, not a theistic power trip. When we trust his purpose in giving a command, it gives us freedom from the fear of punishment and, thereby, allows us engage the process of change with an attitude of appreciation instead of compulsion.

 

2. An expression of concern like that of a parent who says to their children in the imperative verb tense, “Drive safe.” This is technically a command, but primarily an expression of love. The parent is saying, “You are precious to me so please be safe.” Similarly, God is saying, “If you have lost the capacity for joy, then something is wrong which concerns me and I do not want you to ignore it by simply thinking the problem will fix itself eventually.”

 

Beyond saying not all anxiety is sin, we can go so far as to say that some experiences of anxiety-depression are actually good. The capacity for a down mood and the ability to anticipate the future are not simply byproducts of the Fall. These emotions can warn of danger (good), motivate us to change (good), be used to consoled ourselves or others (good), or distract us from God (bad).

 

So now, let’s engage the question directly, “When does anxiety-depression become sinful?” Something becomes sinful when it offends God or violates his design. Therefore, the stronger you answer “yes” to these kinds of questions, the more likely your anxious experience is revealing sin:

 

  • Does your anxiety come from or cause doubting of God’s goodness?
  • Does your anxiety come from or cause trying to control things that are God’s to determine?
  • Is your anxiety rooted in other sins such as bitterness, greed, jealousy, or discontentment?
  • Is your anxiety rooted in a sense of entitlement or comparing yourself to others?
  • Is your anxiety the result of shame about or a fear of being “found out” for another sin?

 

It is important to distinguish anxiety that is caused by sin from anxiety that results in sin. In the former (questions above), we repent of the emotions themselves, or least what they reveal about us. In the latter (questions below), we repent of how we’ve allowed these emotions to manifest themselves in our life:

 

  • Does your anxiety result in sins of omission?
  • Does your anxiety result in a sense of helplessness and passivity towards life?
  • Does your anxiety result in destructive habits as a form of escape or self-medication?
  • Does your anxiety result in self-centeredness where it is hard to consider others?
  • Does your anxiety result in pride (e.g., a sense that you’re the exception to what would be helpful)?

 

Read the entire post here.