Dear Friends, Anxiety is Not a Sin

I’ve been wrestling with this for a long time, but I think it’s time to share it. 

Anxiety is not a sin. 

My friends, if you are a Christian, and you have anxiety, breathe in the spirit-filled life of these words: 

Anxiety is not a sin.

There are people in my life who I love and respect who will tell me I’m wrong. But I don’t care. I am coming to believe that whenever there are multiple interpretations of something in the Bible, the one that brings the most life and freedom is probably the closest to being true. Jesus always brings life and freedom. He doesn’t bring more burden.

If you’re like me, and you have anxiety, and you’re told anxiety is a sin, what happens? Now you have anxiety about your anxiety and your supposed sin. Good grief.

People believe anxiety is a sin because of all the times God says “Do not be afraid” in the Bible. Therefore, if we’re afraid, we must be disobeying Him. 

I believe when God says, “Do not be afraid,” it’s not a command, it’s an invitation and an offer of comfort. 

When one of my children cries out to me that he is scared of a thunderstorm, do you know what I don’t do? I don’t command him to stop being afraid.

I don’t say, “Stop being afraid right now! Why don’t you trust me?! I’m your mother, and I love you! I’m bigger than you, and I know things you don’t know! You are safe! How dare you believe that I would leave you in this room if it was dangerous!”

I might take him in my lap and say, “You don’t have to be afraid. I love you, and I’m here with you. Thunder is just a big noise that can’t hurt you. You are safe.” And I’m going to hold him, so he knows he’s safe and learns to trust me.

One of the ways Jesus describes God is as our perfect heavenly Father. Jesus reminds us in Luke 11:13 that whatever good things we do for our children, God does even more for us. 

I don’t think God is saying, “I command you not to be afraid. I demand you trust me!” 
I think He’s saying, “You don’t have to be afraid. You can trust me.”

Biology and Theology

I’m reading an amazing book right now called On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety by Andrea Petersen (which I’ll do a book review on when I finish) that talks extensively about the biology of anxiety. 

I am learning so much about the biological causes of anxiety and the neuroscience of how anxiety works in our brains. Those of us who have anxiety disorders have brains that work differently. It is caused by multiple factors including genetics, and it’s possible for researchers to predict from infancy whether a person is more or less likely to develop an anxiety disorder if they experience other contributing factors. I hope I’m explaining that correctly. I do not want to go into more detail about the biology here because I’m still learning. But if you are interested in it, I highly recommend Petersen’s book. She masterfully weaves the science in with her story.

God created our ability to feel fear in order to keep us safe. When we’re out in the woods and see a bear, our fight, flight, or freeze response kicks in, so we can protect ourselves. Fear is no more a sin than anger is. It’s a God created feeling that exists for a purpose. It’s an indicator of a problem. In those of us with anxiety disorders, our indicators are working in overdrive. They often perceive things to be threats that are not threats, and once they alert they don’t turn off.

Anxiety is a mental illness because something is not working right in our brains. It is no more of a sin than something not working right with your eyes. 

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’
— John 9:1-3

In the ancient world, people did not understand science and believed many illnesses to be the result of sin. But Jesus sets them straight.

And now we’ve advanced as a society to understand some of how the brain works. It’s time to move past the destructive idea that anxiety is a sin, or is a punishment for sin.

Jesus was Anxious.

Jesus was fully God and fully man at the same time. He felt all of the feelings we experience. He also was without sin. Therefore, a feeling cannot be a sin. 

Jesus was so anxious in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was to be crucified that he sweat blood. 

“He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44, NLT).

This is an actual medical condition called Hematohidrosis. “Fear and intense mental contemplation are the most frequent causes.” 

Jesus was anxious and fully trusted God at the same time.

If it’s a sin to be anxious, that means Jesus sinned, which would mean He’s not our sinless Savior, and we would have to throw the whole thing out the window.

If you are anxious, Jesus understands. And He’s not yelling at you to stop being afraid and start trusting Him. He’s holding out His arms to you to comfort you, and teach you to trust Him. He has also given us grace in the form of many available treatments for very real biological anxiety disorders. It’s not a sin, or a lack of faith, to use them either.