Monday, March 05, 2007

Is Worry Wrong?

Fear. Anxiety. Worry.

Common enough topic for a "self-help" blog: How to overcome worry. But it is the assumption behind the issue that I want to address: "Is worry wrong?"

I think we can agree that worry isn't healthy for us. High and continuous levels of stress and anxiety can play a number on our immune system, cardiovascular system, and even change our brain chemistry. (And no, I don't have the studies cited but you can probably google them. Besides, I'm aware from personal experience that anxiety can't be good for me - too much worry makes my tummy upset!)

But is it sin?

The biblical answer is that a lack of faith or trust in God's goodness on the one hand or his ability to provide for our needs on the other is indeed sin. And since worry, or so it is often preached from the pulpit, means we are fretting over some issue we can not control, we are by definition not relying on God's grace and providence.

I do not necessarily disagree with this traditional explanation. However, here are some thoughts to chew on. Although a specific incidence of worry may indeed be a sin (and truly indicate a forsaking of trusting in God), I would state it the other way. It is the lack of belief and trust in God which is sin, and often that can express itself in worry and anxiety.

See the different starting point? While the "preacher from the pulpit" and I agree that not believing God's word to us about himself is missing the mark when it comes to Christian living, I am not so quick to condemn the expression of worry out of hand.

And not just because I'm trying to make excuses for myself. Here's why.

Worry should probably be likened to temptation - it is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong in and of itself. It just is. An anxious thought is an emotional signal that is giving us some information that needs to be brought into the light and looked at and decided upon.

Like anger. The Apostle Paul instructs us that in our anger we are not to sin (see Ephesians 4.26). He didn't say anger is sin. It could be. It could lead to sin. But the emotion itself is a signal that something is disturbing us. It's what we do with that emotion that makes the difference.

Back to worry. The question then is how we will respond to this signal. Will we turn to God in prayer (Paul's prescription in Philippians 4.6) or will we go it alone? You can probably guess which path God wants us to follow.

Now another issue is that, because of the change in our brain chemistry that extended anxiety can cause, a predisposition to worry may be more of a biological issue than we realize. This is not to make excuses. It is to put the solution in context. As with an alcoholic who might have a predisposition for drink, the consummate worrier must seek help from without (possibly medication, join a support group, and more) as well as from within (prayer, scripture memorization, and more).

This is not doubting that God can heal one's condition (whether it be drug dependence, fear, worry, et al). It is acting on the decision to place one's trust in God by seeking to grow into Christ's likeness. If we know we struggle with worry and that an expression of the fruit of the Spirit is peace, then we have a decision to make. Are we going to persist in fear and give in to our anxieties or are we going to do everything we can to "flunk out of the school of worry" and live the life of abundance that God has in store for us?

I want to choose the latter. That is an act of faith. And when we present our requests to God in such a manner, we have this promise that "the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus." (See Phil 4.7)


Anonymous said...

This is the only reasonable post on worry from a Christian perspective that I have been able to find on the internet.

Anonymous said...

good blog, really enjoyed reading it. very practical and insightful. i just wanted to make a quick comment.
i'm a little hesitant to say that all temptation is morally neutral. since the temptation to steal,kill, lie are probably inherently evil. while anger isn't really a temptation rather an emotion. i would think that worry is probably in that category of emotion. hence, your comparison of worry with anger would be accurate. thanks again for your insights.

Anonymous said...

really glad I found your blog. The blanket statement that all 'worry is sin' does not seem quite correct. I like the comparison you have draw between anger and worry - being emotions that just signal us that there is something not right, or something that needs some attention. Too many times I hear comments like 'worry is sin' thrown about without any real thought. Comments like these can just cause more guilt and consequently more worry. Obviously, stewing on these emotions is sinful. However, I find that if I acknowledge the emotion, then take it to God, He will either prompt me to leave it with Him or ask me to act on it. If I just deny worry or anger I don't have the opportunity to be prompted to do something about it.