There has been quite the kerfuffle in the last week on Twitter — as if there isn’t one always. This debate was over anxiety: is it a sin or not? I don’t usually partake in debates online because, far more often than not, they prove unfruitful. With that said, in this particular circumstance I decided to engage because I knew I would be discussing it with a like-minded believer.
But then others chime in. And they assume your motives, put words in your mouth, and everything in between. But the issue at hand still remains: is anxiety a sin?
Awhile back I wrote an article about how not only is clinical anxiety real and not sinful, but is directly linked with the doctrine of total depravity. That’s not what I’m writing about here. In this post, I am referring to the anxiety of Matthew 6:25 and other passages of Scripture.
We are told clearly in several passages that we are not to be anxious. Here are four:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
“Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25)
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34)
One of the arguments I encountered advocated for a different perspective on these verses, specially Matthew 6:25. Usually, when Jesus tells us not to do something, it’s a command and, therefore, means we are sinning if we don’t obey it. (That is the stance I take as you will see.) However, the other argument was saying Jesus wasn’t showing a condemning tone, per se, but more of a gentle reassurance. He doesn’t want us to be anxious because, well, it’s not the best for us.
Here’s the thing: I don’t believe that’s necessarily wrong—I just think it’s missing half the point.
Though, yes, anxiety is a mere emotion which reveals the more heinous sin of not trusting the Lord, it is still a sin. Think of anger. Anger is a mere emotion, but most of the time we sin in our anger (though it’s possible to have righteous indignation). The same is true with anxiety. Anxiety, most of the time, is sin because it reveals distrust in God.
However, if I’m anxious about severe weather, for example, that’s not necessarily sinful. It just depends on how much I let the anxiety overtake me.
Joe Carter gives his thoughts:
If confronted with an immediate threat to our life—such as encountering a wild, dangerous animal—we should be respectfully fearful enough to flee for our own safety and survival. An immediate feeling of anxiety or fear may trigger a natural, God-given emotional response for survival. That sort of anxiety is rarely what we’d consider sinful.
Being anxious about ominous weather—or in Carter’s example, an encounter with a wild animal—usually causes us to do something for survival (e.g. take shelter). That’s a natural, God-given response to danger. Even still, our anxiety can mutate into sin when, ultimately, we are not trusting the Lord even amid our circumstances.
At the end of the day, anxiety—as most of us speak about it—is sin. “Worry or anxiety is a sin,” John Piper said in an Ask Pastor John episode. “God wants us to trust his sovereign, all-wise, all-good, all-providing, all-protecting, ever-assisting care. This is a trust issue.” This type of anxiety, what we can call “worry anxiety,” is a sin because it’s ultimately an issue of trust.
So is anxiety a sin? Yes, in most cases; for in most cases we’re anxious to the point of doubting or not trusting in God—in his character, his plan, his care, etc. But we don’t want to stop there. There’s a reason Jesus tells us not to be anxious—because God is our Father! If he cares for the trees, animals, birds—why wouldn’t he also care for his blood-bought children? We have no reason to be anxious, to worry, to fret. If we have God, we have all we need.