“Be anxious for some things.” Oops! Did I misquote that verse? A lot of people struggle greatly with the reality of that statement. It’s a rather stark command considering our culture and the “Christian” psychology’s influence on biblical counseling. Yes. I am drawing a hard distinction between the two, which will probably end up being another blog post given the natural interest in the subject and considering Rick Warren’s recent proclamation that he’d be working with the Roman Catholic Church to address the widespread problem of “mental illnesses.” That is something I want to address thoroughly, at a near future date. But I digress…
Anyway… “Be anxious for nothing,” says Philippians 4:6, and as I was saying, it can be a rather hard command to swallow. Actually, make that an imperative command in the Greek language. This is a prime example of when biblical counseling conflicts with psychology, which calls anxiety a “disorder” or “illness.” How can Paul possibly command me to stop doing something I can’t help? How can he possibly tell me to take control over something I have no control over?
We have two options.
We claim Paul’s ignorance about modern “medical” advances, and apply a contextualizing eisogetical hermeneutic, and interpret (or reinterpret) the text based on what our modern society has discovered (by the way, pro-homosexual “Christians” make the same argument regarding the New Testament’s commands against homosexuality). However, given my confidence in what Scripture teaches on the subjects of inerrancy, infallibility, and inspiration, I have a really hard time effectually saying, “Paul just didn’t know what he was talking about,” or even, “Paul is making an overgeneralized command.” Oh yeah… make that an imperative command. 🙂
Our second option is preferred. We can claim our ignorance about the nature of anxiety, in spite of modern technological advances, and depend on the authority of God’s Word, and His supreme knowledge of all things as he inspired Paul to write these words. Only two words, actually, in Greek. In short, we can depend on the sufficiency of Scripture, or place our confidence in psychology. By the way, “psychology” refers to “the study of the soul/spirit.” Given the nature of the subject then, I’ll place my confidence in God rather than men.
So, how do we think biblically about anxiety then?
First, we need to eliminate worldly influence and indoctrinization on the subject. Anxiety, as we know, is a synonym for fear or worry in Scripture. That being said, the Greek word for “anxiety” can also be translated as “concern.” Paul actually uses it this way a few times (cf. 1 Cor. 7:2, 34; Phil. 2:20), but the reality that the translators opted for the word “concern” over “anxiety” in those cases actually proves my point. The word μεριμναω is a broader term than our more specific usages of “anxiety” or “concern.” Context determines which translation is appropriate, which shows that the translators understand that “anxiety” is always used negatively, whereas “concern” can be positive or negative, depending on the object of the concern.
Of course, there is a healthy fear of God described in Scripture as well. Psalm 112 uses it this way, and it’s really interesting, that verse 1 begins, “How blessed is the man that fears the LORD!” and then the rest of the passage is used to describe the man that fears the LORD.
Vs 6 – He will never be shaken.
Vs. 7 – He will not fear… His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord
Vs. 8 – His heart is upheld, he will not fear.
So, it’s safe to say, that the one who fears God, doesn’t fear, because his trust and dependency is on the ONE whom he fears. Thus, Jay Adams states, “The fear of God is the one fear that removes all others.”1 Why? What kind of fear of God are we talking about here?
That’s an important question to ask because there can be a negative kind of fear of God as well. This is the kind of fear seen in the Garden after the Fall, the first time the word “fear” occurs in the Bible (Gen. 3:8-10). That kind of fear is a fear of God’s judgment, and when this kind of “fear of God” exists, the cause for the fear must be sought out. It’s a fear rooted in unbelief, stimulated by sin that disrupts his or her relationship with God.2
But when we speak of “fearing God” in a biblical way, we’re talking about a fear of God that’s stimulated out of a love for Him and who He is. Only this kind of fear can produce the one who is fearless that Psalm 112 talks about, since the one who has a loving fear of God rejoices in His sovereign security and protection. Love produces fearlessness and eliminates anxiety.
For example, I might have an unbiblical fear of (for example) bears, they make me anxious because of what they could potentially do to me (this is different that having a healthy “respect” or for bears). I see their tracks, and I begin sweating, my pulse increases, and I begin to feel my stomach churn. That being said, if a bear attacks my wife or my son, whom I love dearly, my love triumphs my fear of the bear, and I will seek to protect them with my life. I no longer fear the bear. I stopped fearing the bear, because of my focus is on my love for my wife and son. My thoughts are consumed with love, so there is no room for fear.
Likewise, when our love for God consumes us, we can fulfill Paul’s command completely. We have no fear, and no anxiety. 1 John 4:18 says exactly that:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
So, how do you stop fear or anxiety? How do you cure anxiety? Medications? Self-help counsel? Self-esteem seminars? Let me ask this… Can someone who does not have a love for God, or someone who doesn’t have a biblical concept of love, possibly help someone overcome their anxieties and fears?
No they can’t. At best, they can make you stop feeling fear or anxiety. Unfortunately, not only is that the wrong solution, but it’s a condemning one. If someone battles anxiety, the last thing I want to do is simply make them stop feeling anxiety. Note what John says again in the verse above… “fear involves punishment.” In other words, fear (with the exception of the kind of fear described above) is sin, and fear is a consequence of sin. Fear even makes even makes us aware of sin. It’s a natural consequence of our God-given conscience. Because of that, it makes sense that all the world would want to do is eliminate our ability to feel our conscience, manifested in this context as fear or anxiety. They seek to sear their conscience so they can continue living an ungodly lifestyle without interruption (1 Tim. 4:2) and becoming callous (Eph. 4:18-19).
Certainly the world would never counsel someone who battles fear or anxiety to love God more in order to overcome it. Quite the opposite in fact, yet this is the only real solution to overcoming a lifelong battle with anxiety.
Well… as it looks, I’m going to have to extend this into a 3 Part series. I spent the majority of this post on “how” to eliminate anxiety. I’d like to further develop “why,” and chiefly, why anxiety is a sin of such significant offense to God.
- Jay Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual (Grand Rapids: Baker House Publishing, 1973), 414. ↩
- This kind of “unbelief” might be positional unbelief, that is, the unbelief of someone who is an unbeliever. This person certainly has cause for fear of God’s judgment, but “unbelief” might also be temporary unbelief in a believer’s assurance and security of salvation. Both cases require repentance. ↩