If I could articulate one truth about life as a follower of Christ, it’s this: we live many areas of our lives in a state of cognitive dissonance between what we know to be true, and what we experience. Our emotional response to an event is frequently incongruous with our theological understanding on the same event. In other words, we know that God will take care of us, and can look back to see how He always has, and yet we’re in this tension of “will He this time?” when confronted with an event.
There’s a lot of writing out there examining the question of whether or not anxiety is a sin. Various writers fall on both sides. Many writers who fall on the side of it being a sin, I think, are in a mindset that treats psychology and mental health as being somehow inherently invalid, that every problem is a spiritual problem. So before I go further, let’s dig into that statement for a moment. First, every problem is, in fact, a spiritual problem. We know a great deal more today about both physical and mental well-being than we did even a decade ago. Theologically, I’m a trichotomist. That is, I believe that the body, soul, and spirit are three separate and distinct aspects of humanity’s existence. Each person has each aspect. I find it obvious that each of these aspects inform each other, and impact each other. Spiritual health, mental health, and physical health inform each other. It is difficult to maintain mental health without spiritual health, or physical health without mental health, for example. Accepting that, then every problem becomes a spiritual problem, because our spiritual state impacts every problem that we confront. Human beings are amazingly complex, and we are not living in the condition in which we were designed to live.
I think you see where I’m going with this.
There’s a lot exegesis of the the Greek involved to decide whether or not you believe that anxiety is a sin…that is, if it’s wrong, and thus subject to a need for forgiveness. I am not convinced that it is, but even if you are, you’ve experienced anxiety. Given a frightening enough scenario…imagine being confronted with the potential of a catastrophic loss of income, or with a war, or an assault…the human condition is such that it will experience anxiety, especially when secondary to trauma. And while there are many definitions of trauma, perhaps, I would argue that we all experience a trauma at some point. I heard a mental health professional say once that, if trauma were effectively handled when it occurred, that the DSM would be a pamphlet. I think that speaks to how critical it is that we accept this as part of the human condition, to not avoid it, but to confront it.
I recently went through an incredibly stressful period with life events. So many of what I understood to be stable aspects of my life were suddenly thrown into question. I’ve experienced a lot of anxiety over the past few weeks, as would, I think, anyone in a similar position. Through that experience, I’ve learned many hard lessons, grown as a person and as a Believer, and found a great deal of peace.
The first step in living with the cognitive dissonance that I mentioned is to recognize that it exists, and to not deny it. The Christian faith is full of hope, but, as always, we have to approach that hope from the starting point that it is needed, which is rather difficult to do if we deny a problem to begin with. So I guess my point here is, don’t run from it. Don’t theologize yourself into thinking that you shouldn’t be experiencing anxiety about a situation, that it should somehow make you question your faith. That way leads to legalism, and, if anxiety is what you’re experiencing, then it is freedom that you need.
And I pray that you find it.