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The Bible's 'Do Not Be Afraid' Means Something Different When You Have Anxiety

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The phrase “do not be afraid” is mentioned roughly 365 times in the Bible. Countless pastors, authors, and speakers have put that number in their arsenal of quick-witted Christian responses, pulling it out in conversations like a cheap party trick.

“Don’t worry. Just pray.”

This Bob Marley approach to the issue is sadly in line with the Church’s historical approach to most issues of controversy and confusion. Since the first bite of the forbidden fruit, we’ve often used scripture as a rug, sweeping under it anything and everything we can’t explain, using God’s name in vain, treating it as a manifest destiny barrier between us and the uncomfortable.

But that phrase means something very different when you have anxiety. It’s like a declaration of your ineptitude, a pointed finger of shame at your ungodly existence.

I don’t believe God meant it that way, but that’s the twisted interpretation I’ve experienced with the Church. That’s the knock-off gospel I believe they’ve sold us, the one I’ve payed for with my dignity and peace of mind. But it’s not the one Christ payed for with His own life. It’s not the one God wrote with His own holy hands. And it’s certainly not the one He intends us to live by or believe.

The truth is it’s OK to worry.

It’s OK to be afraid, just like it’s OK to be angry, or sad, or hurt, or happy. I believe my emotions are God-given expressions of who I am and who He made me to be. Feeling things, both good and bad, is healthy. The problem only comes in how I act on those feelings.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he writes, “in your anger do not sin,” (4:26). He doesn’t say, “Don’t be angry.” He says, “Don’t let your anger cause you to sin.” Anger isn’t wrong.

In the same way, worry isn’t wrong.

It isn’t when I take a sharp breath in angst that I sin. It isn’t when I lie awake at night in fear of the future that I do wrong. It’s when I let that angst and fear come between me and God, when I let my fear consume me to the point that I don’t trust God anymore.

The problem isn’t in having fear, the problem is in not having faith.

I’m not saying it’s always easy to distinguish the line between the two, but I am saying there’s a difference, an important difference, that we as the Church need to recognize and reiterate.

So dear one, you fear fighter, you anxiety abolisher, you worry wrestler: take heart. For I don’t believe God has condemned us for the war waged inside our minds but rather desperately wants to fight it for us.

I don’t have to stop being scared; I just have to start being still.

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Thinkstock photo by arada photography

Originally published: March 25, 2017
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