Anna is a pastor, writer, and theologian who obtained her BA in religion in '06, Diploma of Ministry in '16, and Diploma of Divinity in '17.
We’ve all been there; you’ve lived frugally the last few weeks, yet you still find yourself with more month at the end of your money, or your wife or mother found a suspicious lump on her breast. Perhaps your nephew is struggling with an addiction to prescription pain killers. Or maybe they’ve made changes to your job and now your position is threatened. You turn to your friends, family, or pastor for advice and they tell you “Don’t worry, God has this.” And indeed, a God powerful enough to knit you together in the womb is powerful enough to handle any problem you’re currently struggling against. You know that the advice is solid, but now you feel worse. On top of all your other problems, now you have to worry about whether or not you’re sinning by worrying.
Does worry mean that you lack faith?
If you’re looking through the Bible for all the passages that state unequivocally that it’s a sin to worry, you can stop looking. The Bible never explicitly states that worry is a sin. It’s not listed in the Ten Commandments, you won’t find it in the Sermon on the Mount, it hasn’t been passed down for generations from the time of Noah until now. Of course, its absence doesn’t give one a free pass either. The Bible doesn’t say that smoking is unhealthy, but we all know that it’s been linked to lung cancer, emphysema, heart attacks, and a whole host of other problems. So while the Bible doesn’t specifically condemn all who find themselves anxious about what the future may hold, if we look at the Bible, it’s pretty clear that worry can distract us from our walk with Jesus. Through study, we can find many passages that tell us to place our trust in God.
It can be inferred that those who give into the temptation to worry aren’t placing their trust in Jesus as much as they should. It may be implied that one who worries is even placing themselves above God, as if they’re saying that they alone can solve all their problems. It can even be argued that by being fretful, one is calling God a liar, or at the very least, failing to believe that He’ll live up to His promise to care for us. Worry can lead us away from the path we need to be on. Worse still, it can cause us to panic and make bad decisions such as taking out title loans or following a cancer “cure” on the internet instead of listening to our doctor.
The physical effects of stress
Perhaps just as bad, is the physical toll that anxiety and stress can take on our bodies. I wasn’t exaggerating by too much when, in the second paragraph, I compared worrying to smoking. When we worry we are triggering a hormonal response which in turn results in changes to our physiology; we experience an increase in our blood pressure and heart rate, we weaken our immune system, which increases the likelihood of contracting diseases. And chronic stress can actually change our blood chemistry, putting us at risk for diabetes. Excessive worry can even effect fertility and digestion.
It’s not just our body that reacts negatively to stress, it can also effect our brains. Anxiety can cause an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone, and chronic stress can even change the way your brain functions. Worse still, it can effect the structure of your brain and even your DNA. Researchers have found that the descendants of holocaust survivors have lower cortisol levels, leaving them more predisposed to anxiety disorders. These descendants are now at an increased risk for diabetes and hypertension, among the other stress related ailments mentioned above.
Stress can create an excess of free radicals, which can then attack the walls of the brain cells causing them to die. Ordinarily, this isn’t as scary as it sounds, sure we’re losing brain cells, but we create more of those everyday. No need to panic at the damage our anxiety is causing…or is there? Unfortunately, while our stress is destroying existing brain cells, cortisol can also prevent the formation of new brain cells. And in the hippocampus, the region of the brain that regulates learning, memory, and emotions, it can kill existing neurons and prevent new neurons from forming. Sadly, stress may also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
We need not fear
Worry can interfere with our spiritual walk with God, and it can have a damaging effect on our physical and mental health. So is now the time to worry about worry? When Jesus instructed us to trust in Him, it was not with the intent to add another arbitrary rule to the book, nor was it with an excuse judge us or to be cruel. Jesus understood that upsetting things in life will happen. He wasn’t trying to condemn us by telling us to trust in Him, it was to reassure us. He’s got everything under control. The weight of the world rests on His shoulders, there’s no need for us to try to carry the load. Our fate is in the hands of a loving God. Everything will be alright in the end.
He doesn’t want us to worry about what we will eat, drink, or wear; He feeds the birds in the air and clothes the lilies in the field, surely He can care for us too. Tomorrow will worry about tomorrow, we need to focus on the bigger picture; the kingdom of God and His righteousness. (Matthew 6) The indefatigable Creator of the ends of the earth is in control of everything. He understands more than we can fathom, and while life beats us down here on earth, if we trust in Him, He will renew our strength. (Isaiah 40) We need not fear, for He is with us; He will strengthen and help us, and uphold us with His Righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41) Because of the enduring love of God, we can rest. He will be with us always, even unto the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
Do not focus on whether or not worry is a sin. Focus on the love of an everlasting Creator, He’s bigger than all of our problems. And for those struggling with anxiety disorders, depression, or other mental health issues; God has not forgotten you. He understands what you’re dealing with and He suffers with you. Follow the treatment plan laid out by your doctor, and the advice of your therapist or other qualified professional, and trust in God to handle the rest. An all powerful God loves us, what do we have to fear?
© 2017 Anna Watson