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What the Bible Says About the Fight or Flight Defense Mechanism

Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.

Fight or Flight

Fight or Flight

I was first introduced to the seven defense mechanisms while I was taking a personal and social adjustment (PSA) course during my freshman year in college. I was amazed to learn there was a psychological name to describe some of the things I had been encountering all my young life.

Now that I am much older, I still think of those defense mechanisms that keep a person from harm, hurt, and danger. The one that is mostly on my mind is the fight or flight defense mechanism.

Throughout the years, I have asked myself two questions:

  1. Do I use the fight or flight defense mechanism to protect myself from my enemies?
  2. What does the Bible say about fight or flight?


To Fight or Not to Fight?

The fight or flight defense mechanism is designed to help people make the decision to fight or to flee from people and situations that set out to harm them. Everyone is born with an animal instinct to fight or flee when threatened. Without having time to ponder the choices, people instinctively take either the position of fight or flight.

During a fight or flight situation, a person experiences physical and mental changes to help him make a realistic decision. There are noticeable changes in a person whether he chooses fight or flight.

  • The heart beats faster to bring oxygen to your major muscles.
  • Breathing speeds up to deliver more oxygen to your blood.
  • Peripheral vision increases so you can notice your surroundings. Pupils dilate to let in more light which helps you see better.
  • Your hearing is heightened.
  • The blood thickens, which increases clotting factors in case your body is injured.
  • Your skin usually gets sweat or cold. It might get pale or goosebumps suddenly appear.
  • Hands and feet might get cold.
  • Pain perception is temporarily reduced.

It might take 20-30 minutes for your body to return to normal.

When you are encountering a fight or flight situation, should you fight or should you flee? The world says to fight back with fists, guns, and other weapons. However, here are reasons you should not fight back with weapons.

God says He will fight our battles for us. Therefore, we do not need to fight to protect ourselves from enemies.

“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. 'But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17-21).

Another biblical illustration involves King Saul who was jealous of David. Therefore, he chased David. Once when Saul was tired after chasing David, he fell asleep in a cave. David could have harmed him, but he didn't. He only cut off a piece of Saul's robe to prove he was that close to Saul without fighting him.

"Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul's robe. Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe" (1 Samuel 24:5-6).

Another example is in the gospels. When Jesus was tempted by Satan, He used the best and most effective weapon that we can also use. Jesus used the word of God to fight Satan, and Satan left Him alone. We win every time we use God's words as our weapon of choice.



To Take Flight or Not to Take Flight?

When it came to either fighting or taking flight, Elijah didn't hesitate. He took flight. We see in 1 Kings Chapters 16 through 18 that the prophet had to make the fight or flight choice when he was threatened by King Ahab and his evil wife, Jezebel. They set out to harm Elijah because he told them to stop worshipping Baal and turn to God. For his own safety, Elijah ran and hid in nearby caves.

When God goes to Elijah, He corrects him that he is not the only prophet alive. In fact, there were 7,000 other faithful followers who hadn’t bowed down to Baal. God told Elijah to get over his fear and come out of hiding. In that particular case, fleeing was not the best option. God assures Elijah that the threat and danger to his life were real. However, His promise of protection was indeed more powerful.

When Not to Fight Nor Take Flight

Paul doesn't tell us to fight. The apostle doesn't tell us to take flight. The writer of 13 of the New Testament books gives us another option.

"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand and having done all to stand." (Ephesians 6:13)

When Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians, he was under house arrest for preaching the gospel of the saving power of Jesus Christ. Yet, he was able to encourage others about what to do when the enemy comes against them like a flood. He advised them to put on the full armor of God. That way, they neither had to fight nor take flight.

In other words, there is a third choice: fight, flight, or freeze.

What is Freezing?

Since my college days, a third option has been added to the defense mechanisms. It is called "freezing" that goes along with the other f's.

Freezing can be described as fight or flight on hold or delayed. Freezing gives a person a chance to prepare to protect himself. One has time to prepare a course of action.


Your Choice?

So, what are you going to do when you are faced with real threats?

  • Are you going to fight?
  • Are you going to take flight?
  • Are you going to freeze?
  • Are you going to put on the whole armor of God and stand your ground?

For More Information

Fight, Flight, Freeze: What This Response Means

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