As the days go by, more and more businesses and organisations are reaching out to let you know what they are doing to keep you safe during this time, there have also been many social media posts from Christians and Christian leadership aimed at trying to encourage you to stay in belief – but what if even with all the well-meaning words, memes and scriptures you’re struggling with anxiety, fear and worry, does that make you a “bad Christian”?
One of the beliefs that perpetuate this is the notion that fear is a sin, maybe you’ve heard this in one way or another but the problem with this message especially during a time when there is real risk and danger is that it does more harm than good. Such messaging often becomes dangerous to people who take the approach that all fear or worry is bad and on the side of those who spread this message (which automatically comes with its own dose of fear and anxiety), it’s highly irresponsible and I would go as far as to say unChrist-like.
I personally do not buy into the belief that fear is a sin, fear is an emotion that God created us with the capacity to experience for a reason. Its purpose is to ultimately alert us and protect us from threat, danger and harm. Most of the time when we talk about feelings and emotions, especially the ones we perceive as negative, we are likely to combine 3 distinct aspects of having an emotional experience into one, but there are 3 distinct parts and it’s important to know them to help you deal with any anxiety or fear you may be feeling at this time.
Stage 1 – The Physical Experience
This is the automatic physiological response that is caused by something that has happened within our environment. We have an emotional part of our brain which works with rest of the body to release biochemicals that create physical changes such as flushed skin, increased heart rate, tense muscles or relaxed posture, depending on the emotion experienced. There is not much we can do about this stage of emotion as it is reflexive.
Stage 2 – The Felt Experience
Whilst Stage 1 mostly happens outside of our awareness, once we become aware of an emotion that is when it becomes a feeling. We know that we are feeling afraid or anxious and may be able to even point to where it “lives” within our body. People struggle at this stage for different reasons especially with feelings of anxiety because the feeling can be so unpleasant, some people are more prone to anxiety biologically or maybe more in tune with their felt sense, whilst others may experience emotion but struggle to connect with it. Both can be trying and can impact on the next stage.
Stage 3 – The Lived Experience
Stage 3 is the outpouring or manifestation of the felt sense, it is how we live out the emotion of anger, anxiety or happiness. This consists of our thoughts, our choices and behaviours which can create a negative loop that can feed the beast or help us live in paradise. Even so, it is at this stage that we have the most choice and control but many times our approach to taking back control can be counterproductive.
You can experience emotion without it being a sin, Ephesians 4:26 clearly states: “be angry, yet do not sin”.You can experience emotion without it being a sin, Ephesians 4:26 clearly states: "be angry, yet do not sin". Click To Tweet
The reason why fear is often seen as sinful is probably because of the number of times God speaks about it, but whilst God speaks about fear and the effects of fear, He never once says that feeling fear is a sin. If you are feeling fear, especially in this current climate, it doesn’t mean that you do not have faith, it means that a part of you recognises that there is the potential of danger within your midst.
So how do you reconcile this with what God says about fear?
The reason why I broke the stages of emotion down is to illustrate a pattern that occurs in the Bible. There is a difference between experiencing fear and giving in to it, when we experience fear it is a messaging system that is designed to get our attention and prepare us for action, when we give in to it we have moved into Stage 3 and can easily allow ourselves to be overtaken by a Spirit of Fear.
I feel that the major reason why God speaks so much about fear is that He is aware of our human propensity to fall headfirst into it when we feel threatened. Fear can cause us to start reacting instead of acting, it can take us out of control and cause us to make choices and behave in ways that lead us deeper into worry, fear and anxiety. For example, in Genesis 3:10 Adam said: “I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” Likewise, the story of the servant who hid his talent reveals a similar thread, “so, in my fear, I went and hid your talent in the ground” (Matthew 25:25 BSB).
Fear can cause us to take certain actions when we become overwhelmed by it and start to live from within the fear. If I go back to the scripture on anger and sin again, I like the way that the New Living Translation says it: “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”
The real sin occurs when we give control over to something else and make it so big that we can no longer act in ways that are pleasing and honouring to God. That is why God often speaks of courage in juxtaposition to fear.
Using Courage to Deal with Fear
The words of Joshua 1:9: “Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed” are echoed in Deuteronomy 31:6 and Matthew 14:27 also. The funny thing about courage is that it can and often does exist in the presence of fear but the focus stops becoming the feeling and is more about the pro-active action that you take to enable you to master the situation.
Like most Hebrew words, the words for fear and courage are very visual, fear means to tremble whilst courage means to be strong and firm. Likewise, 2 Timonty 1:7 equates the spirit of fear to timidity and trembling, and holds this in contrast to having power, love and self-control. But what might that look like on a practical level? How do you stop the shaking and trembling, how do you firm and strengthen yourself up?
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.2 Timothy 1:7
God has given us a Spirit of Power
Power is about dynamic movement and taking action, which can often be abandoned for feelings of helplessness and powerlessness in the face of fear. This scripture reminds us that we can take positive, meaningful and courageous action during times of threat. In the UK, there have been many people that have been waiting for the government to tell them what to do and then complained that it’s not effective enough but there are actions that we as individuals can take, sometimes these actions will call for courage especially if and when you know that something is wrong or dangerous. You might be surprised at how effective taking back control in certain areas of your life alleviates the heaviness of anxiety or fear.
God has given us a Spirit of Love
Fear is not the opposite of faith, it is the opposite of love. When we operate from within fear we cannot operate from a place of love – the mass panic and stockpiling of products is an example of this. A Fear mentality is really an “I think of me and mine alone” mentality, which creates more waves of fear, anxiety and panic. This is a time when we are called to operate from within 3 spheres of love: love for God, love for ourselves and love for the world. An inbalance or disorder in the way you love can easily add to your anxiety load. Think about how the way you love is showing up in your thoughts, decisions and behaviours at the moment or is this overridden by fear? Think about the order and balance of the way you love, love God, love yourself then love your neighbour in that order. If you are putting yourself at risk then you’ll feel more anxiety, if you are treating others as you would not want to feel treated, it’ll come back upon you.
God has given us a Spirit of Sound Mind
Sound mind also translated as self-discipline or self-control is crucial to having and maintaining your peace and equilibrium. It is all about our ability to reason things through appropriately, have mental and emotional stability and resilience and operate from a place of wholeness, self-mastery and control. Based on your own individual makeup it is important to know what will add and detract from this, for some it may be limiting news and social media, for others it might be seeking additional psychological support, for others, still maintaining some form of community may be helpful. This is a time to build up spiritual and psychological reserves. The Bible reminds us that God is the God of Shalom (Soundness, Safety, Stillness and Success), so think about what can you do to re-enter into this? I personally love the reminder in Phillipians 4:8 to continually meditate on things of virtue and have found my journalling, meditation and hypnotherapy practices helpful in doing this.
Overall, I want you to know that God doesn’t think less of you if you are struggling with fear and anxiety, but like all things He does let us know that we have a way out back into His peace, sometimes it takes a bit more effort and requires us learning more about our own individual makeup.
If you’d like to connect and reach out at this time, please do not hesitate, I am also making my Meditation ebook based on Psalm 91 The Secret Place, freely available to people dealing with anxiety at this time. Please visit my Selz Page for more information.