The Bible’s Viewpoint
Does Anxiety Indicate a Lack of Faith?
“ANXIETY FORBIDDEN.” Under this heading an early 20th-century pastor wrote that anxiety over material things is not only wrong but “a sin of great gravity.” More recently, an observer addressing the subject of overcoming worry and anxiety stated, “Worry is a declaration that we don’t trust God.”
In both cases the authors drew their conclusions from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in which he said: “Stop being anxious.” (Matthew 6:25) Since anxiety affects so many today, we might ask: Should a Christian feel guilty about being anxious? Do feelings of anxiety indicate a lack of faith?
God Understands Our Imperfections
The Bible does not teach that lack of faith is the cause of all anxiety. Living as we do during “critical times hard to deal with,” it is virtually impossible not to experience anxiety to some degree. (2 Timothy 3:1) Faithful Christians cope with daily anxieties that are triggered by poor health, old age, economic pressures, family strife, crime, and other problems. Even in ancient times, God’s servants faced fears and worries.
Consider the Bible account of Lot. God instructed him to escape to the mountains to avoid being swept away in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot, however, became anxious. He said: “Not that, please, Jehovah!” Hesitantly, he continued: “But I—I am not able to escape to the mountainous region for fear calamity may keep close to me and I certainly die.” Why did Lot fear the mountains? The Bible does not say. Whatever the reason, Lot felt quite intimidated. How did God react? Was Lot disciplined for lack of faith or trust in God? No. On the contrary, Jehovah showed consideration, allowing Lot to escape to a nearby city.—Genesis 19:18-22.
There are other Bible examples of faithful worshipers who became very anxious at times. The prophet Elijah became afraid and ran away after receiving a death threat. (1 Kings 19:1-4) Moses, Hannah, David, Habakkuk, Paul, and other men and women of strong faith also expressed anxieties. (Exodus 4:10; 1 Samuel 1:6; Psalm 55:5; Habakkuk 1:2, 3; 2 Corinthians 11:28) Yet, God showed compassion and continued to use them in his service, thereby manifesting a real understanding of imperfect humans.
“The Sin That Easily Entangles Us”
Persistent anxiety, however, can wear us down and lead to loss of trust in God. The apostle Paul referred to lack of faith as “the sin that easily entangles us.” (Hebrews 12:1) By including himself, Paul was likely admitting his own propensity to get ‘easily entangled’ in episodes of momentary weakness of faith.
Perhaps this was the case with Zechariah when he did not believe the angel who informed him that his wife would become pregnant. On one occasion Jesus’ apostles were unable to perform a cure because of their “little faith.” However, these individuals continued to enjoy God’s approval.—Matthew 17:18-20; Luke 1:18, 20, 67; John 17:26.
On the other hand, the Bible also includes examples of people who lost their trust in God and suffered serious consequences. For instance, many Israelites who left Egypt were barred from entering the Promised Land because of their lack of faith. In one incident they even spoke directly against God, saying: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread and no water.” Indicative of God’s displeasure, poisonous snakes were sent to punish them.—Numbers 21:5, 6.
The inhabitants of Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth, missed the privilege of seeing more miracles performed in their territory because they lacked faith. Further, the wicked generation of that day received a scathing denunciation from Jesus because of lack of faith. (Matthew 13:58; 17:17; Hebrews 3:19) Appropriately, the apostle Paul warned: “Beware, brothers, for fear there should ever develop in any one of you a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God.”—Hebrews 3:12.
Yes, in extreme cases lack of faith could result from a wicked heart. But this was not the case with Zechariah and Jesus’ apostles in the examples previously mentioned. Their lack of faith was due to momentary weakness. Their general pattern of life showed that they were “pure in heart.”—Matthew 5:8.
God Knows Our Needs
The Scriptures help us to make a distinction between general anxiety and the sin of lack of faith. Daily feelings of anxiety or even a momentary lapse of faith because of human weakness should not be confused with the complete lack of trust in God that springs from a wicked, unresponsive heart. Christians, therefore, need not be plagued by guilt just because they periodically experience anxiety.
Nevertheless, caution is necessary so that anxiety does not grow out of proportion and dominate our lives. Hence, the wisdom of Jesus’ words when he said: “Never be anxious and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or, ‘What are we to drink?’ or, ‘What are we to put on?’” This he followed with the comforting words: “For your heavenly Father knows you need all these things. Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.”—Matthew 6:25-33.
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The apostle Paul experienced anxieties