A Modern Look At An Old Problem
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Isaiah 43:1-4 (ESV)
Many well intentioned Christ-Followers have quoted Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (ESV) in an attempt to help others who wrestle with anxiety disorders and other health problems that cause worry. I have even said in my messages that worry is a sin, and, as a matter of point, UNWARRENTED worry IS a sin! Jesus told us that worry was useless in the day to day ebb and flow aspects of life. In His sermon found in Matthew 6, Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (6:25-34 ESV) In other words, Jesus told us that worrying about our daily needs is sinful, because it shows a lack of trust in God’s providing grace for His children.
These admonitions from Jesus and Paul should not; however, cause us to beguile those who suffer from disorders that are medically caused. Certain disorders, such as Phobias, Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are very real and very common maladies found in the human condition. With Phobias, the problematic element may be as simple as light claustrophobia, where an individual cannot ride on an elevator, to as damaging as agoraphobia where the individual has a fear of leaving their house or apartment. Phobias can stem from childhood trauma, and treatments vary widely. With OCD, the subject is obsessed with a particular thought that is anxiety provoking, and therefore acts in a compulsive manner because of the obsession. With PTSD, as the name suggests, the patient has been through a traumatic event that causes vivid memories of the event, despite a myriad of efforts to keep these memories at bay, including avoidance of persons and places associated with the event. These represent a small sample of the types of anxiety disorders that can cause Believers to worry.
Nevertheless, the Bible has much to say that can help the afflicted and we, as those wishing to help others cope with what life has dealt them should know. For instance, a passage in Isaiah forty three speaks of God’s ability to watch over us, even in times of great crisis. For those suffering with PTSD, they can be assured that even when life seems about to flood them with worry or burn them up with the fires of stress, the Father will not allow them to drown or be swept away, nor will He allow them to be consumed by their fears and stress. We can reassure one suffering from a phobia that Paul admonished Timothy to remember that, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” ( Timothy 1:7 ESV) and that David told his subjects that, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.” (Psalms 91ESV) When we reach out to help one suffering from OCD, may we like Pater encourage them to, “Cast…all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 ESV) Or Like Asaph, let them know that we, “cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I consider the days of old, the years long ago.” (Psalm 77 ESV)
King Saul is a wonderful example of what can go wrong when anxiety goes unchecked. He was somewhat bi-polar, jumping from extremes. He would go from fits of uncontrollable rage to weeping bouts of depression and exuberance in victory. His fear drove him to make horrid decisions, such as keeping his men from eating until the battle was over, a decision that led to near defeat because of its rash stupidity. (Thank goodness for Jonathan’s level headedness!) (1 Sam 14:24ff) Fear, leading to jealousy, caused him to hate David, his champion and son-in-law, simply because of a few simple girls’ song. (1 Sam 18:1ff) And, unfortunately, his anxiety over his perceived abandonment led to the greatest of his spiritual defeats, seeking the witch of En Dor. (1 Sam 28:1ff) This sows the effect anxiety can have on Believers and the fall out and collateral damage effected on those around them.
Which leads to the question of how the church can help. Prayer relaxation techniques, Scripture meditation, vivo exposure and certain anti-anxiety medication are all treatment options, and with the exception of the medications most are available to be used by the church.