BCC Staff Note: You’re reading the first in a series of Grace & Truth blog posts on anxiety—and experiencing God’s peace that passes all understanding.
A Common Experience
Fear and anxiety had a definite beginning in this world. When Adam was confronted by the Lord after his sin in the garden, he responded, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Genesis 3: 9-10).
Adam’s disobedience brought sin, separation, and a pervasive anxiety into the world that has affected all of us. Paul says in Romans 8:19 that even the creation itself feels this anxiety: “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.” But the good news is that as the sin of Adam brought deep anxiety into our lives, the gospel of Jesus brings a deeper peace. This leads to an important question.
Is Anxiety Always Sinful?
I would answer, not necessarily. This may surprise some, but the story of Jesus in the garden shows that there can be an experience of terrifying anxiety without sin: “And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be struck with terror and amazement and deeply troubled and depressed” (Mark 14: 33, AMP).
The intensity of descriptive language here suggests that Jesus experienced a severe “panic attack” in the garden yet was completely without sin. This is a profound mystery, but a deeply encouraging one. Jesus, the God-Man, understands and sympathizes with our feelings of anxiety from His own experience. It also reminds us that anxiety is a significant form of suffering.
However, our anxiety is usually sinful because it is an expression of our unbelief. In Numbers 14:1-4; 11-12 we read:
“Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness. Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword. Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?’ And they said to one another, ‘Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt….’ And the LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?’”
Although the word anxiety is not used, it’s not hard to feel their rising panic. Their fear and anxiety revealed that they didn’t trust the Lord and He interpreted this as despising Him. God cares that we learn to overcome sinful anxiety.
What Difference Does Jesus Make When We’re Anxious?
While there are several Bible passages that could help us deal with anxiety, Hebrews 2: 10-18 leads us directly to Jesus, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 6: 6), for help. Here are six truths that can impart security and peace to us and our counselees:
- Jesus was made perfect through suffering, including the suffering of fear and anxiety. “…began to be struck with terror and amazement and deeply troubled and depressed. As we noted, Jesus experienced horrific anxiety and panic in the garden. This was God’s will for Him—part of His maturing and perfecting for our sake. And at times it may be part of ours and our counselees as well: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1: 2-4). As Jesus was perfected through various sufferings, including anxiety, so are we. We are secure in the good purpose of God in perfecting us in all our sufferings so we don’t need to be anxious about our anxiety.
- Jesus calls us brothers and sisters and leads us in family worship, all in the context of suffering! He’s not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters when we struggle against fear and anxiety like He did—and isn’t shame often a big part of the pain? He fully identifies with us (“I and the children God has given me”). As our family worship leader He reveals the character of the Father to us—wise, compassionate, powerful, always working for our good. He teaches and trains us to trust God in our anxieties (“I will put my trust in him”). Teaching us to trust the Father is a huge part of our healing. The more we trust, the less we are dominated by anxiety. We are secure in Jesus’ identification with us in suffering and in training us to trust God in all circumstances.
- Through His incarnation Jesus became fully human and experienced all the sufferings and temptations that often provoke fear and anxiety. He grew up in an imperfect family who didn’t appreciate Him, experienced relational tensions, hostilities, and emotional/physical abuse, had friends who disappointed and betrayed Him, had to trust His Father for daily provision, and was physically deprived and brutally beaten. In all this He was tempted to control instead of trust, to seek comfort instead of sacrificial love, and to escape the pain through a drug on the cross. He even understands the feeling of being God-forsaken. He “gets it” and cares deeply for us. We are secure in Jesus’ perfect understanding and compassion in our anxieties.
- By His death, Jesus destroyed the devil and delivered us from the fear of death. Death suggests absolute loss of control (often at the root of anxiety) and final judgment and this is terrifying! Deep down every one of us fears this. In addition, all the pains and losses of life are “little deaths” that point to physical death (the loss of everything) and the terrifying “final death” (perishing under the wrath of God). No wonder we’re anxious! But Jesus died to make us fearless in the midst of all that we might fear. He has forgiven our sins, and stripped Satan of the only weapon he has against us. Our deepest problem and most terrifying danger have been completely taken care of. We can never lose what we need and desire the most—Jesus himself! We are secure in Jesus’ Satan-destroying and fear-abolishing death.
- Jesus is our merciful and faithful high priest. He has completely atoned for all our sins and failures, including our anxious unbelief. He has absorbed the guilt, shame, failure, power, and curse of our sins and freed us from having to try and save ourselves in any way (which often generates more anxiety). God is now all-powerfully and eternally for us. Jesus walks with us every moment through the valley of the shadow of our anxieties so we need not fear—His rod and staff (Word and Spirit) comfort us. We are secure in Jesus’ atoning death, continual presence, and faithful intercession.
- Jesus suffered when He was tempted and is always available and powerful to help us in our anxieties. He is completely in control of all our circumstances and freely offers us His wisdom and power. He is even more able to help us in times of suffering and temptation than was the angel God sent to strengthen Him in the garden. We are secure in Jesus’ 24/7 availability to help us when we are anxious.
One powerful thing we can encourage in counselees who struggle with anxiety is a new “first response” set out in Hebrews 4: 14-16:
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy (for our unbelief) and find grace (power to rise above) to help in time of need.”
Join the Conversation
What difference does Jesus’ sinless and sympathetic humanity make to you in times of anxiety? How could you use Hebrews 2:10-18 to encourage counselees to “draw near to the throne of grace”?