How should Christians approach the subject of anxiety?

March 22, 2019

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health struggles we face in modern society. It’s also among the most misunderstood. Too often the Christian community is quick to turn a blind eye to those who struggle with issues related to mental health. Those who struggle can find themselves feeling all alone.

I know because I’m one of them.

In 2008 I learned my church staff position was one of several being eliminated due to the downturn in the stock market. During this time I also experienced a personal health scare, and within just a few weeks, my wife and I returned home from a weekend getaway to New York City to find our home had been burglarized.

The break-in was the last straw for me. In the days immediately following, I experienced my first full-blown panic attack. As a licensed therapist, I knew what was going on. I recognized the racing heart rate, the unclear thinking patterns, and the general sense of impending doom as classic symptoms of anxiety. But that didn’t make the incident any less frightening. The experience made me feel out-of-control, emotionally weak, and helpless.

Having been raised in the church, I knew how much the Bible had to say about anxiety: “Be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6a); “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear” (Matthew 6:25). But I also knew how little most pastors and church people had to say about the condition. During a time when I felt a desperate need to pull myself together, I felt all alone and unable to clearly articulate my feelings even to my wife.

In the middle of it all, I was working hard to identify potential job leads. At the end of an especially taxing day, I had a phone interview scheduled with a church committee. My antidepressant had not yet taken effect, and I kept looking at the clock, counting down to the time for the phone to ring.

“God, help me sound normal,” I pleaded. “Help me place my trust and confidence in You. Help me remember to breathe.”

Breathing—something we do every moment from the time we’re born—was suddenly something I had to coach myself to do. It was surreal. I’m one of the professionals who had helped many others through their own bouts of anxiety and depression. And yet here I was, feeling a mere shell of myself, doing my best to seem okay, knowing that no church wants to hire a basket case.

I’m grateful my battle with major anxiety was short-lived. I’m even more grateful this unwanted struggle came with an indescribable gift—the ability to truly empathize with those who suffer from anxiety.

When we experience challenges in life, too often our sole focus is on overcoming those challenges rather than growing through them. With that perspective in mind, it has been helpful for me to study the Scriptures through the lens of my own mental health struggles.

Many of the Bible’s most celebrated and highly regarded characters likely also struggled with some form of anxiety. I think of Adam and Eve, whose hearts must have been racing when they heard the voice of the Lord calling to them as they hid in the garden (Gen. 3:8). I imagine Noah (Gen. 6) likely felt anxious as he labored tirelessly for years constructing a gigantic boat, as passersby laughingly pointed and ruthlessly mocked him.

I think of Moses (Ex. 4:10), a stutterer with low self-confidence, accepting God’s assignment to lead the Israelites. I think of Ruth (Ruth 1:14), who, in her grief, attached herself to Naomi. I think of the Pharaoh (Gen. 40-41), whose dreams were deeply disturbing, undoubtedly impacting his ability to accomplish ordinary daily tasks with accuracy and efficiency.

I think of David, whose many writings offer insight into his own fragile state of heart and mind (Ps. 139:23). I think of a teenage girl named Mary (Luke 1:29), who must have felt overwhelmed with the responsibility of carrying and giving birth to the Son of God. I think of the disciple Peter (John 18:27), whose mouth often engaged before his brain. How much anxiety must he have felt when he heard the cock crow for the third time? And I think of Martha (Luke 10:41) who was so obsessively cleaning house that she couldn’t fully enjoy Jesus’ visit to her home. If we’re honest, isn’t that the way many home-based small group leaders feel?

There are many others whose lives were clearly touched by anxiety. The most significant though is Jesus himself. As Christians we have a hard time thinking of Jesus as anxious, and yet we know there’s no emotion we experience that he does not fully understand. Yes, even Jesus—fully human, fully God—as he prepared for his death on the cross, demonstrated a certain sense of anxiety as he prayed to the Father (Matt. 26:39).

If you or someone you love struggles with chronic anxiety, you can be assured that it is a real issue—and something that can’t be cured by having more faith or praying more prayers. However, you can help an anxious person just by noticing, caring, and being available to help bear their burdens. Maybe that involves providing a meal, doing the grocery shopping, or taking care of the kids. Maybe you can help the person find a competent Christian counselor or local support group. If you don’t know how best to help, you might simply ask. A little kindness and compassion will go a long way.

I still experience times of anxiety, but I’m learning to give God praise even in that. Because I know he understands and has a purpose that I may never fully grasp.

Garrick D. Conner

Garrick D. Conner is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. He serves as discipleship pastor at Park Hill Baptist Church in North Little Rock, Ark. Garrick and his wife, Michelle, have two children. You can find more of Garrick’s writings at www.garrickdconner.com. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24