In the Bible, Anxiety Is the Occasion of Sin

In the Bible, anxiety is the occasion for sin. Anxiety is not in itself sin, but it is the occasion that tempts us to sin. Thus, there is nothing wrong with seeing a threat, difficulty, or challenge. The question is, what do we do with it?

I believe that this is a true analysis of sin in our life based on several considerations. I was surprised, though, at how explicit this is in the Bible as I reviewed its various stories of sin. Here are just a few examples that demonstrate the connection between anxiety and sin.

  • Scholars debate over the precise sin involved in the Tower of Babel. However, here is how the builders express their concern: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:4). They had anxiety about their name and legacy and their security. This led them to reject God’s command to spread out.
  • “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, ‘The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her'” (Genesis 16:1–2). Sarah was anxious about the future and her family’s significance. She may also have been concerned about the fulfillment of God’s promise. This led her to take a course of action to solve the problem that created all sorts of new problems.
  • “When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him” (Genesis 37:4). The brothers were anxious about their place in the family. They were concerned about their status and their acceptance with their father. This led them to hatred and eventually to seek to eliminate Joseph from the scene altogether.
  • Pharoah enslaved the Hebrews and later began killing all the male children. What led him to such actions? “Look . . . the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country” (Ex. 1:9–10). Their oppressive actions began with anxiety about how large the Israelite nation was becoming.
  • When the Israelites went out into the desert, they complained against the Lord, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Ex. 16:3). What led them to complain against the Lord? Their anxiety over lack of food. Anxiety was the occasion but not the cause of their sin.

I would encourage you to think through your own life in this way and to consider the numerous stories of the Bible. I think you will see that there is a connection between anxiety, pride, and sin in most, if not all of them.

So, why does this matter?

  • There is something blameworthy in sin, but there is also something worthy of compassion. For example, Sarah’s response to her inability to have a child was wrong, but we can also look with compassion on her desperation as the years passed. We can deal with others this way, too. We can have compassion on ourselves and others our sin and theirs.
  • If we want people to move away from what is wrong and sinful, we must address not only their wrong will but also their legitimate concerns. This is what the Gospel does so well. It offers us security, acceptance, and significance.
  • This perspective does more justice to the complexity of sin and humans without excusing them.

And much more. The Bible presents a rather complex view of sin. It’s easy to miss this. If we simply look at the commandments, we might think that sin is merely a matter of willful disobedience of commands. We must look at how the Bible deals with sin more extensively. This will give us a perspective that will enable us to deal more thoroughly with the sin in our lives and seek the grace God provides to heal it. This will in turn enable us to move forward to a life of serenity, creativity, and love.


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