It’s a Product of the Fall
If we want to know where our anxiety originated from, we need to go back to the first mention of anxiety in world history. This event is in the third chapter of Genesis of the Bible. God gave Adam and Eve explicit instructions not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). Eve was deceived by the serpent as he appealed to her pride, desires, and perception (Gen. 3:1-6). She ate and shared the fruit with her husband, and he too willfully ate in disobedience. Now, God had already told them that the day in which they eat of this tree; they would surely die (Gen. 2:17). They died spiritually that day and eventually they would die physically as well. But something else happened to them that day. In Genesis 3:8, they heard the voice of God in the garden and hid among the trees. God called out to Adam and inquired as to where he was, and Adam’s answer was the first mention of anxiety in the history of mankind.
In Genesis 3:10, Adam’s answer is critical for anyone who struggles with anxiety. Adam stated, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was AFRAID because I was naked, and I HID myself.” Sin did something in Adam that was passed down to all of us. It enslaved him to a feeling and a mindset of fear. Because we are all descendants of Adam, we all have a sinful nature that has fear and anxiety attached to it. Romans 5:12 states, “just as through one man (Adam) sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because all sinned.” Since we all have a sinful nature, every human has anxiety. Anxiety is a product of the fall. So here is what everyone with anxiety needs to stop right here and do. Say it out loud so your brain can hear it. “I am not unique. I am just like everyone else!” Those of us who fight anxiety can have this mentality that we are “victims” and “special” compared to the rest of humanity. No, we are not! Everyone has a sinful nature. Therefore, everyone struggles with anxiety.
The question then remains, “why do I struggle with anxiety more than others?” The answer is the same reason some people struggle with pride, evil thoughts, anger, bitterness and other sins more than others. It’s not that the rest of us cannot commit those same sins. It’s that others may be overtaken by lust or a desire that does not affect us . I am not insinuating that all anxiety is because you did something wrong, although that could be the cause. What I am implying is that anxiety and panic are products of having a sinful nature and if it’s not handled correctly, it can overtake your life and control your mind. It can control you as much as alcohol does a drunkard or bitterness does an unforgiving person. Those of us who struggle with constant worry have to start with the reality that we are not alone in this fight, and we have anxiety because sin entered the world.
It’s An Attack From The Enemy
I am of the persuasion that in Genesis 3, Satan was present when God approached Adam and Eve after they sinned. Nowhere in Genesis 3:10-19 do you see God chase after Satan to pronounce His judgment upon him. Satan was present in the conversation with Adam and Eve all throughout God’s questioning. I am also of the persuasion that Satan is not omniscient, and he has limitations in his knowledge of man. I believe that Satan learned something about fallen humans in Genesis 3 through observation. Since he was present when God called to Adam, it’s safe to assume he observed Adam and Eve hiding behind the trees wearing aprons they had sewn together with fig leaves. He would have acknowledged man’s new struggle with fear. I believe that Satan adopted a strategy from observing man’s initial reaction to his sin.
In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter invites suffering believers to cast their anxieties on the Lord because He cares for them. This verse is classically used by counselors when dealing with anxious clients. What happens at times is that verse 7 is quoted, but often verse 8 is not quoted with it. Verse 8 reads, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” Peter is drawing his readers to this one truth; cast your anxieties on the Lord because you have an enemy that wants to destroy your mindset. Note the word sober “νήψατε”, which means to be calm and collected in spirit. Also pay attention to the word vigilant “γρηγορήσατε“, which means to be alert or awake. Both these words deal with the mind. Be calm and clear-headed because the devil wants to devour your mind. How does the devil devour our mindset in this text? He wants us to believe that verse 7 is not true. He wants us to believe that God does not care about us. You see, if Satan can get us to blame God or question His love for us, we would never cast our anxieties on the Lord. Instead, we would keep our anxieties hidden and torture our hearts from within. I believe Satan observed Adam’s reaction in the garden of being “afraid” of God and saw an opened door to use the strategy we just discussed in 1 Peter 5:7-8.
Some Thoughts To Consider
Behind every moment of anxiety, there is a fear of something or someone. Behind every fear, there is an insecurity that our mental state cannot process. Behind every insecurity, there is a loss of trust and comfort based on our sin or the sin-cursed world around us. Let’s use a picture* of the layers of planet earth to illustrate.
The earth has four layers: crust, mantle, outer core, and inner core. Anxiety has four layers as well. The first layer is the “crust.” This is what people can see. This would include panic attacks, depression, hurting yourself, lash-outs, and other forms of reaction due to anxiety. The second layer is the “mantle.” This is what we think. This is our worldview of life. Our perception is our reality. What we see and believe as real dictates our outward reactions. We get frustrated with others because our fear radar goes off and we go into a state of panic, but the people around us look at us as though we are insane. Let me illustrate it this way. If we believe there is a lion behind the bush ready to come out and eat us, our adrenaline is going to be pumping, and our minds will go into survival mode. Meanwhile, our friends around us are trying to say “dude, there’s no lion back there.” They are calm, cool and collected and we are about to jump out of our skin. What’s the difference between the two reactions? One is reacting to perception, the other to reality. Those of us who struggle with constant worry tend to believe that our perception is a reality when often it is not.
Ask yourself this question, “Is this true or just something I feel or think?” When I had panic attacks, it would feel like my breathing stopped. I would have to put my hand over my mouth to feel air coming out just to remind my brain “I’m still breathing, I just felt it on my hand.” My perception was “I’m not breathing.” The reality was that I truly was breathing. If there is a lion behind the bush, run for your life! We want our adrenaline to kick in and move us to safety. However, if there’s no lion, why torture ourselves mentally with thoughts that are not true? Choose to believe that which is true not what you perceive.
The third layer is the “outer crust.” These are our insecurities. Everyone has insecurities. What may seem silly or illogical to one person may be life or death to another. When dealing with someone’s insecurities, we have to be careful to not treat them as unimportant or annoying. Often, people give a “duh” answer to “comfort” the individual. Things like “you’ll be fine” “just don’t think about it” “you’re overthinking it” or “don’t think that way.” Although these things may be true, these are not the best answers to help someone in the moment of panic. Remember, we are looking for the core problems. We are getting closer to the “inner core” by identifying insecurities from the “outer core,” but we are not quite there yet. If you are reading this and you struggle with anxiety, I want you to stop right here and write down the things that scare you the most in life. What thought comes to your mind that makes your heart rate go up? Here’s a list of significant insecurities people struggle with: abandonment, disappointing people, loneliness, failure, pain, rejection.
You see, if we are going to keep digging deeper into this topic, we must identify our insecurities. If we are uncertain of which one(s) it could be, we need to pray Psalm 139:23-24 as stated in the previous blog. Ask God to search our hearts(that’s the inner core) and know our anxieties(that’s the outer core). When God reveals those insecurities, the lights will start coming on in your head, and you will begin to understand why you think and react the way you do. This is the start of the path of healing.
The fourth layer is the inner core. This is sin or the effects of sin. The cause and effect of all three of the other layers are summed up into my sin or someone else’s sin. Do you remember Adam’s words as to why he was “afraid?” He said, “I was afraid because I was naked.” His innocence and security were removed. Closeness with God had protected him from exposure and insecurity. Now that he sinned, he was separated from fellowship with God which left him exposed and ashamed. Like our first parents, we try to cover our feelings of exposure just as they did. Adam and Eve sowing fig leaves together was only a covering of the “crust” so to speak. It did not solve the “core” problem.
Their external discomfort was a result of their internal depravity. When God came to bring a genuine solution, He attacked their internal depravity first (Gen. 3:15) and then covered their external discomfort later (Gen. 3:21). In Genesis 3:11, God started with identifying the core problem. He asked, “have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat.” Adam’s problem was that he disobeyed God and sinned (inner core). This left him feeling exposed and insecure (outer core). When he heard God call his name, he hid in fear (mantle). While hiding in fear, he covered (crust) his shame and exposure with fig leaves. When God began to expose the problem, Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, and God righteously judged all three.
God’s solution for the fall in Genesis 3 was redemption. I am thankful that God came to Adam and Eve because they would have never come to Him. Romans 3:11 is clear that sinners do not seek after God; they run from Him as Adam did. God came to Adam and dealt with the problem of sin but also offered a plan of redemption. Genesis 3:15 is known as the proto-evangelium because it is the first mention of God’s plan of redemption. He promised the woman’s seed (Messiah) would come and crush the serpents head. Christ fulfilled this through His death and resurrection (I John 3:8; Colossians 2:15). God’s solution was to deal with the heart first and the outward appearance last. It was not until Genesis 3:21 that He clothed them with the animal skin. Through the process of redemption, believers are no longer slaves to fear (Romans 8:15) which we will deal with in the next blog. Keep asking God to dig into your heart and expose insecurities and fears. When He reveals them, deal with them Biblically. If it’s a personal sin, confess and forsake. If it’s the sins of others around you, find the Biblical mandates to react and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading.
Grace and Peace
Stephen Boyce, Th.D.
*image was taken from www.tes.com
**edited by Caroline Foster