You’ve heard it before: “fear not,” “do not worry,” “be not anxious for tomorrow,” and Christians will say they struggle with anxiety, and they need to pray more and trust God. If sin means doing something bad, and worrying is something bad to do, then yes, I supposed worrying or being anxious would be a sin. But the equation is not that simple, because people are not that simple.
An anxiety disorder, while linked to many causes, can be an indication that parts of the brain are underdeveloped due to stunted growth caused by verbal or emotional abuse. And so to say that I just need to stop worrying because it’s sinful is like telling me to use a part of my brain that doesn’t exist. It doesn’t make sense. What that shows is a lack of understanding of how the mind works as well as a lack of understanding of what sin is.
Sometimes, basic worrying can stem from truth. It’s natural and healthy to be afraid of getting too close to the edge of a cliff. Being anxious can also be an acknowledgement of our lack of control. When anxiety overwhelms us, we can reach out to another person for help so they can assure us we are safe, or if we’re not then we will get to a safe place.
Beyond that, when you have full-blown disorders where you can’t breathe or stand or see, telling a person they are sinning is not going to make them less anxious. It may even make it worse. So what really is sin?
Too often we think of sin as doing bad things. That’s part of it. Murdering someone is sin. But the origin of the word sin means “missing the mark,” as in aiming for a target but not hitting it. In a broader sense, I tend to think of sin as a curse. We are cursed with missing the mark. Limiting sin to a definition of doing bad things only perpetuates shame and reasons to hate oneself. Because if we’re really as sinful as the Bible says we are, we must be doing bad things all the time without realizing it, including existing. And it is a dangerous thing to tell someone their existence is a bad thing (but that can be a conversation for a different post).
To tell someone they are sinning because their brain is underdeveloped is wrong. It may be more accurate to suppose that any abuse, disorder, disease, negativity is a result of being under a curse. It’s not someone’s fault that their brain didn’t fully develop since they were abused, so don’t tell them to “stop sinning.”
The idea behind Christianity is that Jesus broke the curse. And until everything is restored, we are on earth learning how to live in a new reality. Just like in the show Once Upon a Time the people of Storybrook entered a new life, yet were still under the results of the curse; Christians still live with disorders, disease, and many other bad things just like everyone else. But the brokenness isn’t the end-all-be-all. Because one day everything will be made right.