Respectable Sins 8: Anxiety and Frustration

Anxiety and frustration are certainly two key elements of our contemporary season. But we also experience such things in more mundane ways. Medical bills induce anxiety. A broken bicycle produces frustration. Slick roads make us anxious. Paper cuts are frustrating. How do we handle anxiety and frustration as Christians? With this chapter, I find myself for the first time in some disagreement with Jerry Bridges. He deals with anxiety and frustration as respectable sins. We should learn from him on these matters. At the same time, we should recognize that anxiety and frustration are a part of life in a fallen world and are sometimes outside of the category of moral brokenness. Anxiety can have psychological and physiological causes. Frustration is as old as the curse of Genesis 3. In a world which doesn’t function as it was created to do, we will find all things unsatisfactory and incomplete to some extent.

A key text concerning anxiety comes from Jesus in Matthew 6: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?…But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Have faith. The birds of the air and the lillies of the field do not worry, and we are far more valuable to God than such things. For Bridges, anxiety is sin because it is the opposite of the kind of deep trust in God which should mark the Christian life. To engage in anxiety about situations in our lives is to disbelieve that God is providentially in control of our lives: “…we tend to focus on the immediate causes of anxiety rather than remembering that those immediate causes are under the sovereign control of God.”

Frustration varies from anxiety because it “usually involves being upset or even angry at whatever or whoever is blocking our plans.” To battle this sin, Bridges turns to Psalm 139:16: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” To say that our days are ordained is also to say that none of the occurrences of our days is a surprise to God; he is working out his purposes for our lives through all of the things we experience on a day-to-day basis. Living with faith means, in part, asking God “if there is something I need to learn, or if there is something I need to be attentive to. Sometimes God uses events that tempt us toward frustration to get our attention, or even to push us further in an area we need to grow in.”

I think that we need to exhibit balance in this teaching. On the one hand, we should be vigilant against sinful varieties of anxiety and frustration. If these things lead us to anger towards God or a failure of love towards neighbor, then we know that we have crossed the boundary. On the other hand, anxiety and frustration will follow us all to some extent through life in a fallen world. And for this kind of anxiety, the answer is not so much forgiveness from God as it is healing from God. The good news is that God can bring this healing into our lives, even as he can forgive us for our sinful anxiety and frustration.

Does it challenge you personally to conceive of anxiety and frustration as sin? Why or why not? Have you clearly experienced sinful forms of these common things? What helpful tips have you developed to help you when you are experiencing anxiety?

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