The Sin of Worry?

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CThomas
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The Sin of Worry?

Post by CThomas » Sun Mar 24, 2013 11:04 am

I recently listened to Steve's lecture on this subject. Really enjoyed it and got a lot out of it as usual, but I did have a question or concern about the general structure of Steve's argument. The predicate to Steve's discussion of worry is to observe that worry isn't merely an unpleasant and unhelpful activity, but is actually a sin to be repented. He derives this conclusion from the fact that there are biblical injunctions from our Lord specifically instructing us not to worry. If the Lord instructs us not to do something, then (a) it is a sin to do the thing, and (b) it must be possible for us not to do it, since God does not tell us to do impossible things.

I wonder, though, if this foundational point in Steve's lecture is right. Suppose I see someone crying and I say, "Hey, cheer up!" Am I giving the person a command that he would be violating if he fails to become happy? Even though this sentence has the grammatical structure of a command, I think it is really more of a statement of encouragement. None of us would ever become angry with someone for "disobeying" our instructions if they fail to cheer up following our utterance of that sentence. Of course, unlike us, the Lord has the right to tell us what to do and we must obey. But still, I'm not sure it's obvious that whenever the Lord says something like, "Don't worry!" the Lord is exercising that power and ordering us to obey rather than simply offering encouragement to us and letting us know that there's no need to worry. To return to my first hypothetical above, imagine I start by telling the sad person to cheer up, and then proceed to give them reasons why they should cheer up -- I say, "You've got a lot to be happy about. The problem you have isn't that bad. Etc., etc." Adding these reasons doesn't change the fact that I'm not giving an order but rather simply offering encouragement. By the same token, when the Lord says not to worry and gives us various reasons why worry is unwarranted and unproductive it isn't clear to me that this changes the fact that the injunction against worry may simply be an offer of encouragement rather than an edict whose violation constitutes a sin.

I raise this partly because the question has arisen in other contexts. There was a guy (Piper?) who wrote a book called "the Dangerous Duty of Delight" or something like that whose whole premise was that Christians are morally obligated to be happy because the Bible at various places instructs us to be happy. I had the same reaction to that book as I have here. If the Bible says, "Hey, be happy!" is that really giving us a command? Or is it simply offering us encouragement and letting us know that we do, in fact, have reason to be happy whether or not we are able to adopt that emotion volitionally at any particular moment?

None of this is to deny that worry often results from sinful attachment to the wrong things. Nor is it to deny in any way the merits of the Lord's explanations why worry is unwarranted, unhelpful, etc. But I do wonder about the contention that worry in and of itself is a sin because we are told not to do it.

CThomas

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Bud
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Re: The Sin of Worry?

Post by Bud » Sun Mar 24, 2013 12:42 pm

Hi CThomas,

I think you make a good point.

Maybe Jesus' words there are like an exhortation, possibly comparable to Pauls, "Be angry but do not sin".

In my own life I've worried, Jesus' words encourage me.

I've tried to think this worry issue through before and came to the conclusion that worry, anxiety etc is not helpful, Jesus said so, I believe Him.

But I kept worrying, I sought and received forgiveness many times. I said to myself why do I do it. The answer seemed to be that I felt I didn't "care" if I wasn't worrying.

I looked to Jesus. In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus seemed distraught to the point of sweating blood, what did He do? He prayed to the Father. I believe He worried there but did not sin.

He was not feelingless there.

So I thought, what is the best thing to do when something troublesome comes before me. I believe the thing to do in all instances is to be considerate, consider the situation and take appropriate action. Which sometimes calls only for prayer to our loving heavenly Father with faith, sometimes in tears.

In conclusion God has made me more considerate and less of a worrier.

I take comfort in that now as well as all the other things He has done for me, but mostly of course in who He is.

God bless,
Bud
Malachi 3:16 Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD gave attention and heard [it,] and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name. (NASB) :)

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mattrose
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Re: The Sin of Worry?

Post by mattrose » Sun Mar 24, 2013 1:12 pm

I think that if we define worry, the reluctance to label it as a sin will somewhat disappear.

I don't think worry is the same thing as concern. I don't think that worry is a passing fear. I think that worry is a consistent focus on problems, to the point of paralysis. Worry keeps us worrying instead of doing something about the issue we are worrying about. The opposite of worry is faithful activity. When we experience the emotions of fear, doubt, empathy... we are not supposed to just dwell on them in their emotional state. We are supposed to do something about them. The proper thing to do with those emotions is not to worry about them, but to pray... to act... to help.

To refuse to do something about negative emotions... and instead to choose to dwell on them... I think is rightfully called a sin, a sign of faithlessness.

CThomas
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Re: The Sin of Worry?

Post by CThomas » Tue Mar 26, 2013 10:40 am

Thanks, Matt. But what do you think about the broader question about biblical exegesis? For instance, in the case of Piper, do you view his reading that biblical instructions to be happy or to rejoice are formal commands, or rather exhortations of encouragement whose violation does not constitute a sin?

CThomas

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mattrose
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Re: The Sin of Worry?

Post by mattrose » Tue Mar 26, 2013 11:52 am

CThomas wrote:Thanks, Matt. But what do you think about the broader question about biblical exegesis? For instance, in the case of Piper, do you view his reading that biblical instructions to be happy or to rejoice are formal commands, or rather exhortations of encouragement whose violation does not constitute a sin?

CThomas
I think you are right that not all passages which use 'command' languages are strict commands. Some are encouragements. "Don't worry" may sometimes be an appropriate encouragement. But I think when we define "worry" as a paralyzing focus on a negative situation, it is more of a command.

In other words, I think the passage itself could be read as an encouragement... but Steve was not wrong to call worry a sin given the way he was talking about it.

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psimmond
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Re: The Sin of Worry?

Post by psimmond » Fri Aug 16, 2013 12:40 pm

It seems Jesus was anxious in the garden before his arrest, and Paul says he was anxious for all the churches. Paul also says those who are unmarried are anxious about the things of the Lord--how to be holy and how to please the Lord.

I wonder if anxiety is similar to temptation; when it cause us to turn our thoughts to God, it's actually a good thing.
Let me boldly state the obvious. If you are not sure whether you heard directly from God, you didn’t.
~Garry Friesen

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