Words by Morris Murray | Image by Al Blanton
The word “anxiety” (merimna, merimnao) means “care, concern, worry.” It occurs 25 times in the New Testament and has both a positive and a negative usage. As a positive, it indicates “genuine compassion, concern about, and care for oneself and others.” It is only normal or natural that life is filled with and influenced by various types of cares and concerns. This positive type of care creates responsibilities and efforts to make the best of life.
As a negative, which is the predominant usage in the New Testament, it indicates “uneasiness or fears of what may happen; being excessively troubled or distressed and bent out of shape; mental tensions which choke one’s mind and emotions.”
The noun “anxiety” (merimna) occurs 6 times in the New Testament:
Mt. 13:22 – “the anxieties of this world”
Mk. 4:19 – “the anxieties of this world”
Lk. 8:14 – “choked with anxieties and riches”
Lk. 21:34 – “the anxieties of this life”
2 Co. 11:28 – “the anxiety of all the churches”
1 Pt. 5:7 – “casting all your anxiety upon Him”
The verb “anxious thoughts” (merimnao) occurs 19 times in the NT:
Mt. 6:25, 27, 28, 31, 34 [twice], 10:19 – “do not be anxious”
Lk. 10:41; 12:11, 22, 25, 26 – “do not be anxious”
1 Co. 7:32, 33, 34 [twice] – “cares, worldly worries, free from concern”
1 Co. 12:25 – “care for one another”
Phil. 2:20 – “be concerned”
Phil. 4:6 – “do not be anxious”
As Jesus instructed about excessive concern over food and clothing and other worldly issues, a realization must take place: if one’s mind is fixated over worldly issues and possessions, his life will be controlled by that which his mental and emotional fixation is directed.
The directive in 1 Pt. 5:7 (“casting all your anxieties upon Him”), for example, is not meant to suggest that God will grant whatever we ask. Rather, it means to acknowledge Him as the One who knows what we need better than we ourselves do. It means to be set free from that “chok-ing, crippling, excessive worry” which diverts and distracts us from seeking first God’s rule in our lives and our trust in and dependence upon Him.
The number one health problem in the U.S.—based on the number of dispensed prescription medications—is anxiety. According to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), there are several types of anxiety disorders:
1. Generalized (at least 6 months of excessive worry about everything)
2. Panic (sudden onset of apprehension)
3. Phobic (fear of some object, person, or place)
4. Obsessive-Compulsive (obsession: being controlled by some thought or impulse; compulsion: desperate activities to help deal with the obsession)
5. Post-traumatic (having experienced or witnessed an event of death to someone or injury to someone)
6. Substance-Induced (prominent anxiety due to medication or toxin exposure).
Because anxiety is so pervasive, both in culture and scripture, it is extremely important that churches broaden their understanding of and develop intervention and supportive skills to help people with this problem. WL