Lesson 2 part a
Fear and Anxiety
The summer I was fourteen years old I had the opportunity of visiting the Boundary Waters. For those not familiar, the boundary waters are a series of rivers and lakes dotted with islands that separate Canada from the State of Minnesota. This was to be a weeklong trip. It took a day and a half of canoeing to get to base camp which was right on the border between Minnesota and the Canada. We spent three days there, taking day excursions from base camp to visit other areas of this beautiful wildlife area.
We had been warned by a forest ranger that the area we were going back too had been having problems with bears, but we paid little attention to such warnings. On Friday, we started back and on lake Agnes we canoed against wind and three and a half foot waves. I kid you not, the waves were three and half feet high and the wind had to have been at least 25 mph. But if we wanted to make it out on time and still have time to explore another area of the preserve, then we had to cross Lake Agnes.
Lake Agnes is not all that long, being perhaps a mile and half or two miles in length, but when paddling against wind and against three and half foot-high waves was scary but not nearly as scary of what was coming.
That Friday evening, tired, sore from all that comes from paddling a canoe, we camped at the mouth of the Nina Moose River where it opens up into Moose Lake. It was a beautiful place to camp. With our group being big enough, we had to split our camp into two groups with the second group being about one quarter of a mile away.
When Saturday morning came we ate breakfast and decided that we would not venture far from camp because, well our arms and backs were tired and sore from the day before. We all came back together about two in the afternoon to eat and just after finishing up the meal, before we had a chance to hoist the food packs back up in the tree, you guessed it a bear came into camp.
Our first response was to pray and so pray we did yet we were all very frightened. One tent was smashed down by the bear, but strangely the food packs had not been disturbed by the bear before we managed to frighten him away.
Fear is a very strong emotion that produces agitation at the presence of danger. Anxiety is similar in its effects, but quite different in that it is centered on future uncertainties. In other words, anxiety is fear, not of a blazing fire or a roaring earthquake that one is actually experience, but of things that might happen in the future.
Scripture mentions fear and anxiety in quite a few places. Some describe the emotional state of Bible characters; other provide reassurance (“do not be afraid”) to men and women who face the unpleasant consequences of these emotions.
The word fear, afraid, frightened, and terrified occur 591 times in the New International Version of the Bible. (Some of these passages refer to “fear of the Lord,” which is quite different from plain fear.) The words “do not fear” convey one of the most important messages God wants people to understand. He’s interested in freeing His children from such debilitating emotions. Because He loves us, He invites us all to come to Him, submit our anxieties to Him, and experience peace. Peter tells us, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (I Peter 5:7).
Part of Human Existence
Human beings experience fear and apprehension from the very beginning of their life. A group of researchers from the Semmelweis Medical University in Budapest and the University of Texas Medical School in Houston studied the facial expression of human infants. They determined that baby girls as young as three and a half weeks old and boys four and a half weeks old exhibited fear when presented with frightening stimuli. And mere months later, the first form of anxiety, appears-separation anxiety, a developmentally appropriate distress reaction that emerges in infants between six and twenty months of age. At this age, they recognize their primary caregiver/parent, are aware of their environments and the people around them, and cry when taken to a new place, introduced to a stranger, or separated from their primary caregiver.
Here is a sample of fears and anxious experiences that may occur in the coming years:
- Toddlers fear animals, darkness, and strangers.
- Preschooler may fear many things, such as loud noises, sleeping alone, storms, losing their parents, or someone possibly hurting them. They also tend to be afraid of what is often associated with nightmares; ghost, monsters, and witches, for example.
- Schoolchildren begin to experience apprehension and threatening perception involving school themes: tests, difficult assignments, grades, certain school activities, and peers who are stronger or who do better at their studies. And it is fairly common for children in the early grades to fear dying, even though they still don’t have a clear understanding of what death means.
- Adolescents also face their share of situations that cause them dread, such as being rejected by their friends, not being successful in sports, not developing physically (especially when their friends develop early), school failure, and so on.
- Young adults fear they won’t find a suitable life partner or that they’ll lose job opportunities or be laid off.
- Although adults have reached stability in many aspects of life, fears still trouble them too. They worry about their health and what would happen if they fell seriously ill. Common apprehensions involve finances (What if I can’t pay all my bills?), family life (Will I lose my spouse? Or Will my child have an accident?), and work (Will my boss listen to me? Or Will I be the next to be fired?).
- The elderly also have their fears. They may be afraid of diminishing income, or contracting a debilitating disease, or losing their spouse, or falling and breaking a bone, or being assaulted, of facing death and of dying.
Virtually everyone in all locations at all different stages of existence experiences fears in one form or another. Some fears are rooted in a haunting past; others are about the here and now; while still others pertain to the future. Some are real, and some are imaginary. Some are truly important; some are trivial. But since the inception of sin, fear has always been present.
The Beginning of Fear
The man and woman who came from God’s hands were perfect. They had no physical shortcomings and were perfectly balanced mentally. Before their disobedience, they did not and could not experience fear or anxiety because they were fully cared for by their omnipotent Father. Furthermore, they hadn’t observed this adverse emotion in any other creature, so they didn’t know that such an experience could exist. They were perfectly happy, in part because they weren’t afraid or anxious. They knew that God watched over them and that they would be cared for in the future.
But things changed radically when Eve ate the forbidden fruit and gave some to Adam. The story in Genesis 3 tells of two immediate consequences of the transgression. First, their eyes were opened (verse 7), and they had, for the first time, a general awareness of evil as well as of the good. Their innocence – their lack of knowledge of good and evil – vanished. They now knew sin and felt the consequences. They knew the before and the after of sin. What a difference!
Here is how I have heard it described. “The air, which had hitherto been of a mild and uniform temperature, seemed to chill the guilty pair. The love and peace which had been theirs was gone, and in its place, they felt a sense of sin, a dread of the future, a nakedness of soul.” Notice that the immediate result of their transgression was not lightning and thunder or anything outwardly observable. It was internal distress a sense of guilt, a feeling of being exposed.
Second, when they heard God’s footsteps, they hid behind trees (verse 8). Their hiding was a specific consequence, a particular behavior. We know the motive for their action, for when God called, “where are you?” Adam replied, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid (verse 9, 10). Thus, the fear of the consequences that would result from being found out, the uncertainty about what would happen next, was a clear, immediate results of sin.
Adam’s and Eve’s eyes were now opened. They were aware of the tension between good and evil. This made them subject to worry, dread, and anxiety – emotions they hadn’t experienced before. Many people declare, “information is power, “and “Knowledge opens doors.” But that wasn’t true of the knowledge Adam and Eve obtained by sinning. Humankind would have been better off without the “knowledge of good and evil.”
In His mercy, God may at time conceal information from human beings because it would bring them too much pain. That’s why, while God has revealed much to us, He keeps some things secret. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).
Animals, even the most intelligent ones, are protected from excessive fear and anxiety. Only in the presence of threatening stimuli can they experience these emotions.
Some dogs suffer from what vets call separation anxiety. When the owner of the dog leaves the dogs have problems until the owner returns. Some have even come home from work to find their house an absolute mess because the dog was so upset at the owner leaving.
Animals short-lived fear of abandonment contrasts strongly with the way we human experience such fears. We worry about threatening events to come, endure them with fear, and, for a long time after them, live in fear or anxiety that they will happen again.
In our next post we will look at some Biblical examples of fear. So join us Sunday Morning January 14th at 8 am central time.