What King David Can Teach Us About Overcoming Political Anxiety
by Joe Carter
This is an election season in America, which means you are likely anxious, fearful, and worried. This is by design. And it’s only getting worse.
For as long as there have been democratic elections, there have been politicians seeking to use the fears and anxieties of the people to win votes. But what has increased—and increased exponentially in the past few decades—is the rate at which we are being bombarded by such anxiety-producing political rhetoric.
In the era before the American Revolution, a citizen may have heard such anxious news a couple of times a month. By the time of Lincoln and the telegraph, the rate had increased to several times a week, and with the advent of the television, several times a day. In the age of the internet, though, we may be exposed to fear-mongering messages several times an hour.
Fortunately, we Christians have an antidote, for the Bible has much to say about anxiety, fear, and worry. In fact, there is a political leader in Scripture from whom we can learn much about dealing with anxiety and fear: King David. But before we consider how to cope with these emotions let’s look at what we should know about them.
Understanding Anxiety, Fear, and Worry
They aren’t interchangeable — The primary difference between fear and anxiety is the timeframe. Fear is an emotional response to a real or perceived immediate threat; anxiety is an emotional response to a real or perceived future threat. Fear is a warning system that alerts us to danger right now, while anxiety is a warning system of impending danger. Related to anxiety is worry: a repetitive pattern of thoughts and mental images that causes us to inordinately focus on our anxiety and fear.
We need anxiety and fear — What happens to someone who doesn’t feel physical pain? The answer is he or she suffers immensely. People with leprosy lack the ability to feel pain, and the results are that they often lose body parts due to repeated injuries. Pain sends the body a signal that something is wrong, and when we don’t receive the warning we cause even more damage to ourselves.
Fear and anxiety can serve a similar function, warning us of impending danger. Like pain, fear and anxiety are God-given capacities that are to be used for the right purposes. In we are in physical danger we can be motivated by fear to escape and seek safety. Similarly, we need anxiety because we live in a broken world that poses many future threats, both to ourselves and to our society as a whole.
The problem comes when fear and anxiety cease to be warning signs and become sources of continuous distress, or when we are fearful and anxious over the wrong things, in the wrong way, or to the wrong degree. (While some anxiety is normal, it can become disordered and debilitating. If you have persistent anxious thoughts on most days of the week for six months, if the anxiety interferes with daily functioning, and you have anxiety-related symptoms [e.g., trouble sleeping], seek help from a counselor or physician.)
We don’t need worry — In their limited roles as mechanisms for signaling pain, evil, or danger, fear and anxiety can be signals that God intends for us to take action. Worry, however, should not be part of our life at all, because it causes us to focus on our concerns, rather than on God. Here’s how David can teach us not to worry.
How King David (and King Jesus) Can Help
Out of all the people in the Bible there’s probably no one who was more afflicted by fear and anxiety than King David. Fear and anxiety were, for him, like constant companions. We can’t really understand David, or his Psalms, without understanding his anxiety and fear. But by understanding how David dealt with these emotions, we can also learn how we too can respond appropriately…
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