In my last post I discussed the illusionary reality our minds and feelings can project. That is, one can experience an unpleasant or hurtful event (for example, a disappointment, an unkind word, abuse, etc.), and our negative thoughts can lead to negative feelings, leading to a projection of an illusionary reality that does not correlate with truth.
Here are a few examples:
1. A person is harmed by a person of another color, so the Illusionary reality is that everyone of another color is bad.
2. A person sits alone on a weekend, so the Illusionary reality is he has no friends and no one cares.
3. A person loses their job and has a difficult time finding another. Eventually he settles for a job that pays less. The illusionary reality is that he is a failure and the world would be better off without him.
4. A person is hurt by a churchgoer, so the Illusionary reality is all churchgoers are hypocrites and faith in God is a joke.
5. A disagreement between a married couple gets heated and hurtful words are spoken. The illusionary reality is one of the persons is horrible, and the other is so angry he/she wants a divorce.
These examples might initially seem far fetched, but they are quite real, and more common than we realize. I dare say that many of us experience such illusionary realities while being totally unaware of it. If this is true, then how do we begin to gain the upper hand over our negative thoughts and emotions?
Before I begin to answer this, we must understand that we live in a fallen world. Bad things—tragic things—happen. Life is not fair, as corruption and apathy infect our societies. Indeed, there is darkness, evil, and things that are grotesque. On the flip side, amazing things happen to people. Life is wonderful, as love and compassion are displayed in our societies. Indeed, there is also light, goodness, and beauty! Most of us have experienced some of the bad: an injustice, loss of a loved one, broken heart, illness, etc. Yet, most of us have probably experienced some of the good: love of family and/or friends, the birth of a child, a present, a passionate loss, etc. I say all of this to lay a foundational truth that I think many of us would agree on. We live in a fallen world consisting of both bad and good, pain and pleasure, repulsion and beauty.
Next, I want to pose a theological consideration. As a Christian and (former) minister, persons ask me, “If God is good, then why does He permit evil?” Or those who are filled with scorn and mockery will ask, “If God is good and all-powerful, then why doesn’t He eliminate evil?” as if they just delivered a checkmate. Such a question in no way wins the argument because we are still stuck with the problem of evil and pain. The difference is one position still holds a measure of potential of hope, while the other holds a fending for one’s self. Either way, both positions must still face the fact of living in a world of both good and bad, and both desire hope in the midst of it all.
Now, some of you might be waiting for me to clear up all the confusion as to why God has permitted evil. Here it is: I do not know, for I do not possess the mind of God. What I do know is the Scriptures reveal He is perfect in holiness, love, and wisdom. As for me, I am perfect in none of these. Furthermore, the Scriptures reveal that God created men and women in His image, and placed them in a garden that was “very good” (see Genesis 1:27, 31). The Scriptures then tell us God had warned against the eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (2:16-17). Chapter 3 tells us curiosity and desire got the best of them and the couple chose to partake of the forbidden. The consequence was both horrible and extreme, distorting our thinking, desires, and the core of our being. We read in the New Testament:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles….
Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. ~ Romans 1:18-23, 28-32 (ESV)
Later, we are told quite explicitly:
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned. ~ Romans 5:12
Yet, a few verses later we read:
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! ~ 5:15-17
The reason I share all of this is, according to the Scriptures, we do live in a world where there is pain and trouble. In fact, Jesus tells His disciples forthrightly, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Because of sin we have long forgotten who we are and what we are to be. Through Jesus Christ God desires to reconcile us to Himself, and to restore unto us life, honor, virtue, love, joy, peace, and the like. All of what I have written this far might seem totally unrelated to our thoughts and feelings; however, our minds are bombarded by lies from the world (vain philosophies and false religions); spiritual adversaries (temptations, accusations, and deceptions); and evening our own selves (illusionary realities). In order to gain the upper hand over our thoughts and feelings, we must be able to know truth to combat the lies. What we think and believe will affect our worldview, perception of the world, and how we perceive others and ourselves.
Throughout our lives, from different sources and experiences, we are besieged by statements and thoughts of two extremes: 1) We are number one, as a god worthy of praise, submission, etc.; or 2) We are worthless and unworthy of love or acceptance. Both extremes are riddled with error, and result in much of our unhappiness, restlessness, and discontentedness. How can we experience happiness, rest (peace), and contentment if we are always desiring more but never satisfied or always feeling a loathing for and envious of those who do have more? Is it not strange that we can become our own worst enemies?
So, gaining the upper hand over our thoughts and feelings is a process. Often our thought patters took years in the making, so changing these do not happen overnight. Nevertheless, change is possible.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. ~ Romans 12:2-5
In Christ, we find our true worth and purpose. In Him we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). We are loved unconditionally, and are no better or no worse than others. We, and the works God calls us to, are different—but each are necessary. If I have more than another, I have no reason to gloat or think I am somehow better. If I have less than another, I have no reason to be upset or envious. My identity is to be anchored in Him who died for me. Thus my focus should be rendered to Him only. So whenever we feel dirty, worthless, etc., we should always remember His great love and sacrifice for us. One the other hand, whenever we feel proud, as if somehow better or more significant than others, we should always remember our own helpless state, and remember our need for grace just as everyone else!
Our minds are constantly under attack by proud or degrading thoughts, whether stemming from the words of people or our circumstances. We are not to sit idly and do nothing. We are to rise and fight.
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. ~ 2 Corinthians 10:4-5
Our thoughts dictate much of our feelings. I am encouraging you to challenge your thoughts, and combat the lies with truth. Remember your true identity in Christ.
You are loved, you are needed, and God has a unique work tailored for you. But what will you choose to do with this information?