Have people ever told you that you overthink? In most environments, this translates to people wanting you to ease up and be more chill, less analytical, and less demanding.
Church often adds another dimension to this thought pattern. To overthink is to question and thus lack trust. Or it is to worry and invite the negative.
First, I ask you to forgive these people. You can use a variation of Jesus’ words on the cross. Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are talking about.
There is thinking beyond and other than worrying. Most people have never experienced that. When they start to think about things intensely, they almost always worry about or lust for something.
They have never learned to think independently, apart from simple things.
When they read a verse in the Bible, they revert to what they heard somebody preach. When these preachers have to come up with a sermon, they revert to what others have preached or commented on that subject. This is recursive, and rarely is there an original thinker upstream.
And it holds in education as well. When I was at Bible school, the papers I wrote were collections of the thoughts of others. The others I quoted had to be approved by the gatekeepers.
But I tell you a secret: more thinking leads to less worrying. More thinking is how we find solutions. More review is how we grasp the big picture. More thought is how we see behind the curtain.
Thinking is the expression of trust. I trust that God will let me find him if I keep searching. How can I search? By asking questions, by finding answers, by confronting the unknown.
I trust myself as his creation when I think. I honor the facilities that God has created us with. I trust that God gives me growth, expressed in an ever more complex ability to think and to think as he does.
And I trust our relationship. Which father wants his child to stay dumb, limited, self-limiting, without self-esteem, and running on only parts of its cylinders? And which father would leave his children alone when they go astray?
Jesus said he would leave the 99 and go after the one who went astray. We applied this to sin, but sin is not the issue. Sin has been dealt with at the cross. It is a mere statement of love, outside the categories of good and evil, right and wrong.
Most that do not think much adapt to the belief that “saved and lost” or “going astray” are synonyms of “having sinned.” Plus, they immediately revert to their adopted definition of what sin is.
To think is dangerous, I agree. It is hazardous for all the old hats, preconceived notions, traditional thought patterns, and power tools used to control and manipulate people.
But it is most dangerous to the status quo.
Yes, there is some danger that one will go astray. But this is where trust kicks in: God will find a way to bring them back. And you know what? If they keep on thinking, that might be more successful and easily done.
How often have I heard that God will send somebody to correct you and that all you need to do is stay teachable? Let me translate. Hey, you do not need to think. If you do the wrong things, there will be another that will tell you. All you need to do is listen to the right voices.
Children need to listen to the right voices, and we teach them. Don’t go with strangers. Billy is a bad influence. Your teachers and pastors are always right.
But there comes a day when children aren’t children anymore. But somehow, they still are, as they never learned to think for themselves.
Most people are led from two places. The first is their desires and personality traits. They have been trained to understand their desires as God’s voice if the desire fits the framework they have been taught. (My editor tells me that this is a bad sentence because it contains passive voice twice. True, but that is the point: Those people are passive at best.) They can be sure that it is God’s voice because, as fallen people, they would never come up with a positive idea. The question remains whether the desire is positive within the framework of the doctrine or positive in God’s eyes.
The second is their environment, especially their elders within the church.
One could say now that the first is them thinking on their own. It is not. It is their drives and instincts, their desire and wants. And I do not say that they are inherently evil. We are God’s children, made in his image. But they are limited. They are one source of information.
Do you think our father is led by his instincts and environment?
A lot of people believe precisely that. They believe that God is led by his wrath to condemn the majority of people, namely all those that do not accept the gift he is willing to give them. And they believe that they can change God’s mind by doing the right things enough times.
God and, by extension, we, as his image and his children, are self-authoring beings. Self-authoring includes dialogue with our environment. It includes listening to our desires, instincts, and needs. But it, more than anything else, contains conscious thought, authentic expression, and self-transcendent decisions.
But there is one serious problem we must face and be honest about.
Finding explanations for and questions about many things will bring a dreaded polarity. It’s the polarity of magic versus reason. We could also call it spirituality versus reductionism.
It is the first step of a process in which we explain many things quite rationally we needed magic or God for in the past. This is one of the conflicts Christians have with science. They believe that science’s only raison d’être is to eliminate the need for God.
It’s natural to withdraw from questioning and thinking when they lead us away from faith. But what if we pressure through?
New findings bring forth new awe, and we find new magic and the need for spirituality. This new-found spirituality is even more profound because it does not have its foundation in ignorance.
And yes, for some of it, we will find reductionist explanations for over time. This will lead to an ever-faster pendulum swing between the two poles and finally make way for a third way. This explanation integrates and transcends the two poles instead of merely offering compromise or polarization.
People’s answers to thinking should be more thought, past worries and doubts. That is true courage, and it is true faith.