Faulty Thinking and God's Light

Dr. Brian Allison

This past Monday (February 3, 1997), Frank Jones wrote an article in the Toronto Star, entitled, "Does God exist? I don't believe so." In reading that article, I was somewhat disturbed. When two people brought the article to my attention on different occasions, I thought the Lord was prompting me to respond personally. I phoned into the Toronto Star and inquired about the possibility of submitting an article representing an opposing view. I faxed in my response that evening, with a word both to the editor of the Life Section of the Star and to Frank Jones.

After reading the article, I concluded that the author had faulty thinking. I shared his article with my Seminary class this past Friday, along with my response, and a number of the students made the observation that Frank Jones seems to be an angry man; there seems to be bitterness in his heart, probably resulting from a past hurt or offense in reference to the Church. As you read his article and consider his biased and caustic attacks against the Church and Christianity, I think that such an observation may be justified, though we cannot be dogmatic.

Very often, when someone has an intellectual problem, it is because he first has a moral problem. Quite often our intellectual problem with God and truth really suggests a moral problem; there is something morally wrong with our hearts and so we engage in self-justification and criticism. This is true not only of unbelievers, but also of believers. I was speaking with a young American man this past week and he was sharing a few words about his pastor, about whom he is quite concerned. Apparently, this pastor is very legalistic and authoritarian. He seemingly has a distorted view of Biblical leadership. Pastors are to lead, they are to shepherd, they are to be examples, but they are not to be dictators. This young man also shared that it seems that this pastor wants to control. So, he has an intellectual problem or misconception of what constitutes right leadership, but there seems to be something going on deeper in the heart. We can so easily justify our actions on the basis of Scripture; yet we may really have an intellectual problem because we are justifying the wrong motives and selfish desires of our hearts. So, in this case, there is a need to dominate; and deep down inside, this particular pastor may have the motivation of pride, the thirst for power, the need to bolster personal image. So, even with believers, there may be the experience of intellectual problems – a misunderstanding of Biblical truth – which often reveals a moral problem. The believer may be struggling with some sin, self-interest, or self-pity; and these things cloud the mind and distort one's perception of reality and of God. This was the experience of the Psalmist who wrote Psalm 73. The Psalmist says, "When my heart was embittered, and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before Thee" (vv. 21,22).

Selfish anger leads to ignorance

The Psalmist had a bad heart. As he reflected on what he had previously thought and felt, he concluded that there was a time when he had a bad heart – "When my heart was embittered [when I was embroiled in anger], and I was pierced within [when I was hurt and agitated], then I was senseless and ignorant [I lacked understanding and wisdom]; I was like a beast before Thee [I thought irrationally]." Do you see what the Psalmist is saying? Anger in the heart, bitterness in the soul, can result in darkness of the mind. When you are selfishly angry, embittered, upset, or hateful, your mind becomes imprisoned by these destructive emotions, and a veil of darkness is cast over your thinking; and you thus tend to distort reality and become blinded to truth. I think of a young man to whom I talked this past week. He has publicly confessed that there was a time when he was deeply angry with his parents – angry for the way they treated him, angry that they did not show him love and compassion – and as a result he experienced darkness of mind. Life became gloomy, and he became suicidal. The story of Saul is another illustration. Saul was made a king over Israel. David became a member of Saul's company. David proved to be a very skilled and gifted man. He won the plaudits of the people. Subsequently, Saul eyed him and began to compare himself with him. He heard the crowds proclaiming, "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands" (1 Sam. 18:7). Saul became embittered and enraged. The result was that he lost his sanity; he wanted to kill David. Again, destructive emotions affect and distort your perception of reality.

Jealousy and envy produce anger and bitterness

What occasioned or caused this emotional crisis in the Psalmist, which in turn resulted in irrationality? We read, "But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling; my steps had almost slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant, as I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (vv. 2,3). The Psalmist, in effect, said, "I 'blew it', I got spiritually off track, I momentarily fell out of fellowship with God because I began to look at the dishonest and ruthless people in the world who have more wealth and possessions than I. I began to compare my state, status, and assets with those who seem to prosper in the world. I just could not figure it out. On the one hand, I saw my misery; and on the other hand, I saw their prosperity; and things did not seem right and I became envious. I wanted what they had. I wanted their prosperity, and the more I wanted it, and did not receive it, the more bitter I became."

Christians may similarly say, "Lord, what is the problem? I am seeking to please and follow You. I am endeavouring to do Your will and live the Christian life, but things are just not going right for me. Those who do not profess You or know You, seem to have 'all the cards', and everything seems to be working out for them. I see my unsaved associates moving ahead, and moving up. Lord, I want what they have." Envy and jealousy produce anger and bitterness. This was the problem with king Saul. In Proverbs 6:34, we read, "For jealousy [envy] enrages a man [lit. is the rage of a man], and he will not spare in the day of vengeance."

The Psalmist describes the situation of the wicked. He said, "For there are no pains in their death; and their body is fat. They are not in trouble as other men; nor are they plagued like mankind...They mock, and wickedly speak of oppression; they speak from on high. And they say, 'How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?'" (vv. 4,5,8). And so the envious Christian may similarly say, "They are openly defiant; and not only that Lord, I go to work every day and I hear these people taking Your Name in vain; and yet I hear that they have their G.I.C.'s and their RRSP's. They are making out so well, Lord, and they say, 'God does not exist, and He is not taking account of what I say or how I live.' Lord, it just does not seem fair."

Jealousy and envy result in regret of following God

The Psalmist's jealousy and envy, which produced anger and bitterness, which created faulty thinking, resulted in his regret of seeking and following God. He bemoaned, "Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure, and washed my hands in innocence; for I have been stricken all day long, and chastened every morning" (vv. 13,14). Similarly, the Christian may say, "Lord, when I really think about it – the apparent unfairness of this life – it really does not pay to be a Christian and follow You because following You and being a Christian means that I have to live and play by the rules. I cannot make shady deals or cut corners, and that is the only way you can make it in this world. Lord, they are being unethical, but that is the system. I think I have followed You in vain." Have you said something like that? – "It does not pay to be a Christian because you have to be a goody-goody and the system does not allow for goody-goodies. The system does not accommodate Christians." Indeed, Christians are square pegs in round holes. Christians realize that they do not 'fit in'; and people let them know that, and they feel the pressure of that, and they can conclude that maybe it does not pay to be a Christian.

So, with his envy and jealousy, which are deadly emotions, the Psalmist's mind became crippled. That is what envy does – it makes you think things that you should not be thinking. Many Christians wrestle with this matter of fairness. They say, "Why is this guy making it; why is that guy making it? And why am I struggling? It is just not right. God, You are on Your throne; You 'own the cattle on a thousand hills'. You can bless me if You want. Something is wrong; what is happening? I am praying and You are not answering. It just does not seem fair." Yet, we read, "A tranquil heart is life to the body, but passion [or envy or jealous] is rottenness to the bones" (Pr. 14:30). If you entertain envy and jealousy, it will destroy you. It will consume you from the inside out, wearing you down physically. You are not to be envious of the sinner. So we read, "Do not let your heart envy sinners, but live in the fear of the LORD always" (Pr. 23:17). The Psalmist had to come to learn this truth. The only way that you can be recovered from an envious or jealous heart against the wicked, a heart which produces embitterment and anger, is to come into the presence of the Lord and get your thinking right again.

God's presence and light produce sanity

The sanctuary of God restored the sanity of the Psalmist – "When I pondered to understand this [and you, no doubt, have done the same, trying to figure out what is happening, why your life does not seem to be moving ahead, while that unbelieving colleague, for instance, has just received a promotion, a promotion that you deserved], it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end" (vv. 16,17). The Psalmist realized that it was by coming into God's presence that matters became clear, and that he could understand what God is doing, and realized that good would triumph over evil and that seeking and following God was right and beneficial. The presence of God produces proper perspective; irrational thinking becomes enlightened thinking.

As you grapple with the apparently unjust issues in your own life, you will not get your thinking and perspective right until you come into the presence of God. He must enlighten you. In His presence, you will understand, even as the Psalmist did, that God will right the wrongs, that He is in absolute control and that He knows, as well as determines, the end from the beginning, and that He will indeed bless the righteous and condemn the wicked; and that though the wicked prosper for a season – and it is only for a season – that 'pay day' is coming someday, and that seeking and following God is really the best and wisest thing to do. His presence dispels your ignorance, and you are able to claim, "For with Thee is the fountain of life; in Thy light, we see light" (Ps. 36:9).

I was disturbed this past week with Frank Jones article. Do you know what bothered me the most about it? Yes, it was down right error, but I thought to myself that hundreds of thousands of people had read it, and may have been deceived by it; and that was my concern, and that is what motivated me to write in and challenge him. People have a right to hear the opposing view. Those who control the media, control the public. And often they communicate an anti-God worldview. They educate people in lies.

But God's presence and truth dismiss our faulty thinking and replaces it with clear thinking. In other words, in the presence of God, we move from being self-centred in our thinking to being God-centred. That is what happened with the Psalmist. He affirmed, "Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (vv. 25,26). The Psalmist was once focused on the world, he was once focused on others and their prosperity. And we too may say, "Others have their homes, they have their cars, they go on their trips. I want that; I want to have what the world has to offer me." But the Psalmist entered the presence of God; he realized that God was his possession, and that God was all that he needed.

So, faulty thinking is simply self-centred thinking; you become too concerned about your own need, comfort, and convenience; and God says that it is sin. God wants you to be God-focused. If you are envious and embittered by those who have much, or appear to have a better lifestyle than you, God says that you have a bad heart, and that it is time to go into His presence and get it 'healed'; and to realize that if you have God or, better, if God has you, then you really have everything, even though you do not enjoy the pleasures and prosperity of this life. The Psalmist professed, "But as for me, the nearness of God is my good [no longer the prosperity of the wicked]; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all Thy works" (v. 28).

Confession and recommitment restore proper thinking

Notice that when the Psalmist entered God's presence, he did at least two things. First, he confessed his faulty thinking, and then he renewed his commitment to God. We read again, "When my heart was embittered, and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before Thee" (vv. 21,22). The Psalmist clearly understood his sad condition. The presence of God exposes us and we understand who and what we really are. The Psalmist examined his heart and confessed his sin to God. He said, "Lord, I was stupid. My thinking was wrong. It was sinful." Confession entails humility. That is one of the designs of confession, to humble us so that we might gain our sanity again. The underlying dynamic of envy, jealousy, anger, and bitterness is pride. Pride distorts; confession is an act of humility, and produces humility, which is the only context for sober thinking.

In that confession, the Psalmist renewed his commitment to God. He affirmed, "Nevertheless I am continually with Thee [I am bound to You, Lord]; Thou hast taken hold of my right hand [I acknowledge Your goodness. Lord, I have come home again]" (v. 23). Because there was a need for confession, there was a need for renewal of commitment. Any sin is a departure from God, and thus one must return and recommit himself to God. So, with sin, confession is required; and with confession, a new consecration is expected.

With proper thinking, peace and contentment result. When you do not have inner peace and contentment, odds are that you have wrong thinking, you are not thinking God thoughts after Him. If you have right thinking, then you have tranquillity; circumstances do not disturb you; you are trusting in Christ. You have that confidence and assurance that He is in control and that He will right the wrongs. Thus, the Psalmist assuredly affirmed, "With Thy counsel Thou wilt guide me, and afterwards receive me to glory" (v. 24). And the Christian must similarly say, "Lord, You are going to guide me, You are going to give me wisdom, You are going to give me instruction; You are going to teach me how to think, and when it is all over, I will enter heaven where I shall receive my reward."

Purity of heart is, and guarantees, right thinking

The essence of mental and emotional health is to be morally attuned to God's will and intellectually focused on God's Word. When we come to Him, presenting our burdened hearts to Him, presenting our sense of unfairness, bitterness, and anger to Him (because we cannot handle it), the result is that our thinking will become clear, and we will have God-honouring thinking, and thus God-honouring emotions. We will have a good heart and God will bless us. He will grace us with His peace and His contentment; He will grace us with joy in the midst of our trials.

The Psalmist began this psalm where he experientially ended up. He professed, "Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart!" (v. 1). We serve a good God, but the reception of His goodness often involves conditions. If you do not have a good heart, you will not know the full goodness of God. The Psalmist had to learn that. Purity of heart leads to peace of mind and the spiritual prosperity of God. And the converse is true. Impurity of heart leads to misery of mind and spiritual (and emotional) calamity. How is your heart? As you think of your colleagues and your associates, as you think of your neighbours, as you think of them driving their Altimas and you driving your K-car, how is your heart? "Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart" (v.1). Do you have a good heart? If you do, you will enjoy the peace and contentment of God.

If you are a non-Christian who is reading this article, I do not mean to be insulting, but your thinking is wrong, your thinking is faulty, your thinking is distorted. You think you know, but you don't. You think you understand, but you do not really understand because you can't. You may be thinking that God is some ogre, that He is the great Sega-Genesis player and that we are just pawns in His game, just marionettes on strings. Is that what you think? Or maybe you think that Jesus is just some good, moral teacher and that is all. Is that what you are thinking? Or maybe you are thinking something like this: "There are only hypocrites in the Church." Is that your thinking? My unbelieving friend, you have wrong thinking and that is why you have a bad heart, and that explains some of your anger and bitterness. Each of us has a God-vacuum within us that can only be filled by God himself, and He wants to fill it. God wants to move into your life and show you His love and manifest His glory so that you may be enamoured and enraptured with Him, and that He may bless you immensely. He wants to do that for you, but you need to come into His presence. You need to come and confess your sin, confess that you have 'blown it', confess that you have not been thinking right. And you need to make a commitment to Him. Won't you do that now? Jesus Christ the Saviour is waiting; you come.