AATP: Letting Go Of… Negative Thinking?

Continuing the discussion of the advice from a Positive Thinker (PT), lets look at the second item that the PT would have you let go of: negative thinking. This is what she says:

Negative thinking is one of the worst things you can do to yourself. One negative thought leads to another, which leads to a snowball effect of thinking that you can’t control. Pay close attention to your thoughts by noticing your feelings, if you are thinking something that is potentially negative turn it around immediately and replace it with something positive. This simple act will make a world of difference to your mood, and your life over all.

It is a little bit hard for me to explain how I feel about this one. On the one hand, I do not think she is wrong in saying that it is not a good idea to dwell on negative thoughts. On the other hand, I feel that her use of “negative” and “positive” is ambiguous; I suspect that our ideas about each will differ. Of course, it is impossible for me to say for certain what the PT has in mind when she refers to “negative thinking,” but I have a pretty good idea. The PT seems to be all about feelings – you want to feel happy, loved, peaceful, etc; you do not want to feel sad, lonely, guilty, etc. If something makes you feel sad, don’t think about it; think about something that makes you feel happy. I wonder, though, if the PT is taking sinful thoughts into consideration. Given her opinion of guilt, I have a feeling she isn’t. Would she consider lust a negative thought, for instance? Again, I can’t say with any degree of certainty the PT’s definition of negative, but this ambiguity is what makes her advice somewhat dangerous. Now, it just so happens that a very similar admonition appears in the Bible (and much more clearly, too):

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8

Is it even possible to be more clear than that? Think about things that are true, not lies or falsehoods; things that are just, not unjust; pure, not dirty; lovely, not ugly; commendable, not improper; things that are excellent and worthy of praise, not foul or that need be censured. The Bible is also pretty clear about what is true, just, pure, etc. Quite simply, the best things for us to be thinking about are God and His Word. This is wonderfully expressed in the Psalms – lets take a look, shall we?

1Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

3He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers. 4The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Ps. 1:1-4

In these few verses we see that there is a clear difference in a wicked lifestyle and the life of one who immerses himself in the word of God – the life of one is blessed, the other is mere useless trash blown away by the wind. I love that the Psalmist delights in the law of the Lord – it is not a burden or an onerous chore to meditate on the word of God; instead it is a gift and a blessing!

This is expressed in even stronger language in Psalm 63:

1O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
3Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
4So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.

5My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
6when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

Ps. 63:1-8

Not only is the steadfast love of God better than life, the mere thought of the Lord is like a rich feast to the soul! Is that not better than casting about for some vague “positive thought?”

1I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
to you, O LORD, I will make music.
2I will ponder the way that is blameless.
Oh when will you come to me?
I will walk with integrity of heart
within my house;
3I will not set before my eyes
anything that is worthless.
I hate the work of those who fall away;
it shall not cling to me.
4 A perverse heart shall be far from me;
I will know nothing of evil.

Ps. 101:1-4

9How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
11I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
12Blessed are you, O LORD;
teach me your statutes!
13With my lips I declare
all the rules[a] of your mouth.
14In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
15I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
16I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word

Ps. 119:9-16

97Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
98Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is ever with me.
99I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your testimonies are my meditation.
100I understand more than the aged,[b]
for I keep your precepts.
101I hold back my feet from every evil way,
in order to keep your word.
102I do not turn aside from your rules,
for you have taught me.
103How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.

Ps. 119:97-104

These passages illustrate that reading and thinking about and meditating on God’s word is necessary to keep us from falling into sin and temptation. Thus Paul’s exhortation to think on things that are true and pure and excellent. Thinking on these things will indeed make your life better – a better witness, a better example, a better reflection of God’s glory.*

These are just a few passages that exemplify my point. Others in Psalms that would be worthwhile reads are Psalms 8, 42, 92, 141, and 147.

*It is important to note that better should not be confused with easier. Christian’s are not promised a life free from struggle, not should we expect one.

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AAPT: Let Go Of… Guilt?

As I said in my previous post, I am going to be examining the advice offered in this blog post. Lets start at the beginning, then, with guilt.

guilt

noun

1.

the fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, especially against moral or penal law; culpability: He admitted his guilt.
2.

a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.
3.

conduct involving the commission of such crimes, wrongs, etc.: to live a life of guilt.

So, what is the advice this positive thinker gives you?

Does guilt ever change the situation? Can it reverse time and change the past? The answer is NO! Guilt has no use what-so-ever. Let it go and get on with living. Take whatever it is that is making you feel guilty and use it as a lesson learned.

The main point of this little noodle of advice is “guilt has no use what-so-ever.” You should not feel guilty about anything you have done; all guilt is doing is holding you back from “get[ting] on with [life].”

Basically, this advice is a “free pass” to ignoring anything that might make you feel bad about something you have done or said. Cheat on your husband/wife? Don’t you dare feel bad about that, just keep living life. Say something cruel to a friend/sibling/complete stranger? It really doesn’t have anything to do with you how you made them feel, so banish that uneasy feeling and go do something that makes you happy.

Any person that stops and thinks about this advice before blindly latching onto it will realize the faults inherent in it, without even consulting a Bible.

What this Positive Thinker (PT) fails to acknowledge is that if a person is feeling guilty, it is usually because that person has done something wrong. And while guilt – the actual feeling of having done or said something wrong (def. 2 above) – doesn’t itself change the situation, it does lead the person who feels guilt to change the situation, whether that is by confessing a crime, apologizing for an offense or a mistake, breaking off an affair that is ruining a marriage, etc. That is pretty useful, if you ask me.

Now, lets go a bit deeper.

Why do we feel guilt? Because we have done something  wrong – morally, ethically, or criminally. Even more specifically, we feel guilt because we have sinned. We have broken God’s holy law and turned our backs on our Creator. There is no one exempt from this, either, as Romans 3:10 tells us, “None is righteous, no not one.”

What, then, is the purpose of guilt? Does it just exist to drive us to despair for failing God? No, actually. It exists to drive us to turn to God.

David was a man who knew the love and mercy of God intimately. When he sinned against God he did not pretend that he hadn’t done anything wrong; he didn’t dismiss his guilt as merely something that was keeping him from being happy. He saw his guilt as an indication that he had sinned and that he was no longer living a life pleasing to God. A very well-known psalm that illustrates this is Psalm 51:

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

13Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

(emphasis mine)

David realized that the only way for him to stop feeling guilty was to admit his sin to God – but it is very important to note here that he did not admit his sin just so that he could get rid of that pesky, unpleasant feeling. He admitted his sin so that he would once again be in a right relationship with God.

God does not ignore our guilt (def. 1 above), and He will not allow us to continue living in guilt (def. 3). It was because of their sin that God punished Israel when they turned from Him.

It was because of our sin – our guilt – that Jesus had to die.

For Christians, feeling guilt can in some ways be a source of comfort. That may sound strange, but hear me out.

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in the heart of every believer. He has many functions, one of which is conviction of sin. That’s right – He’s the one that makes us feel guilty.

As Christians, we know that we will still sin, but we pray that we will be given the strength and help to resist temptation, and to avoid areas that we know will be a temptation to us. However, we do sin. And when we sin, it can be easy to think that because of that sin God will forsake us and not love us anymore.

But then the Holy Spirit convicts and reproves, and as we repent and turn back to God, we are comforted because God reproves those He loves:

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
6For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.

So guilt is not just some useless emotion that can and should be ignored or banished or trivialized. It is not something you should get rid of – or, as the PT would say, “Let go of” – just because it makes you feel bad and might make you do something that will cause further discomfort like apologizing, or putting somebody else’s feelings before your own.

Guilt should cause us to repent of the wrong that we have done; it turns us toward God; it convinces us of His love.

One day there will be no more guilt, but until that time do not dismiss it as something useless.

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Analyzing the Advice of a Positive Thinker

One of the features of WordPress that I enjoy a good bit is the front page that features those posts that have been awarded the highly desired Freshly Pressed status. It is a great way to get introduced to a wide variety of ([allegedly] well-written, interesting, fun, informative, etc.) blogs that I might never have come across otherwise.

Of course, I can’t say I always agree that such-and-such Freshly Pressed post should have, in fact, been Freshly Pressed. Usually that’s just a matter of taste, though – I can’t really see what is so special about a post with just one somewhat above-average picture on it. Oh well.

Other times, I wish that a post wasn’t featured because of the content. That is the case with this post which was featured just a couple of days ago.

There is some deceptively appealing stuff in that post. I mean, who wouldn’t agree that they have negative things in their life? Who wouldn’t agree that there are positive things that could, and should, replace those negative things. So, the point of the post – and the whole blog, from what I can gather – is bad stuff out, good stuff in and the power of positive thinking.

I would like to look at each of the ten things the author lists individually, examining what she says, her reasoning, and her advice. After seeing what she says, I will present the biblical view of the item. Differences will be evident. Stay tuned.

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A Long Walk: Downtown Greenville

Lovely, cool, sunny days are meant to be spent outside in pretty places.

Today was a lovely, cool, sunny day, and I spent it outside in downtown Greenville, mostly at Falls Park on the Reedy. I think I walked around seven miles, given the walk from the parking garage to the park, and then all through the park, and then back.

Anyway. Pictures!

 

 

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Hey you! You’re committing a logical fallacy! Stop it!

People can be irritating sometimes, can’t they? Customers who tear a store apart and then act like it’s the employee’s fault when something can’t be found. Those friends who complain about the same person/rule/idea all the time. Women who carry dogs around in purses. There are many more, as we all know. And also as we all know, each one of us has been one of “those” people at least once. Some of us are serial offenders.

And, of course, there are times when the woman with the dog in her purse isn’t bothersome at all. But then there comes a time when that woman who dared to put that poor dog in her stupid purse is so amazingly offensive you don’t even want to talk about it. But then you do.

False dichotomies were like that for me.

A false dichotomy is a logical fallacy in which there are only two solutions given to any particular problem when there are actual more than two options. Some examples include “If you’re not for us, you’re against us” or “You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.”

I’ve known that false dichotomies exist for a while now. They used to come up quite frequently in discussions of literature in my classes at USM. I’m fairly certain that I specifically addressed false dichotomies in  at least one of my papers. But for some reason I never made the connection that these false ways of presenting arguments occur in the real world and not just in literature. (Well, duh, Charity – it just so happens that one of the main goals of literature is to reflect life. Yeah, yeah. I know. Shut up.)

Like I said, I never really thought of things that people I know said as being false dichotomies. And then I saw this status update on Facebook:

“Don’t be a woman that needs a man, be a woman that a man needs!”

These types of sayings have always annoyed me, if I’m being honest, and I happen to have a few friends that regularly post similar “words of wisdom” to Facebook. It took me a while to figure out what exactly it was about these types of sayings that was so annoying. Finally, when I read the above quote, it hit me.

False Dichotomy! That’s it!

It is actually liberating in a way to know that instead of just arguing against the “women are/should be better than men cuz men are all dogs and there ain’t no good ones left” mentality with my feelings that that mentality isn’t right (because, you know, I rather like guys…) I can instead use the power of logic to condemn their illogicalities.

So, what’s so wrong with the statement quoted above? What is wrong with saying a woman shouldn’t need a man? What is wrong with wanting to be needed?

Well, as false dichotomies do, it presents only two options: Either women should need men, or men should need women.

The statement seems to be in response to all those whiney women who are constantly in search of the next boyfriend. Those women who can’t seem to get by without a male figure in their life. Yes, those women need to learn that they should not be relying on a man for happiness.

However, the statement does not take into consideration that there happen to be plenty of men that “need” to be in a relationship. Well, actually, the statement likes it that way.

It wants women to think they don’t need anyone to make them happy, but men ought to depend on women for happiness.

Oh, I think that’s gross.

So, what are the options this false dichotomy is not presenting?

Well, first of all I would say that it is entirely possible that both men and women should need each other. It is an unequal and unhealthy relationship where one member gives and gives while the other takes and takes.

A better option, though, is that neither the man or the woman should be relying on the other for happiness in the first place. There is no human that will always be there, never let us down, always love us, and never forget about us. Well, no human that isn’t also God.

Jesus. That’s right. He is the only one we should be placing our hopes for happiness on, as He is the only one that can truly accomplish what He has promised.

Here is another one that annoyed me:

This one says that you have two choices; either hate those that hate you or love those people who love you.

Well, that’s all well and good from a worldly point of view. What really got me was that it was a Christian who posted this.

Here is what Jesus had to say about this very topic:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48 (emphasis mine)

Jesus very explicitly says that there is another option. Well, it’s more than an option, really. It’s a command: love your enemies, pray for those that persecute you; love people who hate you.

There you have two examples of false dichotomies straight from Facebook itself. I’m starting to see them everywhere. I’m starting to worry if I’m guilty of making them myself. It is likely that I have; but hopefully, now that I am more aware of their real-world appearances, that is one kind of mistake I will be able to avoid.

Another is carrying a dog in a purse…

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