Rev. Chip Hammond
Not long ago I read an amusing little story about a man who got himself into trouble because he starting thinking. It wasn’t too bad at first. He could control it, and he would only think at certain times, when he was with others, and he knew his limits. But then it began to get away from him. He started thinking more and more frequently. He began giving up other activities that he used to enjoy just so he could think. His wife became worried about him when she noticed him thinking alone. Things reached a crisis level. His boss had to pull him aside, and tell him, “Look, Bob, I like you. But if keep thinking on the job, we’re going to have to let you go.”
Some of you know that in the PC world, thinking can get you into an enormous amount of trouble. Of course the problem today is not that most people do too much thinking, is it? Or is it?
I think (there I go) that we tend to fall off the horse on both sides. Either we think too little about things, or we think too much about them, or more precisely, we think too much in the abstract about them. We might call it “pure thinking.”
This is what the Greek philosophers did. Science took as long to develop as it did because the Greeks thought that they could simply run models in their minds and reach valid conclusions. Experimentation, verification, and observation were a superfluous waste of time.
This is what led Xeno to the conclusion that motion is an illusion. How long does it take you to walk a mile? Maybe fifteen minutes? Ah, but you see, what if you divide the mile in half, and in half again, and in half again, and on ad infinitum. Will you ever reach a point that you cannot mathematically divide the distance? No! The division of the distance is infinite. And since you can’t traverse an infinite distance in a finite amount of time, motion is an illusion. So much for Xeno.
This “pure thinking” is why the Church at first condemned Copernicus and Galileo. They read the words of the Bible without any reference to the real world that God created. They thought the world they created in their own heads was sufficient, and the Bible only needed to be interpreted according to the “plain words” of it. “What need have we for evidence or observation? It only leads to heresy!”
Some time ago a Virginia delegate made the suggestion that rather than discard all the old school text books, they should be stored under the desks. In the event that someone comes into the school and starts shooting, he suggested that the kids could all pick up textbooks to block the bullets. It was an example of “pure thinking.” Great suggestion. Sounds reasonable. Except I took an old book to the range and shot at it. Unless the children are going to hold up complete sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica, they would do just as well trying to block bullets with a box of tissues. I haven’t heard much more about this “solution,” but if it comes up again, I’ll send my delegate pictures.
To be sure, not analyzing, pondering and cogitating enough can get us into trouble. But so can living only in our own heads. Take, for example, the state of modern Darwinism. Darwin suggested, not merely a natural mechanism for the diversity of life, but a natural mechanism that did not require any reference to deity to explain it. His sentiments toward God were similar to those of the astronomer LaPlate – “I have no need of that hypothesis.”
Now, anyone who tells you that modern Darwinists are “stupid” and “illogical” hasn’t read them, perhaps because they are afraid to. Given the Darwinist’s presuppositions and a priores, Darwinism is not illogical. It does not not make sense. And as long as you adopt those presuppositions and stay in your own head, Darwinism is quite tidy.
What destroys Darwinism is looking at a dog’s nose. The symmetry, functionality, and aesthetic beauty of a dog’s nose screams that this is not the result of undirected chance. The dog’s nose has an elegant design, a graceful teleology which may be denied when you are engaged in “pure thought,” but is hard to deny when you look at the thing.
Here’s another example of how “pure thought” gets us into trouble. The Bible tells us not to worry. Worry is the result of thinking too much. Worry is simply thinking “what if” to an insane extreme. Of course the scenarios we conjure in our minds are always hundreds of times more dire than what we actually experience.
Here’s another: Sometimes we look at our circumstances, and we think “if God loved me this wouldn’t happen.” We let our undisciplined minds dwell in the wrong place; we engage in “pure thinking” and create a world that exists only within the confines of our own cranial vault. At times like those we need to get out of our heads and look upon the cross. The only reasonable question in light of the cross can be, “Despite what I am suffering now, can God really not love me if he sent his Son to go through that for me?”
We can get into real trouble if we don’t think about things. We can get into just as much trouble thinking too much.
Asaph was a thoughtful man. It irked him that the wicked prospered. He wondered if he had wasted his time trying to keep his hands clean. The answer to his dilemma was not to be found in “pure thinking,” private meditation, or private Bible study. “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me” (Ps. 73:16).
Certainly, if you adopt certain presuppositions and turn over in your mind what you see, you might very well reach Asaph’s conclusion. How did he straighten himself out?
Asaph couldn’t understand it all “till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin.” (Ps 73:17-18).
Our thinking gets messed up when we do it in the abstract. When we actually look at the world, at the universe, at animals, it connects our heads to the world that really is, not the one we imagine (ever see any of Salvador Dali’s work? The world we imagine can be pretty bizarre).
Our thinking gets messed up, too, when we stay away from corporate worship and the people of God. The issue really isn’t so much “do we think or not?” The issue is, “are our minds disciplined? Do we think on the right things? Do we think in touch with the world that really is, or just one we’ve made up?” Not least important is Asaph’s question “do I go to the right place to think?”