Open to Reason and Globalizing Thoughts

The mind, when fueled by our own insecurities and pride, can become a powerful weapon in our own self-harm. A thought gets locked into our brain and it can overwhelm us, fuel our moods, and reshape the trajectory of our day (sometimes even our lives). We feel, at times, like we are not capable of even changing these thoughts, which makes them feel more like attacks than just thoughts. One particularly troublesome cognitive error is Globalizing Thinking. Globalizing thoughts feel like wisdom, but we can fight against them by pursuing Heavenly Wisdom.

Globalizing thoughts refer to thinking errors which occur when we jump from a specific example in our lives to a general statement about ourselves. So, we jump from the example of a specific sin to a general statement about our overall wickedness. Or, we may draw from a specific weakness, like time management, the general conclusion that we are altogether incompetent at life. We can do this in prideful ways too, so that being a good preacher means I am a good person, or getting straight A’s means that I am worthy. We are all prone to Globalizing thoughts because we are all looking for ways to evaluate our worth, belonging, and moral goodness. Globalizing gives us some lens through which to calculate such things. Kevin, for example, was a good athlete and he thought, therefore, that he must be a good person. Sarah’s prayer life was rather poor and she concluded that she must not even be a Christian. We draw general conclusions about ourselves from all kinds of specific examples in life.

This type of thinking is definitely a cognitive error. We tend to “feel” these thoughts more than consciously choose them, but they are, nonetheless, cognitive errors. As errors, they are both destructive and illogical. Globalizing thoughts are destructive in that they attempt to provide us a foundation for evaluating worth, belonging, and goodness but that foundation is never strong enough to bear such weight. Our character and competence are not reliable enough, nor consistent enough, to carry all that weight of worth, belonging, and goodness. Additionally, this approach is illogical because we are composed of thousands of characteristics and competencies, strengths and weaknesses, that make up who we are at any given moment. How do you decide which of these elements to build your worth upon? Dr. Glynn Harrison illustrates this challenge well:

Amy, for example, may be much admired in her legal practice for her ability to sift arguments and advocate her client’s cases before a judge. In everybody’s view she scores highly in that area. But if they had the choice, nobody would ever want to sample Amy’s cooking. On the other hand, she may be a wonderfully thoughtful daughter. But then in several areas she isn’t always a particularly competent mother. She may bring group Bible study to life with her insights, but her prayer life is an undisciplined shambles. Which of these individual “scores” should she choose to generate her overall score or “value” and then judge herself? Does she pick the positives and ignore the negatives, or should she work out an average? Or maybe she should just go with the last one that occurred? Of course not. Instead Amy needs to stop trying to score, evaluate, and rate herself as a person altogether. (Ego Trip, 168)

Globalizing from specifics to the general is not healthy…with one exception.

What makes this issue somewhat difficult is that there is at least one instance where the Bible does utilize globalizing thoughts. The Bible tells us, for example, that we sin because we are all sinners; we inherited a sinful nature from Adam and the presence of sin in our lives should lead to the conclusion that we are in fact sinners (Rom. 5:12-14). This is true globalizing. What happens, however, when we become Christians is that our status as sinners is changed. We are no longer defined by our sin but we are “new creations in Christ Jesus” (2 Cor. 5:17). Though Christians still sin and must repent and deal with their sin, their status as beloved Children of God is not compromised. Christ has paid for all our sin and we are forever declared to be righteous in God’s sight (2 Cor. 5:21). Christians still struggle with sin, but we struggle as Christians not as sinners.

In spite of this truth, however, globalizing thoughts are still a tremendous cognitive error for many of us. How do we grapple with these overwhelming negative or prideful conclusions? The Apostle James gives us some guidance on addressing this subject.

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18)

James is here contrasting worldly wisdom and heavenly wisdom. Worldly wisdom is fueled by comparison and self-promotion. Worldly wisdom is grounded and rooted in the type of evaluation that Globalization is constantly attempting. In Globalizing we are not merely evaluating ourselves, we are evaluating ourselves in relation to other people. So, when I receive praise and recognition for my accomplishments then I am good. When I don’t, then I am bad. When my strengths stand out, then I am good. When someone else does it better than me, then I am bad. Phil was funny and the life of the party, until Stephen came around. When Stephen wasn’t there Phil felt good about himself, but when Stephen came along he felt himself growing frustrated, angry, and insecure. In fact, he found that he even began to secretly hate Stephen (though, if he was honest, Stephen was always nice to him). That’s worldly wisdom which grounds self-evaluation in jealousy and selfish ambition.

In contrast to this James describes several key elements of heavenly wisdom, including specifically that it is “open to reason.” This is a vital key to fighting Globalizing Thoughts. The thing about these thoughts is that they feel so true in the moment, but they make no sense. How does having six-pack abs make you an awesome person? It doesn’t. How does poor time management equate to being a horrible person? Or how does making your kids Kraft Mac N’ Cheese for three meals this week make you a terrible mom? None of these conclusions can be drawn from simple examples. Being a person is highly complex and full of lots of details. Being a mom is equally complex and goodness cannot be evaluated by one week’s home dinning menu. Furthermore, if the God of the universe has named you His “dearly beloved child” (Eph. 5:1; 1 John 3:1), then how can job performance alter that status? God loved us while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8), being a good accountant, or physically fit, or an excellent communicator, or a quality mom won’t make Him love you any more than He already does. Globalizing thoughts are not reasonable thoughts.

James says that wisdom from above is open to reason. Being open to reason means that I humbly submit my thoughts to critical evaluation under God’s Holy Word. Can my evaluation of my self, either negative or prideful, be grounded in the Scriptures? Does God back-up what I am saying about myself? Do my conclusions jump from specifics to generalities in ways that God supports or substantiates? Learning to be critical of my self-evaluation can allow me to identify Globalizing thoughts, resist them, and replace them with truth.

This is, of course, a challenging practice. It doesn’t just happen because I “know” the truth. I have to continually challenge my thoughts with truth, I have to fight with my emotions which want to disregard that truth, and I need good friends who can help me believe the truth when I am tempted to justify my globalizing errors. It starts, however, with Heavenly Wisdom which is open to reason.

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