October 18, 2014

A Positively Positive Outlook

I am thinking "positively positive" today. I am choosing to think intentionally positive thoughts about the possible outcomes of my life. Yes, I am choosing a "right" mindset, one that focuses on the abilities and the purposes of the Lord, rather than on the limited understanding of my frail and flawed humanness (Prov. 3:5-6).

I did a quick Google search this morning while I was thinking about this blog post. In searching for the catch-phrase "positively positive," I found a whole assortment of sayings about being positive, thinking positive, and how thinking positively has a direct correlation to expected results or outcomes. So I thought for a moment, "what exactly does it mean to be positive about something?" The most "standard" definition is "with no possibility of doubt; clear and definite." Yes, being positive about something means that you have absolute assurance that some "thing" (event or circumstance) will come to pass. There is no doubt. Whatever the "thing" is, you (or I) have confidence that it will happen.

WOW! Once I thought about this more deeply, I realized that the worldly philosophy of being "positive" was a whole lot of hogwash. Let me explain...

In 1952, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale published a book entitled, "The Power of Positive Thinking." The book was a mixture of faith and optimism, written as a handbook to encourage people and to give them direction in how to overcome crippling self-doubt. Dr. Peale went on to publish 46 books before his death in 1993.

The interesting thing about positive thinking is that since Dr. Peale first wrote his book as a self-help guide to overcoming doubt, positive thinking has morphed into a new age quasi-religious cult.

I see quotes such as these sprinkled all over social media today:
"The difference between can and cannot are only three letters. Three letters that determine your life's direction."

"Positive and negative are directions. Which direction do you choose?"

"Being positive or negative, are habits of thoughts that strongly affect your actions and your life."

"Positive thinking is expecting, talking, believing, and visualizing what you want to achieve. It is seeing what you want, as an accomplished fact."
"Riches, mediocrity and poverty begin in the mind."

"Reality is the mirror of your thoughts. Choose well what you put in front of the mirror."

"A positive attitude awakens inner strength, energy, motivation and initiative."

"To think negatively is like taking a weakening drug."
On first read, we think to ourselves, "Hey, this makes such sense!" Sure, it is better to have a positive outlook than a negative one. Consider your every day conversation with a coworker, family member or service provider. If your conversation is a pleasant one, you enjoy the time spent interacting with them. If your conversation is an unpleasant one, you walk away thinking "Oh, what just happened there!" Positive or negative, good or bad, happy or sad -- these are polar opposites of emotional responses we receive on a daily basis. It is an easy choice when it comes to preferring responses -- I don't know anyone who would willingly choose to be greeted with an unhappy disposition rather than a happy one!

Don't get me wrong -- I think that having a upbeat outlook, a pleasant tone of voice, an encouraging spirit is a Biblical (Phil. 4:8) approach to living. I can see where Dr. Peale, an ordained Methodist (later Reformed) minister, initially posited his philosophy and system of positive thinking. The Bible contains a great deal of encouragement for the believer, and includes numerous passages to help the believer remain faithful, dependent, and focused. They key component to understanding Biblical context is to ask the follow up question: on whom are we to be focused? Scripture clearly places as our object of worship one person in particular, and that is God. The Lord is to be our focus, our source, our object of delight (Ps. 37), and our desire. Therefore, to maintain a positive outlook or approach to thinking, we must make sure we have a right mindset, a right ordering of our thinking processes. God, first; man, second.

The worldly view of positivism is that God is not needed as a focus (and in the quasi-religious view, God is "assumed" to be the focus, but He is set as equal to that of man rather than above man). When God is removed as the source of our devotion, and man is placed at the center of positive thinking, then what remains is another form of humanism.

What I find so interesting is this -- as a social scientist (I can call myself that now because I have conducted social scientific research in graduate school) -- I can tell you that one of the things we (social scientists) never say is that something is positively predictable. There is no certainty that any behavior we study will perform as expected. We cannot prove anything, we can simply show statistical evidence that something is probable.

Therefore, to be able to say that "positive thoughts will create positive outcomes" is nonsense. There is no way to say for certain, to be without a doubt, that anything positive (good) will happen. I cannot predict in my social science experiments that a certain outcome will occur, I can only predict that there is a possibility that it will occur. The data, however, may show no statistically significant difference or correlation between two events.

As I consider all the positive posts I see on Facebook, especially many by Christian's, I begin to worry about this "optimistic" influence, this deluded line of thinking that takes Biblical encouragement, and twists it around so that the focus on man instead of on God.

I know this was a very long digression, but I think it is valuable, at least to me (for my own clarity). I see so many graphic images (pretty pictures, really) that contain spiritual sentiment that is laced with positivism. I hear the words spoken from many Christians that mix in positivism with Scripture. When I think about the standard definition of what it means to be positive, to be clear of doubt, I want to laugh at all the worldly posts that suggest that one can control their outcome by simply changing their mind, their thoughts, their attitude. Yes, I think it is better to have a hopeful outlook on life. I think it is better to be cheerful than it is to be nasty. However, I think we have come to use the word "positive" out of proper context. We use equate it with a belief system that promises to deliver results. I only know of one belief system that has ever promised to deliver anything, and that is Christianity. God promised to send the world a Savior. He kept His promise. John 3:16 says,

"For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life."

The only belief system that incorporates positive belief (absolute certainty, no doubt) is faith in Jesus Christ.

So today, my choice to be "positively positive" is predicated on my relationship with the Lord. I am able to maintain a healthy, happy, and holistic outlook because of the work the Lord has already done on the cross. The relationship I have with Him, the intimacy I experience every day, provides the positive feelings and emotional responses that say to me "I am absolutely sure" that God loves me, that He has a good plan for my life, and that His purposes are eternal.

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