It’s more than a provocative question…
I propose that He does not and I ask you, dear reader, to suspend judgment for a minute or two. I promise it won’t hurt and the time spent will be better than listening to the “news” of the day. (Not saying much there.) So please put off the temptation to immediately discard the notion as heretical or to disregard per any other source of resistance you might initially sense. Give yourself permission to simply consider the “what if”. What if it’s true? What if the all-powerful, all-knowing, Almighty God of the universe does not harbor a single negative thought about you? What if the ultimate Authority in the universe does not impute to you guilt or shame or disapproval or disappointment? What if you become persuaded that such is the case and then you ask yourself the follow-up question, “Do I harbor negative thoughts about myself?”
Given my experience, I might struggle to believe someone who would not answer that last question in the affirmative. However, if the ultimate Authority in the universe does not harbor negative thoughts about me, why would I want to continue to do so? Imagine what it would feel like to go an entire day without harboring a single negative thought about yourself, or anyone else. Pollyanna? Perhaps, but just now as I floated the idea by you did you find yourself sensing even a hint of optimism, perhaps hope, perhaps relief, perhaps peace? Perhaps a “wouldn’t that be wonderful”? I propose it is not Pollyanna, rather it is the will of God for us. It is suppose to be our norm.
So let’s get to it. First, let’s define some terms. “Harbor” means to give shelter to. In this context, employing a nautical metaphor, it means to allow a thought to “drop anchor”. All of us experience negative thoughts throughout a typical day. They rain down upon us via the media, from those around us and some have their genesis from within. The point here is that there is always a point of decision, sometimes so nearly automatic that we are not even cognizant of making a choice. That choice has to do with what to do with a negative thought, or any thought, when it comes our way. One such option is to “harbor” it. When we harbor negative thoughts about ourselves, others, the world we start down a path that can, and often does, lead to a downward spiral.
Second, the term “negative” can be very relative, subjective in nature. So for instance, some might perceive correction as a negative, I did something “wrong” which requires correction. I actually want correction in my life. Every correction is a true opportunity for growth. It’s not punitive, or at least it shouldn’t be. If God, or my spouse, wishes to correct me why wouldn’t I want to be corrected. If I am taking an unhealthy path why wouldn’t I want to be steered straight? True correction is a manifestation of care, concern, love. The negative I am writing about is that force of thought that causes one to be critical of self or others. This negativity promotes discouragement and worse. This negativity steals our life, it is death-on-the-installment-plan.
Lastly, and necessary to my hypothesis, my starting place includes a philosophical presupposition that God exists and that He is a positive force. It is written that “God is love.” That is a baseline without which all bets are off. For those who might be thinking, “Oh yeah, were back to the ‘faith’ thing.” Yes, in deed, we all live by faith. It’s a big universe, no one has universal knowledge, therefore we all live by faith in some, in fact in many, aspects of everyday life. Treatment of that subject would require another blog or two.
Beyond definition of terms, why would a God who is love in His essence wish to harbor negative thoughts about you and I? It is written that love is patient, kind, endures, believes… all positive thoughts. On the other side of the ledger, it is not judgmental, critical, punitive, resentful or bitter. So a God who is all these things, in His essence, would hold us in contempt, why? You may well reply, “Isn’t He going to judge us?” Yes, it is written that we shall be judged. So think about judgment for just a moment. Is it truly a negative, in and of itself? It is defined as: “The act or process of judging; the formation of an opinion after consideration or deliberation. An opinion or estimate formed after consideration or deliberation, especially a formal or authoritative decision.” If you are the plaintiff in a court case wherein you were wronged are you not seeking a judgment? Judgment is only a negative term if one is afraid of the outcome. I actually look forward to that judgment. It will be the first time that I will be accurately judged by myself, or anyone else, in my entire life. Also, there is immeasurable relief found in the assurance that while certainly guilty, my pardon has already been obtained. Any judgment against me has already been satisfied in full. Actually, from a legal standpoint God must forbear, must forgive those in Christ Jesus. In a sense we enjoy the benefits of the legal concept of res judicata. Res judicata provides that once your case has been adjudicated you may not be charged again with the same offense. My case has already been adjudicated. I was found guilty. But, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Jesus paid the price for me, He satisfied the judgment against me. Legally speaking, God cannot charge me again. Given that state of the case, if God were to choose to harbor negative thoughts toward me wouldn’t He be thinking Jesus just didn’t do enough, His sacrifice was just not enough? He would be denigrating the work of His Son.
You might reply, “What about the sin problem?” Ah yes, the sin quotient. What is sin? It is the tendency, the proclivity, the default nature of humankind to wander from God and His precepts. Ironically, it is actually a product of love, for love requires a free will choice. Inherent in that free will choice is the option to choose poorly, to choose to disavow God and His goodness. However, for those “in Christ” sin has been removed as far as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12) I could list a very long list of verses affirming that notion. The proclivity to wander from love has been removed, done away with. As a believer, any such proclivity to continue to wander from God’s precepts are not due to our nature, because we were given a new nature. We are new creatures in Christ. Then why do I wander? I submit, first, I still have a free will and from time to time I choose poorly. Second, my old habit patterns may still be alive and well. Habits are merely patterns of thought, like harboring negative thoughts about myself. (As an aside, for believers, anything that is not of faith is sin. Harboring negatives thoughts about myself are evidence of a lack of faith, are they not?) Habits can be broken, my brain can be rewired, new neural pathways can be established. Habits are not my essence, they do not define me, they are not my nature. Jesus’ sacrifice has made sin a non-issue. Period. If we say otherwise we denigrate His sacrifice.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament states:
“For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”
“Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET.” (Hebrews 10:1-4, 11-13 NASB, italics mine)
The writer is comparing the two biblical options for the forgiveness of sin. First under the Law, the old covenant, he makes the case that it never could secure for us forgiveness. For if the Law could secure forgiveness those who partook they “would no longer have had consciousness of sins”. Not only did they continue to have a consciousness of sin, the yearly sacrifice under the Law actually served to remind them of their sinful state. On the other hand, the sacrifice of Jesus offered once for all time, securing forgiveness of sins for all who believe, did what the Law could not do. Therefore, we who believe in and trust the sacrifice of Jesus should no longer have a consciousness of sin. That’s right, those of us in Christ should no longer have any consciousness of sin. In the original language consciousness means a persistent notion. We all know what it means in our experience. It is an awareness, sometimes a vague sense of lack, of guilt or shame, of inadequacy. It is the haunting, taunting thoughts we harbor in the recesses of our mind that come out in the unguarded moment to harass us. It is the source of so much negativity in our thinking. But, here you may protest, “If I don’t remain conscious of my own sin, If I don’t operate in an awareness of my own sin then who is minding the store?” It is written that the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. It’s His job. He’s really good at it. Much better than you or I. Why not let Him do it? So, if sin, and all its attendant notions, are no longer an issue why are we fighting that battle? Jesus already fought that battle for us and won, “It is finished.”
I can feel the resistance to such a notion even now. Too good to be true. License, if we believe this notion we are liable to run amok. Let me just ask, “How is that working for you?” Been there, done that. I am nearly 70 and have been a “believer” for nearly 50 years. I am persuaded that every ounce of energy and focus spent on trying not to sin, etc. is a total and complete waste of time and a slap in the face of Jesus. Jesus set us free for freedom! Not my thought, see the Apostle Paul. He stated quite clearly that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood”. Last I checked I am flesh and blood. I am not suppose to be the problem any longer, rather I, like you, am called to be a part of the solution. I am suppose to embody good news. Struggling against sin everyday doesn’t sound like good news to anyone. We are not likely to get very far as “ambassadors of Christ” if we are still focused on our own shortcomings, harboring negative thoughts about ourselves. And if we are harboring negative thoughts about ourselves are we not very likely, also, harboring negative thoughts about others. That state would be the antithesis of the commandment that Jesus charged us with, namely to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Assuming by now that you are either still with me or have written me off as a heretic, I conclude. It is well settled that “nature abhors a vacuum.” So does my brain. If I simply try to stop thinking about something, leaving an empty space, I am doomed to failure. It’s the old diet mentality, “I won’t eat, I won’t eat.” It doesn’t work. I must “put off” and “put on”. I cannot simply decide to remove negativity. It must be replaced. In order to do so we have to “repent”. That is we have to change the way we think, that’s all that word means. We must give ourselves permission to believe that it’s okay to reset our mental default settings. That is what I have been writing about, permission. Ultimately, I am proposing that the ultimate Authority in the universe has given us permission, actually commands us, to move from a negative default setting to a positive. How? Truth. Jesus taught that the “truth shall set(make) you free”. What is the truth? Life as God sees it. Me from God’s perspective. Is there a gap between how He sees me and how I see me? Shouldn’t be. Ironically, that would be sin. Not a moral failure, rather missing the mark, the literal definition of sin. To the extent that my view of me does not line up with His view of me I need new eyes, I need new lenses, I need a new prescription. It’s been long enough, hasn’t it? Let’s lay down all the old religious baggage and take up the truth that sets us free.
Start today. Exalt the sacrifice of Jesus by purposing not to harbor a single negative thought about yourself, knowing that this is God’s will for you and, therefore, He shall provide the necessary grace. And, if you should fall off the horse and find yourself falling back into “harboring” habits of negativity, just stop and get back on the horse. No guilt. No disappointment. Waste no time thinking about the misstep. God is good, He never uses guilt or shame as a tool to shape you, never. Turn the tables… the best defense is a great offense. Harbor, drop anchor, in all the positives available to us through Christ Jesus. That’s Good News…