“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
In classical mythology, the goddess of wisdom, Athena, sprang fully-grown and clothed from her father Zeus’ forehead, a typical example of how the ancient Greeks lapped up stories of insane family relationships millennia before the daytime soap opera slouched onto our television screens. Many have since seen this as a metaphor for the concept of divine inspiration, although if you’ve ever seen an awards acceptance speech wherein a hapless actor or musician went on to thank God for the talent it took to create their ‘masterpiece’, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Father would rather not take too much credit on that occasion.
But the truth is, no one action, event or circumstance is made from whole cloth, springing into existence from nothingness. Everything comes from somewhere, and there’s a cause for every effect. Part of the human condition is the desire to find out how things work, the urge to find the cause for every effect. The lynchpin of every civilization is a working system of justice, a framework of laws that look to identify and hold accountable those who, through wrongdoing, take actions that negatively affect others. The reason this is so important to society is that it allows us to reestablish the concept of fairness in an unfair world, and so equalize things… imposing an artificial balance upon the arbitrariness of nature. Through science, we examine smaller ideas of the prime mover, in investigating DNA and quantum physics, attempting to explain how the universe and ourselves have come to be. And the reason for this is fairly straightforward – we become aware from an early age that things have a regular habit of going wrong. We don’t like it. And we decide to fix things so that nothing will ever go wrong again. The most obvious example of this is in the myriad fields of psychology, where learned women and men spend their lives attempting to understand how the mind works, both as a series of occasionally contradictory precepts, and in the specifics of our everyday lives. It’s no coincidence that the majority of those working in psychological fields of study are engaged in some form of therapeutically relevant work. We want to know how we tick, because we recognize that occasionally, we tock.
The classical philosopher Plato believed that the ‘ideal’ of a thing is the thought that conceived it, and that everything that follows is an echo, a representation of it once removed (so the many different kinds of chair that can be fashioned are simply echoes of the idea of a chair). In the case of our own behavior as human beings, every action we take has a starting place within ourselves. Everything we do begins somewhere else, in our thoughts and how we construct them, our methodology of thinking. Once that methodology of thought is set, a path is also set, which will lead us to actions and the creation of circumstance, the manner in which we affect the world around us. We think, we do, and then… things happen, and often those things seem entirely counter-intuitive, as if they materialized out of nowhere, entirely unconnected to what we planned. Sprung, fully formed and fully clothed, from the head of Zeus. But that’s not the case. We are the origins of our actions. We just aren’t always in control of the process that brings those actions to be. We think of a chair, then build one with uneven legs and wonder how it is that we keep falling off.
There’s an old expression “he got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning,” a tacit acknowledgement that the attitude in which you begin your day can have unforeseen consequences for the remainder of it. Negative thoughts will birth negative behavior, which in turn will negatively affect how we relate to the people around us – for example, cynicism and suspicion will naturally breed mistrust, which leads to a withdrawal from meaningful relationships with others. Negativity is infectious in this way, but also viral, creating the same mindset in those nearby (the people we withdraw from begin to exhibit cynical and suspicious attitudes of their own), and finally cancerous (that paranoia and mistrust spreads to other areas of our lives – family, work, our ability to perceive beauty, to sleep well, to enjoy food).
At his trial for seditious practices, Plato’s mentor Socrates is alleged to have said that, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” meaning that he had no intention of ceasing his public questioning of the state, even in the face of death. He felt that he had a divine responsibility to question. We cannot continue to allow ourselves to be led by circumstance, rather than by examining the thought process that causes that circumstance. We are not divorced from our actions; we are married to them, the cause of our actions and behavior. But examining the process that leads to each individual attitude and act is a thankless and exhausting task, and really nothing more than an exercise in chasing our own tails. It’s the equivalent of constantly treating the symptoms of a medical condition, rather than the underlying cause. We need to review the methodology behind our thinking in order that we can bring about a cumulative, widespread curative effect upon our lives.
In delivering us, Christ has set us free to learn how to become like Him. But how did He become like Him to begin with? Jesus’ own methodology of thought began and ended with the role that He was to play in His Father’s great work. He “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.” Walking as one of us, a working man amongst working men and women, was instrumental in His ministry towards humanity and His humility and obedience towards His Father. He schooled His whole approach to life, His mindset, attitude and behavior, so that He could fulfill His vital role in God’s grand design. The Son of God, the Messiah, could have been any person that He chose to be – a worldly prince, a Pharisee, a citizen of Rome with all of the upbringing and legal status that that would bring. For Jesus, the unexamined life was not one He considered to be worth living. He chose to be on the level of the people to whom He had come to speak, a deliberate, brilliant methodology of thought leading to a singularity of purpose, of action and circumstance. The son of a carpenter would know how to build the chair that he saw in His mind’s eye, and build it to last.
Examine your own life, and consider a situation or circumstance that is causing you problems in your own life. Think about how you feel about it, and what the basis of that attitude might be. Then take that situation, and imagine how it might be improved by a change of perspective – a shift in the methodology of the way that you think about it. Where there’s negativity, try replacing it with positivity. What does that look like to you? Try this new way of thinking on for size. How does it feel? How does it fit? The negative spirit of the world brings apathy, a lack of enthusiasm, while the positive Spirit brings a cheerful aspect, a validation. Can you feel yourself beginning to smile as you try on this new way of brilliant thinking? It’s Christ’s gift to us, one of many.
The reason we are where we are today is simple. It’s the place that we chose to walk to, along the path that we set. It’s our way of thinking that brought us here, and it must be our way of thinking that brings us onward to where we need to be. Fundamentally, if all of our thinking brings us to a place that we don’t like the look of, then surely it must be time for a better thought?