Don’t Think About Elephants

It is only natural that God would give to us simple universal principles for living life, which if followed,
would lead to peace, fulfillment, and joy. – C. David Lundberg

This is an interesting quote I just read. Working in a bookstore means I get to hear a lot about books and ideas and this one is an ancient one. Paraphrased in my own words it says, “Of course God would create a set of rules for us to follow and once we follow or accept A, B and C we would find ultimate happiness and contentment.” We humans are always trying to make the formula work. We just love religion so much. We see rules and cause and effect, we desire a certain effect so we work to figure out how we can cause it. What we can’t seem to get is that there are natural rules, principles of life, but those are just the framework to allow free relationships to develop our hearts. Our hearts aren’t developed by a rulebook, they’re developed by the actions and reactions of the relationships we’re in. Relationships that are often unpredictable and never controllable by one party.

Religion says you can make things right by following a set of practices or accepting and living by a set of ideas. Jesus pointed this out to the Pharisees when He said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yetyou refuse to come to me that you may have life.” The problem with rules is we have a nature that always wants to break them. What happens if I say to you, “Don’t think about elephants”? Paul illustrates these truths brilliantly in Romans. In chapter 7 verse 6 he says, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” Then he takes it even further by saying, “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.” Hence the don’t think about elephants example. What I don’t want to do, I do.

Relationship turns things upside down. Only in intimate and personal communion with God can we find the freedom and attainment religion can only promise. When we let our own desires and purposes die and seek the Kingdom Purpose he has planted in our heart we realize the great things promised by religion can never be met by fulfilling our selfish whims and inclinations, nor can they be met by denying ourselves on the bases of religious piety. God is not interested in formulaic piety. He created us for something. And He created us to discover what that something is. And He created that discovery to happen in the context of intimate communion with Him. It’s not a formula. It doesn’t lead to immediate and ultimate joy. It’s a relationship with ups and downs and difficulties and unexpected freedom in dancing through life storms. He’s a tangle of mysteries, infinite in complexity and perfect in the journey. But it’s Him who we must let lead. Ours is but to take the plunge, to seek with abandon and to forsake all that would intervene in the divine romance we are called to.

That means we must individually forsake different things at times. What may come between one person’s relationship with God may not be a factor in another’s and those may also change with time. That’s where we typically try to make religious rules to apply across the board. We find a click in our own Spirit and we try to apply the factors of our unique relationship to the people around us. There are principles of the Spirit that apply across the board to all of us, that is a biblical certainty, but we like to build clubs around our own individual uniqueness’s and preferences. That’s a human trait, not just a religious one. We have religious “clubs” that make a rule agasinst drinking alcohol, or that make a rule about which translation to use, which day of the week to worship, what type of worship is “pure and true” and what kind is not acceptable to God. The secular world does the same. The teenager who smokes at school feels better if they can get one or two others to join them. Atheists, homosexuals, Christians…we all try to convert people to our way of thinking and to our rules for living. It is much more difficult to introduce someone into a true relationship and then give them the freedom to discover that relationship on their own.

God is far better at teaching us His principles than we are, though often he takes longer and leads us through far more tumultuous waters than we think necessary. That’s not to say we shouldn’t teach or learn from each other, but it’s important to differentiate between God’s principles and our own “rules”. And some lessons can only be learned firsthand.