“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” The quote comes from the Old Testament book of Proverbs. Of course, the word, “man” used here is generic and applies to women as well. It is a simple statement with profound implications.
When I was in college, I took a psychology course and one of the items discussed was a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” According to goalcast.com, “The term self-fulfilling prophecy comes from social psychology. It means that when you make a prediction about yourself or someone else you can actually cause that prediction to come true. Eventually, you, or the person you are making the expectation about, will act or conform to the expectations you set.
“Now, this does not all just happen by magic of course. But, essentially, when you form a bias or opinion in your head, your actions follow to confirm these suppositions. So, when you expect something to happen, you can unknowingly match your behavior to help make that situation unfold the way you predicted it would.”
In simple words, what you think can and often will become your reality. It is true that a child that is continually called “stupid” will eventually think herself to be stupid and conform their actions to that reality. I know a man whose parents were told he was “retarded,” the term used in those days. When, later, he was evaluated and found to have a high-normal I.Q. he saw himself differently, his grades improved, and he went on to get a college degree. What we think, especially about ourselves, matters.
One school principal once said of a student, “It doesn’t matter. Albert will never make a success of himself at anything.” This particular boy did not even learn to talk until he was four years old. When he later applied to a polytechnic school, he failed the test in most subjects but aced the math and physics portions. Today, we know Albert Einstein as one of the most famous geniuses in modern history.
A parent who mocks a child, peers who deride and denigrate a person, teachers who are discouraging — all can influence a person’s thinking about himself or herself. Often that leads a person to become what he or others say he is. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
Most of the children of my era likely read the children’s book about the little train that faced a steep mountain. Although the task of pulling the cars up the mountain was daunting the “little engine that could,” kept repeating, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” until he did. Even cartoon trains can accomplish something great if their thoughts are right.
Sometimes the church can inadvertently place self-loathing, negative thoughts in a church member’s mind. The doctrine of the “total depravity of man,” the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry states, “Total Depravity is the doctrine that fallen man is completely touched by sin and that he is completely a sinner. He is not as bad as he could be, but in all areas of his being, body, soul, spirit, mind, emotions, etc., he is touched by sin. In that sense, he is totally depraved. Because man is depraved, nothing good can come out of him…” This is not altogether an untrue statement but the impression it often leaves is that a person is wholly worthless and of no value.
If the church conveys the idea that a person is worthless, if a person believes they are worthless, then they will think they are worthless. They may often live as people without hope, goals, ambition, or self-worth.
It has been said that there is a god-shaped hole in all of us and only God can fill that space, whatever else we may try to stuff into it. This I do believe, and I also believe that we will never be complete outside a relationship with God. But that is a different thing that believing all people are depraved to the point of worthlessness.
Returning to the Bible for a moment, we find that, in the act of creation, God saw all things as “good.” As people created in the image of God, there is something “good” about that creation. In Psalms, we read about a conversation with God: “You have made him but a little lower than God [or heavenly beings], and You have crowned him with glory and honor.” Psalm 8:5 (AMPC)
We are NOT God or “little gods,” but nonetheless, the creation of humanity was different from the rest of creation. We are not simply a higher order of mammals. We are a little lower than God (some translations say, angels). I see that as an exceptionally good indicator of God’s thoughts toward us. In Psalm 139:14, we read that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We are also told that before we were formed in the womb, God knew us.
Personally, I believe that, as illustrated in the creation story, we were created to walk and talk with God in a personal way in the midst of his creation. Disobedience changed but did not destroy that relationship. Indeed, the very coming of Christ was to restore that relationship so that all might be “good” once more.
In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter wrote, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9-10 (NKJV).
So, who am I really? Who are any of us? Simply put, we are chosen by God, we are royalty, we are holy, and we are his own special people. That is who we are and how we need to think. Not that we are complete. We are a work in progress. But to say, “I am a loser,” or “I am a victim,” or “I’ll never amount to anything,” is contrary to the Bible.
The worst lies that are told on us are often the lies we believe about ourselves. We may not have the ability to change the past, but we can, to a great degree, shape our future. If we can grasp who and whose we are, we can come to a new understanding, think new thoughts, and anticipate a new and wonderful future. Some people say, “We can’t control our thoughts,” but that is not true. We can recognize what Robert Schuler called “stinking thinking” and re-direct those thoughts.
If I think I am a loser, I will be. If the day is going to be a terrible, disappointing day, it likely will be. If I believe that all of life is unfair, then that is what I will look for and see. However, if I believe that I am created for a purpose, that I have a destiny, that most of life is good, despite setbacks, then I will approach each day differently.
What we think, what we believe, will, to a great degree, determine who we are. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing, and perfect will. … Hate what is evil; cling to what is good“ (Romans 12:2). As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the pandemic, the church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life) He may contacted at email@example.com.]