08.18.2023 – How Then Shall We Think?

Malaria parasite infecting a red blood cell (From Word and Deed)

We think all the time.  One study says we have 6.5 thoughts per minute or about 6,000 per waking day. I can’t keep track of all my thoughts, and that is probably a good thing. While I forget most of my thoughts, some of those I remember seem to fall into the “oh yeah” category – I need to remember to lock the front door before we go to bed, it’s time to have the car’s oil changed, I told my friend I’d be praying for him.  Other thoughts may have to do with processing what I’ve just seen or heard – really, they’re putting black siding on the new house down the street (they really are, and I find it disorienting), she said she’s thinking of quitting her job, what a beautiful sunrise.  Sometimes we just think about petty desires of all kinds, fantasized scenarios of glory or shame, or a shopping or “to do” list.

My thoughts seem to come and go and it is a good thing that I forget well over 5,000 thoughts per day.

Thinking, however, is more than just a collection of the random thoughts that flit in and out of our minds 6.5 times per minute.  Thinking is a particularly human act, one that finally cannot be replaced by algorithms and a digital digest of data.

The Apostle Paul advocates discipline in our thinking – instead of those petty desires or fantasized scenarios, we are to “think about these things.”  He offers a list: whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:8)

We are to think about ourselves with sober judgement. (Romans 12:3)

Jesus advises us to consider the lilies of the field.  (Matthew 6:28)

I need to learn discipline in my thinking.

But good thinking is not just what I think about, it is how I think.  Christians are to think about things through the lens of truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, commendableness, and excellence.  Christians think about things by considering the lilies of the field (and the birds of the air).

Christians think about things in light of what the Bible, what the Reformers called the whole counsel of God, teaches us.

Eric McLaughlin is one of the physicians on the Kibuye medical team in Burundi, East Africa. Eric frequently models how a Christian might think about things.

In a piece posted this week, he thinks about a curious and beneficial decline in Burundi’s rate of Malaria infections.  Looking back a decade, Eric writes, “For many years, malaria was my number one diagnosis.  As in, more than 50% of my patients were admitted with some severe complication of malaria such as kidney failure, severe anemia, or a deep coma.  Many of them died…”

Something has happened in Burundi.  Malaria cases have declined, as in plummeted. Eric continues, “This year, we have had virtually no malaria. We are now at the end of the would-be ‘malaria season’ and yet the numbers never rose.  Less than 1% of our tests are positive.”

No one knows exactly why the Malaria rate in Burundi has declined so sharply or if it will continue to be low.  Everyone knows that the decline has saved lives and spared pain.

How shall we think about Burundi’s decline in Malaria cases?  Eric is thinking about it theologically. The whole counsel of God is helping him understand what he is seeing.

I encourage you to read Eric’s post, but in case you don’t, this is how he ends it:

Christianity refers to an idea called “common grace”.  This is a characteristic action of God, who sends rain and sun on everyone, the evil and the good, the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45).  Across the country, Burundi has experienced common grace in the reduction of malaria this year.  Long may it last.

It strikes me that this situation demonstrates two characteristics of common grace.  First, it is mysterious.  Why did this happen?  Is there a direct cause? Nothing leaps to the eye.  But understanding something is not a prerequisite for being thankful for it.  Second, it is easy to overlook.  Being thankful for the absence of something is not what any of us are good for.  Something amazing has happened to Burundian health this year, yet we are all prone to overlook it because it is something amazing that did not happen.  It gives me pause to think what other grace in my life might be mysterious or invisible enough for me to overlook it.

Thinking theologically is not just for academics. It is for all of us. Oh, that more of my 6,000 daily thoughts would be held captive to the whole counsel of God.