Why are people sending us “good thoughts?”
I know it’s meant with the best of intentions, but what does that mean? I see this a lot on Facebook, mostly from non-religious friends but occasionally from religious ones, too. Usually it’s in response to a friend going through a hard time. Whether it’s a health situation or the loss of someone close to them or getting fired from a job, if you scroll down the comments you’ll usually find someone who will say, “Sending you good thoughts” or “My thoughts are with you.” At first, I thought this was nice, a way for people to invoke solidarity with someone they care about, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like an empty platitude. “Sending you good thoughts.” What does that mean? Are they facing the general direction of the person when they are sending these good thoughts? What is the person on the other end supposed to be doing with these good thoughts? It would be better to send money. After all thoughts are only worth a penny.
When people make these comments, I know it’s only meant in the best way.
But without God what does it really mean. When people are offering their prayers, they are offering something tangible. You might be thinking that prayers are about as tangible as good thoughts, but when we offer a prayer for people, we are offering our commitment. We’re offering our time, we’re offering our reputation by appealing to God on behalf of someone else, we’re offering our humility by bowing before God and asking him if not downright begging him for some kind of intervention. We are putting ourselves in front of the Creator of the Universe and saying, “Pay attention! This person is worthy of your help.” And people understand that idea. Whether they are religious or not, people appreciate your prayers. Because even if they don’t believe, there’s a part of them that understands the commitment you are making on their behalf. But here’s the thing. I think, deep down, most people believe in God. I don’t think there are as many atheists as we commonly believe. They might not believe in God the way we understand God, but most people have this inclination to something higher than themselves. And that’s why they say things like “sending good thoughts.” They may not believe in God, they may not believe in the power of prayer, but they believe there is something out there they can appeal to even if they don’t know what that something is.
When God created humanity, he put within us this longing to search for him. We want to know God. We might refer to God in different ways, we might understand God in different ways, but we are all pointed in our lives toward God. Does that mean every religion is true? No. Does that mean we all believe in the same God? No. But it does mean that people encounter the Holy Spirit whether or not they believe in it or call it by that name. It means that God is constantly revealing himself to us in and through the world around us. But our hearts have become hardened. Like the callous at the bottom of your big toe or on your writing hand. Remember that? When people used to write for a living and they would develop a callous on whatever hand they used for writing? We don’t have that anymore because of computers. Now, I’m sure we’ll get something else. But like that callous that naturally forms over time by being constantly rubbed the wrong way, our hearts get hardened too and it makes it more difficult for us to see God. That’s why Jesus told the disciples that Isaiah’s prophecy has come true. We have eyes to see and ears to hear, but can’t seem to do either. But despite this callousness of life, despite our own hard-heartedness, despite all of that, we can’t help but seek God.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[b] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’[c]
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” – Acts 17:24-31
God created us and gave us life and in doing so hoped we would one day seek him and find him.
It’s simply part of who we are. It’s built into our DNA. If there was ever a way to dissect the spiritual part of our lives, we would find that God put us together in a certain way and that this desire to know him and to seek him is built into every strand within us. God isn’t something you leave behind at church. Instead God is always with us. That’s why Luke wrote in this book that God does not live in temples built by human hands. Because God lives within us! We are just very good at ignoring him. Instead we turn to other things to fill that part of our lives. We turn to other gods and other goals and other desires to fulfill this basic need to search for the divine. It’s so much a part of us that we don’t even realize how it bleeds into how we act and behave. That’s where phrases like “sending good thoughts” or “my thoughts are with you” enter into our vocabulary. There’s a part of us that wants to pray, to communicate with God, but we just don’t know it or understand it. Maybe we’re just flat out opposed to it. Maybe all your life you were told that if you prayed and believed, God would answer and he just flat out didn’t. And so you gave up on prayer. But there’s a part of you that yearns to communicate again. There’s a part of you that wants to appeal to something greater than ourselves either individually or collectively to do something. But we just can’t bring ourselves to do it.
I have found that most people are not truly atheists.
They may not believe in God the way we talk about God in church, but they are not truly atheists. To be sure there are some out there, but most people object to God not because the thought of God is stupid or childish or immature. But because they have found fault with him. God wasn’t there for them in their moment of crisis. God didn’t keep his promises. God allows evil to exist in the world. The God in the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament don’t add up to the same God. And if our understanding of God crashes head long into our experiences in life, God often is the victim. If God can’t uphold his end of the bargain, then he must not be real. But those objections are more about religion than the existence of God. Most people’s objections to faith are more about religion than God. They are more about our understanding of God rather than if he exists. I’ve heard horror stories about people who have a deep misunderstanding of God who are self-professed Christians and sometimes even pastors and church leaders, and if they were my experience with the God of Christianity, I wouldn’t believe in him either. My friend Jon from when we lived in Atlanta was so turned off by the church because of the hypocrisy and outright racism he found there. His friend and her fiancé went to her pastor to be married…and the pastor refused. She was white and was in love with an African-American man and the minister refused to do the ceremony because he said it was unbiblical. I don’t know where he got that from, but I know for a fact it doesn’t say that anywhere in the Bible, but he used the Bible as a defense to justify his own racism. If that was your experience with religion, maybe you wouldn’t believe either. I had a friend who used to be a pastor. He was consoling a grieving mother whose son had committed suicide. They were talking after the memorial service when one of his parishioners came up and told this bereaved woman that her son was going to hell for what he did. By the way, also not in the Bible. These are simply outdated untruths that a few ignorant people never bothered to question. And if that were typical of your experience with God, you probably wouldn’t believe in him either.
Instead people turn elsewhere to connect with God.
They turn to other religions or to other philosophies like Buddhism. They turn to material things like money. They put their faith instead in science. Because people are yearning to connect with SOMETHING even if they can’t put their finger on it. People everywhere are searching for answers. They are searching for meaning in life. They are hoping to find the answer to the eternal question, “Why am I here?” And if they really didn’t believe in something more, if they really didn’t believe in God, they would stop searching because without God there is no meaning. Without God, life simply is. There is no good and evil. Those are just constructs of the human mind. There is no love. That is just a chemical reaction within the body responding to external and internal stimuli. There is no soul or inner self. It’s all just an illusion. And most people just can’t go that far. They believe in love. They believe in the soul or something like a soul that defines who they are. They believe in good and evil. So their objection isn’t to the possibility of God but in how we’ve come to understand him. But this search. This search for answers. This search for meaning. These are things that God put within the DNA of our soul to make us curious so that even the most jaded people amongst us might be tempted to seek him out.
I was watching The Big Bang Theory the other day.
And there was this episode where the guys are trying to buy tickets to the new Star Wars movie. Leonard finds out that tickets went on sale but when they try to buy them, they are all locked out. They try refreshing their screens, they try different websites, but nothing is working so Sheldon – a self-proclaimed atheist – announces that “desperate times call for desperate measures” and he drops to his knees to pray. “Lord, this is Sheldon Cooper. You’re good friends with my mom. I know I’ve spent my whole life denying that you exist.” Suddenly Wolowitz shouts out, “Got it!” And Sheldon concludes, “And I will continue to do so!” There is something in us that believes in something more, even if we are only willing to believe for the moment. There is something in us that hopes for something more. If you’ve never fully explored what that something is; if you’ve felt that pull in your life but haven’t really done much about it, I want to consider that maybe, just maybe God did wire you this way. That he has been tugging at your thoughts because he wants you to be connected to him. And I ask that you simply open up your heart to the possibility of God in your life. I’m going to ask you to take some time to really think about God and to actively search for him in everything you do. I’m hoping you will develop that desire to have eyes that see and ears that hear because I know God wants you to be a part of what he has in store for you. If you’ve already made that choice to open up to God, I challenge you to open your life to him even more. To allow him access to those areas you have always been resistant to, and only you and he know what those areas are. God made you to be naturally curious about life because he wants you to find him. But I won’t be sending any good thoughts your way. Instead, I’ll be saying a prayer.