Is it magic? Is it “mind over matter?” Does faith mean white-knuckling it with positive thoughts and affirmations? What do you do with negative realities such as ISIS, your spouse’s infidelity, or your doctor speaking the dreaded word “cancer”? Is positive thinking compatible with both reality and Christian faith?
That may seem a difficult question for some. There are preachers who teach that speaking (or even thinking) something negative will bring it to pass, and that the only Christian response is to exclusively think and speak positive things. And then there’s the positive thinking “movement,” where the message seems to be that if you visualize something good long enough and often enough it will come to pass.
Research is abundant that our thoughts and words do have enormous power.
- Cancer patients who hold a positive perspective do better during treatment
- Prisoners of war who maintained a hopeful outlook came through their ordeal better
- Athletes, entrepreneurs, and others rely on positive thinking to achieve extraordinary results
The risk with these ideas is that they imply your mind can control anything. And that’s a distortion of the truth. There is truth here, but it’s not the whole truth.
The Stockdale Paradox may help put this into perspective. When faced with extraordinary challenges, it’s important to “Retain faith that you will prevail in the end regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.”