Not long ago I received a call from a friend who was worried because he couldn’t know for sure that what he had believed most of his life about God was really true, really real. Especially in light of what he had been reading recently about new findings about the brain and how it worked and how if you just ablated a few neurons here or there God would just disappear like a case of dementia that only targets our spirituality. My friend worried that God might simply be a product of our minds, something we’ve made up in the course of evolutionary biological development. He commented that he was troubled because he could be wrong, and being wrong about such an important thing was frightening. He had worked really hard and with integrity to get to the place he was, believing what he did about God, believing that he was right. And now he wasn’t so sure. All the new data was pushing the old data off the grid.
I too sometimes worry that I might not be right about some things. About God. About the next recommendation to make for a patient. About what I should say to my wife in the middle of an emotionally charged conversation. I so want to be right about so many things. It began when I was a boy. I wanted to have the right answers for my teachers. I wanted to do the right thing for my parents. I was taught and I learned that there was a right way to live (and that anyone who lived differently than the right way was not really to be trusted all that much, because, of course, they were…wrong). This naturally led to the discovery that much of the time I was not right. I didn’t know all the answers on the test. I disobeyed my parents. And I didn’t always possess the right answer for some of my friends’ toughest questions, especially about God, Jesus, the Bible, heaven, hell, or all the rest of the REALLY IMPORTANT QUESTIONS.
Being right, it seems, is important to us. So much hinges on it. It is important to know which side of the highway on which to drive, the right way to land an airplane, or which medicine to put in the baby’s eyes to stop the infection rather than induce blindness. This right/wrong processing is mostly a product of the left hemisphere of the brain, that which leads us down the path of logical, linear thinking. And we depend on this for our survival. Unfortunately, we at times tend to overuse this same mechanism when engaging relationships, processing people through that same matrix we use for calculating math equations. We cling to being right about our interpretation of our relational events—especially our conflicts and arguments, our memory of history, and how to best make sense of this world filled as it is with evil and its extended suffering and brokenness.
Why does our brain tend to place so much emphasis on this function of being right? I mean, sure, I want to survive, but the mechanism that ensures survival in one setting (prescribing antibiotics) doesn’t seem to be nearly as helpful when my certainty that I am right about who owns the land leads to bloodshed. What is it about the way our brains work that drives us to know that we know what we know, and that we are right about the whole kit and caboodle? What is it about this right/wrong mechanism such that it serves us so well when it comes to choosing the right medicine, but creates so many challenges when it comes to relationships, especially with God? And why is there so much anxiety produced when the possibility of being wrong enters the room of our mind?
Perhaps it’s not so much about being right after all. Perhaps it’s about being left. Let your mind reflect on that. Then read on in Part 2 in the next blog post.