Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Cognitive Dissonance

"But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of a sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does" James 1:6-8.

Years ago a friend invited me to a lecture, and the topic was cognitive dissonance. I had no idea what this exotic term meant, but I was intrigued. Besides, going meant dinner and a night out with a good friend. I needed little arm twisting.

Individuals experience cognitive dissonance when caught between two competing views. It's as simple as a love/hate relationship with work. "I love what I do but I hate: the commute, the crazy long hours, the boss..." Fill in the blank. Until something changes I'll experience cognitive dissonance.

Harder to resolve is learning one's spouse is unfaithful. The mental gymnastics of grappling with conflicting beliefs: the faithful partner you thought you had as opposed to the traitor now revealed is exhausting. As long as competing notions are at war, cognitive dissonance reigns.

In modern parlance, Jesus was a disrupter, spreading cognitive dissonance around like free candy. Holding the Messiah's pedigree, this miracle working rabbi captivated hearts with His unusual teaching style. He ministered healing to both the sick and the dead, and on occasion threw in a free meal. He called the religious leaders on the carpet. Zacchaeus, the greedy tax collector was transformed into an honest man. What's not to like?

As far as Messiah's go, Jesus wasn't very choosy about the company He kept, preferring lowlifes to highbrows. Despite kingdom rhetoric, He repeatedly avoided attempts to be forcibly made king. He stressed loving the enemy, not overthrowing them. The Messiah...really?

Calling God His father was disturbing. No one had ever made that claim before.  The unseen God has a flesh and blood son? When pressed to show His father to Philip, Jesus answered: "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" John 14:9. Cognitive dissonance reared its ugly head again.

The Jews had no concept of God as a father, let alone addressing Him as "Abba" (Da Da for us). God's name was only spoken once a year by the High Priest. If Jesus was the spitting image of His father, and His father was God...He sure didn't act or talk like God to them.

Their God drew a sharp distinction between who was and wasn't acceptable. Jesus had no boundaries. Their God didn't soil Himself with sinners, riff-raff and Gentiles. Jesus embraced everyone. Their God could only be accessed via an intermediary, the priests. Jesus was approachable, touchable. In addition, Jesus handed out words of correction,  not harsh judgments. He had love and compassion for all, including those who rejected Him. His door was always open should they change their minds, something Peter experienced first-hand.

Unresolved cognitive dissonance creates continuous mounting pressure. The longer it simmers, the more violent the eruption. Judas chose betrayal over loyalty and friendship. The religious leaders opted to maintain the status quo as opposed to embracing a new revolutionary approach to God. The people voted for death instead of life. The handful that saw hope die on Friday were just as shocked at His resurrection on Sunday. With that, for them, all cognitive dissonance was erased. With minds firmly made up they changed the world.

How about you? When it comes to God, and Who He is, do you experience cognitive dissonance? If He's my healer, then why am I sick? Intellectually I know He loves me, but I am painfully aware of who I really am so how's that possible?

No one has a complete understanding of Who God is. Conflicting opinions, beliefs and feelings render one unstable as James described. Getting to know Jesus personally will force any misconceptions of Him to the surface. Intimacy with Him can easily challenge cherished "traditions of men that nullify the Word of God (who is Jesus because there was no Bible back then)" Matt. 15:36. God's desire for us is not cognitive dissonance. He's up to the task of helping us find resolution and peace. Trust Him, and enjoy the journey.