“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom 1:21).
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2).
As these verses indicate, your mind is one of the keys to your redemption. Transformed in Greek is metamorphoō, which, if you grew up as I did, with the magic of time-lapse photography in science class, is what happens when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. A renewed mind produces this kind of dramatic change.
With our minds we interpret what we see and hear by drawing on personal observation and experience, principles we’ve been taught and accepted, and, at times, the predictive aspect of our imagination (e.g., seeing smoke suggests the presence of fire).
Even when we are “overcome” by emotion, the mind is at work. Our mind’s analysis, which can take place in the blink of an eye, releases our emotions, whether it’s sorrow, fear or anger. And because two persons side-by-side may differ considerably in background, beliefs and experiences, their reaction to the same words, video footage or unfolding live event can be as different as night and day.
So how do our minds get renewed? In the wilderness, across which the people of God trekked on their way to the Promised Land.
Popular conceptions of wilderness associate it with adversity, conflict, disappointment and deprivation. In general, it’s characterized as an interruption to life as we know and enjoy it, touching us, our careers, our families and friends, our church, the community in which we live.
All of these may be involved, but the most important thing is what God intends by leading us through it: We learn what it means to be the people of God.
When God purposed to deliver his people, they were slaves to their Egyptian overseers. They did what they were told because they had no real choice. But because they were expected to be productive in their daily service, the Egyptians fed them. When they grew tired of a manna diet, some of the Israelites later complained, “We remember the fish we ate freely in Egypt, along with the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic” (Num 11:5).
That some of them could recall one aspect of their captivity with regret and longing demonstrates how the mind can work. They had become so inured to the worst aspects of their lives they rationalized them away because they liked other aspects. As promising as the Promised Land of “milk and honey” might sound, the security of a settled existence could outweigh the promise of something better if that meant traversing the desert to get it.
What are believers doing when they rationalize? Essentially, they are employing their minds to act independently of the word of God, whether that’s an explicit written command or a prompting by the Holy Spirit to do a certain thing to obey him. They are doing something that has a long history, all the way back to the Garden in fact: eating from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:9).
What was it that Eve and Adam didn’t know about “good and evil” that justified their disobedience? Nothing. Their “knowledge of good and evil” was defined and circumscribed by the commands of God.
Nor did they lack anything. The world and everything in it was “good.” Even the relationship they had as created was good, as God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18).
At some point, Eve abandoned the word of God when she looked at the fruit and saw—in truth, imagined, which overruled knowledge of the peril of eating—it was “desirable for gaining wisdom” (Gen 3:6). It wasn’t really wisdom she was after, because she had that already. It was the allure of being sovereign and independent of God to decide what was good and what was evil.
And it wasn’t inevitable that Adam fell as well. He had a choice between two “goods”: It wasn’t good to disobey God, but God himself had said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Is it too big a leap to suppose that Adam rationalized his disobedience by citing the word of God?
The book of Genesis is the book of beginnings. Eve and then Adam established the pattern that would “darken the hearts” of generations to come. And so the task of restoration is not just one of providing a list of rules and instructions, of filling in the blank sheets of our minds.
It involves much more: Jesus’ Great Commission was not just to teach others all that he taught, but “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded” (Mt 28:20). A renewed mind is one whose relationship with God as God has been renewed. Or, as Solomon wrote, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Pr 1:7).
Photo provided by Jebulon at Wikimedia Commons