What If?

  • Steve Hatter
Question mark sign

If you are like me, you may find yourself tempted from time to time to follow a path of what I will call “what if” thinking. An adverse event or news will trigger your mind to begin speculating on possible futures. Depending on the severity of the original negative trigger, the speculations will take on a life and momentum all their own. Each speculation builds on the last in a manner that is progressively more pessimistic. There is a downward spiraling nature to it, and usually, the endpoint reached is simply outlandish—silly, even—in its unlikelihood.

As a teenager, I was world-class in my ability to downwardly spiral in rumination on every topic from girls to my future to career. A polite rebuff from a peer had the potential to send me into a dark pit of despair wherein I would project myself into lifelong loneliness and rejection, rooted in a hyper-focus on all my inadequacies. This is not uncommon, I know, especially as young ones navigate the sensitive teen years. Yet, despite its commonality, it is a serious concern, especially when a believer succumbs to a “what if” thinking temptation. This is because rarely, if ever, does the spiral of negativity project the future accurately. Yet, we go there anyway, and in so doing, we waste time, energy, and the patience of those who love and root for us. We become a drainer of people around us.

Unfortunately, on top of burdening those who love and support us, we also sin against a good God. We express a lack of trust in our loving Father, who providentially ordains all things, including trials, for unassailably good purposes. Negative spiraling is ultimately about selfishness, ingratitude, and unbelief.

This was Israel’s main problem when they were brought out of Egypt through miraculous intervention by Yahweh. We know this side of the cross God’s awesomely grand salvific purposes in Israel’s redemption story. But Exodus 32:2-10 proves the Israelites’ lack of faith while Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, which were, of course, given for Israel’s good:

2 So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden[a] calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.7 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted   themselves. 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'” 9 And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore let me alone,   that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.

The short absence of their leader, Moses, made them feel insecure. Their collective “what if” thinking had them believing the God who brought them out of Egypt was not up to the task of delivering on all His promises. They wanted a better god than Yahweh in their selfishness, ingratitude, and unbelief. Moses was gone less than 40 days when the Israelites fashioned the calf of molded gold to substitute for the invisible Creator God. And this, after witnessing so much of God’s immeasurable power, which even included parting the Red Sea as He brought them to safety from the pursuing armies of Egypt. Sadly, they chose the spiral in their own minds and reduced God to something they could control and call upon when convenient.

I confess that although I am considerably improved at my current age, with much of my numbered days now behind me, I am yet to be fully freed from the destructive pattern of “what if” thinking. I am tempted, and sometimes I fail in this area. Therefore, the antidote to “what if” thinking should be “remember to remember” thinking. Has not God blessed your past in ways you could never have guessed? Has He not parted Red Seas for you, and yet you project he is not up to the task of carrying you through whatever difficulty you may be facing today? Your salvation, I would assert, is a greater miracle than the parting of the Red Sea. When tempted to step forward into the negative vortex, “remember to remember” all that God has done for you, and you will keep from grieving the incomparably beautiful heart of God.