Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools- Romans 1:22 KJV
During the enlightenment era, or the “great age of reason” people began to understand the natural world is governed by rules, laws and forces rather than demons and magic. Thanks to enlightenment scientists we understand objects fall to the ground due to the natural law of gravity. We now know it is microbes, not demoniac forces that make people sick and recessive genes not bad omens that cause children to be born with red hair seemingly out of nowhere.
Enlightenment thinking is at the root of the logical, methodical and organized approach to life and problem-solving we are all familiar with today. The enlightenment was a big-stinking game changer in human civilization.
The Enlightenment age also created some issues. The Enlightenment conditioned humans to believe there is always a formula to solve a problem or accomplish a task—we just have to find it. As a result, most of us are firmly entrenched in the mindset that the key to solving any problem is simply finding the right set of principles to apply to our problem.
Sometimes it works.
The systematic analysis of microbes led to the invention of antibiotics and antibiotics have solved the problem of bacterial infections. Modern farming techniques have more-or-less eliminated the problem of wide-spread starvation. The methodical evaluation of human behavior led to modern psychology. Psychology has effectively explained the why of what people do thus solving many mental health issues.
The ability to solve some problems using science has generated a belief that all our problems can and should be solved using our known understanding of the problem at hand. When our “knowledge” doesn’t solve the problem we can go into a weird kind of denial where we keep doing the same things over and over again hoping at some point we will get the result our “understanding” of the subject told us we would get (Proverbs 3:5-6).
The COVID-19 crisis is a real-world example of what I’m talking about. Scientists were initially convinced COVID could be beaten through a combination of contact tracing, masking, social distancing and lockdowns. Those methods all failed spectacularly. Covid spread like wildfire even among those who were resolutely following “the rules”. When a vaccine became available the new solution was to vaccinate at least sixty percent of the population. That solution didn’t work. Some of the most vaccinated countries on earth (Israel, Ireland, Gibraltar) ultimately experienced more covid than less vaccinated countries. For a very long time the super-vaccinated countries lived in a weird denial. They did all the same things (masking, vaccines, lockdowns) harder and faster (metaphorically speaking), with the exact same results (more covid)
This addiction to formulas has found its way into Christianity.
It has caused some Christians to fall into a kind of practical atheism, where we seek God for answers to our problems instead of seeking God for relationship. We love God for solutions instead of loving God for who He is. When we don’t get what we want from God, we get mad and turn away from Him altogether or stay in church and stay perpetually angry at Him for His lack of willingness to bless the formula.
Confidence in formulas can lead to serious issues with pride, self-reliance and stubbornness. When Christians fall into the trap of believing that doing everything “right” will ALWAYS lead to the “correct result” they become angry or go into denial anytime there is a “bad” or “unexpected “outcome. This causes them to keep doing the same thing over and over again rather than seek God for wisdom and help. Belief in formulaic solutions can also cause Christians to become very judgy towards those who experience “failure” in their childrearing, finances, marriages or other relationships. Unwavering confidence in formulaic solutions leaves no room in our thinking for free will or the free agency of human beings (Matthew 7:1-4, Deuteronomy 30:19).
In a fallen world there will not always be solutions to all our problems (Genesis 3). Sometimes people get sick and don’t get better. Kids who were raised right still go astray and sometimes people do everything right and everything still goes terribly wrong. That’s where God comes in. We must seek Him, not for what He can do for us but because it is in Him we find peace, joy and rest for our souls in the midst of an uncertain and scary world (Jeremiah 29:13).