Not only South Africa, but the whole world it seems, is caught up in this sad and lamentable saga of the Oscar Pistorius murder trial.
The whole case of innocent or guilty rests on what his “thoughts” were at the time of the violent, tragic happening. What was in his mind? Were his “thoughts’ focussed into shooting an intruder, or reacting wildly and irrationally to provocative things said to him during a lover’s quarrel?
The trial is all about thoughts. And I guess all of us would be pretty stressed out if we were put on trial for the thoughts which proceeded through our minds on any given day. Or how would we feel if our thoughts through any given week were projected onto a TV screen on Sunday night for national viewing?
To reflect speculatively on such a scenario makes us quickly realise that our thought-world and our minds constitute the major battleground of moral and spiritual life.
A recent reading of Dallas Willard’s classic The Renovation of the Heart has set me thinking much and afresh about the hidden world of our thoughts, feelings, ambitions, and motives. Willard notes that “As we first turned away from God in our thoughts, so it is in our thoughts that the first movements toward the renovation of the heart occur. Thoughts are the place where we can and must begin to change. There the light of God first begins to move upon us through the word of Christ, and there the divine Spirit begins to direct our will to more and more thoughts that can provide the basis for choosing to realign ourselves with God and His way. The ultimate freedom we have as human beings is the power to select what we will allow or require our minds to dwell upon.”
Obviously our thoughts occupy and control the motivational centre of our lives, utterances and behaviour. “They determine”, adds Willard, “the orientation of everything we do and evoke the feelings that frame our world and motivate our actions. Interestingly, you can’t evoke thoughts by feeling a certain way, but you can evoke and to some degree control feelings by directing your thoughts. Our power over our thoughts is of great and indispensable assistance in directing and controlling our feelings, which themselves are not directly under the guidance of our will. We cannot just choose our feelings.”
So coming back to the Oscar trial, perhaps it also puts us on trial in terms of our own thoughts, and thought processes, and feelings, even as the media thrust all the trial’s gory details before our minds. What do we find ourselves thinking? Feeling?
For one thing, I know I want to protect myself in measure from having my mind fixated or inundated via our nightly news services with every unsavoury detail presented now to a worldwide viewership. So I’ve told my wife I do not want every night to watch the front-end of the news headlines which will for sure be the Oscar trial. My mind doesn’t need that, and won’t benefit from that unnecessary contamination day after day.
I have likewise urged the Editor of our local newspaper not to make the trial the daily headline story. And he has agreed. Today it was on page eight. Thank you, Sir.
Then reflect for a moment on the world delight that instead of the trial being held in camera, it would be televised in full for any who wanted to watch all day and every day. This creates opportunity for an orgy of highly unhealthy and fleshly voyeurism for people who will do just that – watch all day and every day – feeding their minds on either glee over a wretched man’s troubles, and lusting for full legal retribution, or else vicariously entertaining and feeding hidden inner and perhaps secret impulses of their own related to sex or violence, or both.
So how should the Christian respond? First of all, I believe with prayer for the accused, whether guilty or not guilty, and for both the Steenkamp and Pistorius families. They have been overtaken by an epic tragedy of Greek or Shakespearian proportions. With this prayer will go both compassion and empathy.
Then we pray for all involved in the formal legal processes for true justice, perhaps tempered with mercy, to prevail. And certainly no miscarriage of justice.
Then as South Africans our thoughts need to focus responsibly into why South Africa is such a violent society. What are the root causes? How can these be addressed? How can the minds of violent people be tamed, controlled, changed, reached and converted to Christ?
Finally, we have to refocus back into ourselves, our own minds, our own thoughts, our own secret worlds and ask God to help us, perhaps by new and determined initiatives of memorising scripture, to “set (our) minds on the things of the Spirit.” Because “to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). Put differently, “set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth” (Colossians 3:2).
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, THINK about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Yes, Lord, help. Please help us capture all of our thoughts for you.