A man stood in front of a blackboard with thought bubbles coming out of his head

What is Causing our Thoughts?

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Let us examine closely what thought is, and let us try to decipher what it is that causes thoughts to arise in our minds.

It is clear that when we think, there is a movement within consciousness that we are aware of. An impression in the mind seems to arise out of nothing. That impression might be a word or a sentence, or an image, or something more obscure.

An interesting point to note about thought is that it appears to be spontaneous. If you are asked to think of a fruit, for instance, then one fruit rather than another will pop into your awareness quite spontaneously (try it!). You might think ‘apple’ or ‘watermelon’ without having any particular reason for thinking of the fruit you chose. It is not necessary for you to have had an apple for breakfast, or have seen a watermelon in your local store earlier that day, for you to think of those particular fruits.

It seems that we never know what our next thought will be. If I asked you to tell me what you will be thinking about in a minute’s time, or in an hour’s time, you will have no idea. We do not plan our thoughts; they arise spontaneously.

One argument for this might be that our thoughts are always linked to our needs, drives, and desires. Therefore I might start thinking about lunch because a feeling of hunger has arisen in my body. I might start thinking about going out to a club because of a sexual urge. And in a more complex way, I might think I need to do some study because I want to achieve good grades, which will get me a good job, which will secure me a steady income, so I don’t have to worry about food and shelter in the future.

But the above explanations, which link thoughts to desires, fail to explain the often random nature of thought. Why does the theme tune to a TV show I haven’t seen for years suddenly enter my mind while I am out taking a walk? Why, when asked to name any city in the world, do I choose Prague rather than Moscow?

It doesn’t seem that we can argue that we are in control of our thoughts, so we must look for other reasons to explain why thoughts arise. I think there are only two possible explanations; either our thoughts must be determined by prior events, or they are being brought into existence by a power operating in the present moment, which is God.

Creative thought is an obvious example of how thoughts are not determined by prior events. It would be absurd if the thoughts that a composer thinks while writing a piece of music could be explained by evolution, or some kind of ‘Big Bang’ event, or childhood experiences. Seeing our present moment thoughts as the result of the past simply doesn’t make sense.

The random, unpredictable, and spontaneous nature of thought means that there is only one feasible explanation for why thoughts arise. There must be a power that is in control in the present moment, bringing our thoughts into and out of existence. That power is God.

Of course, it is not just thoughts that happen spontaneously. If we observe the unfolding of events within our consciousness we can see that everything is happening spontaneously. Our hearts are beating spontaneously, our hair is growing spontaneously, we walk along without thinking how we walk, and we think without knowing how we think. The reason why all these things happen spontaneously is because God is doing them.

The fact that God is controlling our thoughts has very important implications for both philosophy and science. The philosophy of mind, for instance, is useless if it neglects God. Neuroscientists and other scientists have for many years been examining the human brain in order to try to understand thought. Their investigations are largely misguided, because thought neither originates, nor finds expression, in the brain. It is people who think, rather than brains, and they do so by the power of God.


The above article is a modified extract from my book Ultimate Truth: God Beyond Religion. For more info or to buy the book, click here. If you enjoyed this post please consider sharing it, and/or subscribing to this blog. Thank you for reading!

20 comments

    1. Hey Tara! Thank you so much! Are you trying to buy it through Amazon, because it’s not available through them. If you click the link at the bottom of the article it should take you to http://www.godbeyondreligion.info.

      From there just scroll to the bottom of the page and click the Kindle link, and when you purchase you’ll get the file which you add to your Kindle library. Hope that works! Let me know 😊

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, that’s correct. The file you’re downloading should be a .MOBI. If you need any help adding it to your Kindle library, you are welcome to email me (via the Contact page) and I will guide you through the process (or you can Google it). It’s very simple. Thanks again!

          Liked by 1 person

  1. After reading this engaging and thought provoking post I can’t help but to find myself at odds with your premise of God controlling our thoughts. My world view comes through biblical theology, which teaches of the two natures of man: the natural fallen (degenerate) state, and those regenerated by God, allowing them to agree with His way of thinking. Thereafter, self-control as a desired end, begins by forming the habit to think in good & productive ways (empowered by God to do so), so that this beneficial way of thinking becomes the automatic responses in our thoughts. Instead of the original (fallen & harmful) thoughts imposing themselves through the fallen nature, our minds are willingly made new and now fixated, controlled by (because we’ve surrendered to), and greatly blessed by God, while allowing for individuality and growth in personal creativity. That may be more than two cents, lol. Good post, blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sheldon!

      Many thanks for your thoughtful comment. It seems, from what you said, that you believe God doesn’t control our thoughts before we are regenerated, but does control our thoughts afterwards. So I’m just curious to know who or what you believe is controlling our thoughts prior to regeneration?

      Thank you and best wishes,

      Steven

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  2. On this topic, the book A Course in Miracles has a lot to say. I will summarize its perspective here. We can decide to think with the ego or think with the Holy Spirit. This is analogous to the classic image of having a devil and an angel competing for our will. The ego, in short, is selfish and desires separation from other people and from God. The Holy Spirit, which shares the will of God, can direct us to think the most effective thoughts—which lead to effective actions—in order to lead to the best outcome for all. After the fall, or separation from God, we built up the habit of listening to and following the ego, which has led to all kinds of conflicts. The Holy Spirit seeks to reverse this bad habit and guide us out of the confusion of the ego. We have free will, but that is limited to deciding which guide to follow. We make this choice every moment, and since we are not perfect yet, our loyalty is not firm, but instead vacillates between the two guides. We still get upset and lash out—more or less often, and more or less literally—and this reveals that our loyalty to the Holy Spirit and to God is not perfect yet, but it will eventually become perfect, with our willingness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting, Alan. Thank you very much for reading and commenting!

      It’s interesting to consider what exactly the ‘ego’ is. I’ve never been able to find a satisfying explanation. It seems to me to be rather a vague, even mythical term. I believe it’s a term that was dreamed up by psychoanalysts and has caught on, but that it doesn’t refer to something that actually exists. It’s a convenient way of going half way to saying we don’t control our thoughts, without coming to the ultimate truth that God is causing our thoughts.

      It seems to me a strange idea that God is dipping in and out of our thoughts, controlling some, but not others. I wouldn’t say God is controlling some of my heartbeats, or circulating some of my blood – he’s totally in control of the human person, not partially (in my view). The reason why we pray to God about our life circumstances is because we know, at least on some level, that He is in control of all events.

      I can certainly understand your perspective, though, and I’m grateful that you shared it.

      Blessings!

      Steven

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  3. Thank you, Steven. I don’t believe our thoughts are controlled so much as influenced prior to regeneration, which BTW, affords the gift of God’s Spirit indwelling. My view is that they are influenced by what the bible calls the flesh. The essence or central part of our soul is the originator of our thoughts (the heart). “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do (or think) flows from it.” Proverbs 23:7 There must be a cause & effect thing going on in those pop-up thoughts e.g. Kiwi fruit ☺. Yet, I cannot identify the cause or origin of me thinking about Kiwi. The mind is a marvelous thing and makes for great discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Sheldon, for another thoughtful comment. I’m glad that you shared you thought of a Kiwi fruit, haha 🙂

      My argument would be that the reason you cannot identify the cause or origin of the thought is because you don’t presently have an awareness of God as the animating force of your life. I realise the idea that God is controlling your thoughts would be difficult to reconcile with a Christian worldview, which I absolutely respect.

      A large part of my writing has been focused on just that issue – trying to reconcile my belief in God’s total sovereignty over all activity with the Christian idea that we have free will. I believe there is a contradiction there which is difficult to ignore.

      Thanks so much!

      Steven

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  4. This is good, however, how do you explain negative thoughts? God is good, & nothing bad ever comes from Him, & we know that negative thoughts come from the enemy- attacks on our minds, in an effort to pull us into negative thoughts, resulting in negative actions, & pulling us away from God. We also know that WE have the power to take control of our thoughts & rebuke the enemy when he tries these tactics. So, if God is in control of our thoughts, then how is it possible for the enemy to attack our minds this way, & for US to take control? We may never know the ins & outs of how thought works, but, ultimately, it is WE who control our thoughts & the resulting actions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Gerri!

      Many thanks for your comment. I personally believe that God is in control of all our thoughts, both positive and negative. While there may be other agents involved in the spiritual dimension (such as Satan, demons), these are also ultimately under God’s control.

      If God has a plan for creation, then He must be in control of creation. If God has a plan for your life, He must be in control of your life. Do you ever pray for God to bless your day? He can do that because He is unfolding your life.

      I would love to go into more depth, but can’t do so in a comment. You’re welcome to explore some of my other posts if you’re interested in enquiring further. But in any case, thank you for reading and engaging with me 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting post. While we do not see eye-to-eye (thought-to-thought?) on this matter, that is okay! As I’ve said before, I appreciate your blog for the thoughtful discourse that it promotes – even when our views differ.

    BTW, how did things go this week? I know you had a lot on your mind….

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Daily!

      Thanks so much for reading.

      While I’m intrigued to know what it is about the post that you disagreed with, I won’t press you, because I suspect you wouldn’t want to get into a debate about it. I agree with you, though, when two people don’t agree it’s okay to respectfully disagree 🙂

      As you kindly asked how things are going in my personal life, I’ll pop you an email 🙂 Thank you so much!

      Blessings,

      Steven

      Liked by 2 people

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