My friend Kristen and I were talking about our tendencies to be late for things. (OK, for everything.) I told her that my problem was I always think I can get away with fitting in one more task before I have to leave the house to get somewhere. Kristen replied, “There’s a name for that in psychology: ‘magical thinking.’” She explained that “magical thinking” is the irrational and self-deceived miscalculation of time, distances, and complications of going from point A to point B.
I realized I have other kinds of magical thinking too—for example, regarding food. When I have a strong desire to eat a bowl of ice cream that perhaps I shouldn’t, or wouldn’t if human action were completely dictated by logic, I tend to reason myself into the belief that it won’t make any difference whether I eat the ice cream or not. I can work myself into a mental state where I really believe that the calories “won’t count” this time.
I am not a smoker, but I imagine that if I were, I might engage in the following form of magical thinking: Although I agree that smoking is related to cancer, this particular cigarette I am picking up and lighting right now is just one cigarette. And one cigarette isn’t going to do anything bad; this one cigarette isn’t going to be the cigarette that does me in.
Sometimes magical thinking can be even more deadly. I knew a man who was having an adulterous affair, which is normally a departure from moral rectitude flagrant enough that one would think is impossible to fool oneself about it. But this man (a professed Christian of many years) actually thought of himself as living an upright life. How did he pull that off psychologically? He somehow compartmentalized his adultery and lived as a decent citizen and father and husband in all other respects. I suppose he told himself reassuringly that nobody is perfect.
Jesus died to save us, not only from hell’s exaction of payment, but also from “magical thinking” of all kinds. The wisdom God gives is “open to reason” (James 3:17). He renews our minds (Romans 12:2), and invites us to “reason together” (Isaiah 1:18) with Him. And He is still able to take the most twisted and perverse person who comes to him for help, and “put him in his right mind” (Luke 8:35).