Rational or Irrational?
Rational or Irrational?
Categories: RECENT RESEARCH
Amanda Giordano, Ph.D.
What type of beliefs characterize your life? Are you driven by what is rational, or what is irrational? Albert Ellis, the father of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) made a distinction between rational and irrational beliefs. According to Ellis, irrational beliefs are dogmatic demands on the self, world, or others, while rational beliefs are flexible preferences. Irrational beliefs include words like should, must, and ought to, while rational beliefs contain phrases like, I would like, it would be nice, or I would appreciate.
The difference between a preference (rational belief) and demand (irrational belief) is substantial. Consider the context of a marriage relationship. A wife could prefer that her husband notices what she does around the house, or she could demand it. If her husband fails to notice, his wife’s reaction will vary depending on whether she had a preference or a demand. If she had a preference (i.e., I would like my husband to notice what I did around the house today), she will be disappointed if he does not acknowledge her effort. If she had a demand (i.e., my husband must notice what I did around the house today), she will respond with anger, bitterness, and condescension. Does this mean husbands and wives should never have any desires? Of course not! But healthy relationships thrive on rational beliefs and preferences, rather than rigid demands.
Now let us consider another important relationship—-that between ourselves and our Heavenly Father. Are there instances in which you make demands of God rather than bringing Him your desires and preferences? Do your prayers include words like should or must? For example, do any of the following resonate with you?
- “I have been so good–God, you should answer this prayer for me!”
- “I should be married by now. God, you must do something!”
- “I rarely ask for anything Lord. You must help me get me this job!”
- “Lord you ought to help him! You must intervene!”
When our desires become demands, we can feel bitter, angry, and betrayed when God does not respond how we would like. We think, “God you should have done this! Why didn’t you show up for me?” and there is a rupture in our relationship with our Creator. If we approach God with preferences, however, we may be disappointed when things do not turn out how we hoped, but we humbly trust and accept God’s will over our own.
It is likely that most of us let demands creep into our relationship with God. Perhaps we are struggling with unmet demands right now. Yet, let us pull back for a moment and consider the God of whom we are demanding. Paul writes that we have a Heavenly Father who “did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). Indeed, we all deserved death, yet Jesus intervened and died on our behalf. We have literally been “bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20) and that price was the very life of the Son of God. Consider all that Jesus suffered on the road to the cross: the abandonment of His friends, the mockery of those in authority, the false testimony at trial, the beating, the flogging, the excruciating pain and humiliation—none of which He deserved and all of which we deserved. Our Heavenly Father sacrificed His son for us; yet we make demands? When life doesn’t go our way we take the posture of, “God you owe me!” But does He? Could He possibly give us more than He already has?
Demands of God are evidence that we’ve lost perspective of who God is, what He has done, and who we are: God is our merciful redeemer. He willingly died and took the penalty for our offenses. We did nothing to earn it. Who are we to make demands?
Now does this mean we should not have any desires in life? Or that we shouldn’t bring our requests to God in hopes of change? Of course not! We are told to cast our cares on Him (Psalm 55:22); but there is a big difference between casting cares (bringing God our desires and preferences) and making demands (telling God what He should do). We need to check our hearts and our attitudes. When we find ourselves angry and resentful toward God, could it be that we are holding beliefs that Ellis would call irrational? Are we making dogmatic demands of a God who already sacrificed His Son to save us? If we truly embrace what Jesus did on our behalf, our demands quickly dissipate and we find ourselves saying, “Lord, you owe me nothing. I give you my life, yet it will never be enough to repay you for what you’ve done for me.” May we, in humility and repentance, replace any and all demands of God with humble, unassuming desires saying, “Thy will be done.”
Amanda Giordano, PhD, LPC, NCC, is a counselor educator, speaker, and author of the devotional, Joy in His Word. https://www.facebook.com/AmandaLeeGio/