Jonah and the … Negativity Bias

I have always marvelled at the skill of those who played the sport of Lawn Bowls.

In this very English game, a small heavy ball is bowled down a perfectly flat green lawn at such a pace that it will come to rest next to a smaller white ball. Rather than following a straight line, the ball takes a long slow gentle curve to reach its destination.

One of the sides of the ball is slighter heavier than the other, it has bias so that as the ball slows down there is a pull towards that side. The ball literally curves around until it comes to a stop.  [pullquote]“You can take yourself down with your thoughts faster than any enemy can” Ilene Gregorian US Special Forces Trainer [/pullquote]

Why am I telling you about Lawn Bowls?

I believe that we all have a bias in our thinking that always has a pull on us. It’s that track or rut in our thinking that is all too familiar. A negativity bias that has been formed and reformed through thousands of negative experiences.

Actually its quite important to have a negativity bias, because when you see an approaching lion you don’t want your first thought to be ‘Nice Pussy, let me pat you’.

The brain is hard-wired to see threats first for the sake of self-protection and opportunities last.

Rick Hanson puts it this way.
Your brain is continually looking for bad news. As soon as it finds some, it fixates on it with tunnel vision, fast-tracks it into memory storage, and then reactivates it at the least hint of anything even vaguely similar. But good news gets a kind of neural shrug: “uh, whatever.”
In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.  Rick Hanson, Ph.D.


When I think of Biblical characters who exemplify this characteristic of flawed humanity, I can’t go past a man by the name of Jonah.

If you haven’t heard of this man and his story, its a short read and can be found here.

In a nutshell God asks Jonah to go Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyria. This was a city with the reputation of having the streets flowing with blood. Negativity Bias kicks in big time and Jonah runs, literally flees from the threat. So much so that he takes a boat ride to get as far away as possible. God sends a storm, sailors throw him overboard, God sends a large fish to transport him in its stomach to nearest shoreline to Nineveh.

Jonah repents of his attitude (what else would you do in the stomach of a large fish for 3 days and 3 nights) and goes to Nineveh. He utters only 5 Hebrew words  “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown” and the whole city repents and turns to God. Jonahs negativity bias kicks in again. He wants to die and three times he expresses this to God. All because God decided to relent and show compassion.

I wonder if Jonah was hoping that he would be known as the famous prophet who spoke Gods word and then God destroyed the enemy. Now though there is no fame, prestige and stardom. So he was angry at God, and was feeling a state of absolute hopelessness. The bias was heavily swaying his thinking.

God expresses his love and compassion for Jonah even though Jonah was in a funk.

Here is the big fish idea I want you to take away.

God wants to train another bias into your thinking. 

Negativity Bias comes naturally as the first self protective port of call, but then God wants  you quickly, before you have docked, to shift into a God Activity Bias. Where is God being active in this moment?

How do we do this?

We need to ask ourselves some questions, some empowering questions. Questions such as these.
  • What is God up to here and now?
  • What is God inviting me to be part of?
  • What is triggering my fear responses?
  • Is God calling me to move through my fear into a faith response?
  • Am I trusting more in my inadequacies than in Gods complete adequacy for every situation?
  • Could God be going ahead of me, into the very thing I fear the most, and preparing it for me? (God I believe prepared Nineveh for Jonahs five words)
Here is the good news.
Just because we run from what we perceive as a God crazy idea, God doesn’t run from us.
God had a plan for how he was going to use Jonah, deepen his faith and transform a nation. God was persistent in wanting Jonah to be the one, negativity bias and all, to transform people’s lives.

Lessons from Jonah

  1. We all have a Negativity Bias, accept it, just don’t run with it.
  2. We need to have an awareness of it in ourselves and others. Be careful about how much the negativity bias of others casts a restrictive but comfortable shadow over you.
  3. God knows your Negativity Bias and loves you too much to leave you the way you are.
  4. God persists with stubborn negativity biased people. Phew!
  5. Gods desire is to create a God Bias in your thinking
  6. A life of faith is life of walking on water.
Quotes to reflect on
  • Prayer, meditation, and confession actually have the power to rewire the brain in a way that can make us less self-referential and more aware of how God sees us.  John Ortberg,
  • The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.  Rick Hanson, Ph.D.
  • Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.  J.R.R. Tolkien, 
  • Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God. Corrie ten Boom
Questions to consider
  1. Why is a Negativity Bias actually important to have?
  2. How do we become consciously aware of our bias’
  3. What would you advise to people living in the presence of others who have a well-developed negativity bias.
  4. How does God retrain the brain?

Barry Pearman

Barry Pearman

Barry is a writer, coach, and course creator that has a passion for Mental Health and Spiritual Formation.

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