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THE FOCUSING BIAS: Decision-Making Errors (Pt. 1)

The scientific study of God’s Creation often exposes the truth that God’s Word explicitly teaches. And in the social sciences, it usually just confirms that your grandmother was right all along. In the next couple letters, we’ll look at some interesting research on decision-making errors—and try to process it biblically.

THE PROBLEM: Consider the “focusing bias.” We’ll define it as “the tendency to give too much weight to one piece of information, and exclude other important information, when making choices or predictions.” Business marketers love this stuff. To make the sale, all they need to do is get you (potential customer) to focus on one thing their product offers and then convince you it’s the only thing that matters. As I write, I’m snacking out of a bag of nuts left over from the holidays. “Omega-3 Deluxe Heart Healthy” declare the red letters on the package. “Well, I certainly don’t want to eat heart-unhealthy nuts. They sure look just like the nuts I’ve been eating all my life—but I’ll buy the bag with the red letters, and feel good about spending the extra money.” And while we’re at it, let’s check out that “free range chicken” instead of the ordinary kind the plebes have to settle for.

A famous focusing illusion:

Do you see a cup? or two faces?


That’s the focusing bias, sometimes called the “focusing illusion.” In part, it just acknowledges natural human weakness: our minds are limited, and our knowledge imperfect. God alone knows all things simultaneously, completely, and perfectly. But our real problem is not that we’re finite but that we’re fallen. That’s why the focusing bias causes serious decision-making errors and, we might add, conflict. Watch a group of toddlers playing in the same room when one of them picks up a previously ignored toy. You know what happens. That one item immediately becomes the focal point of every child’s attention, the center of their universe, essential for all happiness and personal fulfillment. It’s what’s known in the business as original sin, and unfortunately, toddlers grow up into big toddlers with big toys and bigger weapons.

THE SOLUTION: For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified…. so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.[1]

The Apostle Paul understood the focusing bias well. The proud and prosperous culture of Corinth touted its status, power, intellectual brilliance, independence, and freedom to indulge every desire. Do those obsessions sound strangely familiar as focal points today? “If only I had more money.…” “If only people treated me with more respect….” “If only everyone agreed with me….” “If only I could do exactly what I feel like doing right now….” Paul knew there’s only one way the church can fight such deeply embedded idols—to develop a radically different focus on Jesus Christ and him crucified! Here’s the heart of the Gospel—the Great Exchange. He who knew no sin, on our behalf was made sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. The holy Son bears on the cross the full judgment against our sin, while his perfect obedience is credited to us, that we might be justified before the Father.

THE RESULT: What happens when the church replaces its worldly “focusing biases” with a singular focus upon Jesus Christ and him crucified? It reorders our priorities and gives us perspective about what matters the most in our choices. Here are just a few specifics from 1 Corinthians.

1. Unity instead of division. …That there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment…. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? One Christ-crucified means one church, and we’d better act like it.

2. Diversity instead of conformity. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord. Christ-crucified builds his church in such a way that our differences are vital. We need each other. Especially when we disagree.

3. Humility instead of boasting. God chose what is low and despised in the world…so that no human being might boast in the presence of God….“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” Only those given the attitude of Christ-crucified can receive ministry from others.

4. Courage in the face of opposition. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself….(The Lord) will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. We who know Christ-crucified are unimpressed with mere human opinions, even our own, but just serve the Lord with our very best, no matter what anyone else thinks.

5. Purity in the face of immorality. You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. What a compelling argument against sin! The care we take with our bodies is bound up with the value of our purchase price—Christ-crucified.

6. Perseverance in the face of discouragement. I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. The Gospel saves you and gives you the guts to hold on when life is difficult, because you know Christ-crucified is holding on to you.

7. Hope in the face of death. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…. Christ-crucified is also Christ who conquered death—our last enemy to be destroyed.

Dear friend, may the Lord help you keep your focus on “Christ crucified,” and that you may serve him well this year.

Blessings to you,

Andrew H. Selle

[1] 1 Corinthians 2:2-5 NIV. The perfect tense of “crucified" emphasizes that this one-time event has eternal significance and effect. Our Lord forever bears in his body the marks of the crucifixion, which proclaim to the Father, to us, and to the cosmos, that those who have trusted in him are forever redeemed (John 20:27; Luke 24:39-40; 1 John 1:1; and in John’s vision in Revelation 1:17-18, if he had dared look at the hand on his shoulder, what would he have seen?). Other texts quoted are 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 1:27-31; 4:3-5; 6:19-20; 15:1-2; 15:3-4, 26

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