I’m going to write today about a neglected part of God’s creation–the human mind. It is a wonderful element of creation, one that has provoked some of the most profound philosophical and scientific writing. No, I don’t mean merely that people think with their minds and then write philosophy and science. I’m referring to writing about how the mind evolved, how it functions, what consciousness actually is, and why the mind malfunctions from time to time. Those are all interesting topics.
My topic, however, is how Christians can choose to honor God with their minds, and why they should. (I’m addressing Christians because that’s my own faith group, not to imply that other people cannot honor God with their minds.) Sometimes it seems that every element of our faith is used against the human mind instead of in cooperation with it.
- Our saving faith is sometimes seen as a termination of our ethical decision making
- Dependence on God is often seen as dependence on him solely in a supernatural sense, what God can do for you miraculously, but not in the natural sense
- The inspiration of the scriptures is seen as bypassing the people involved, whether, prophets, secretaries, or readers
- The church offices, especially those of teacher and prophet, are seen as bypassing good thinking
- Laziness replaces the hard work of good thinking, as when we accept something just because we saw it in a book, and it was written by someone holy
- An appearance of piety can replace wisdom. When someone announces–“God said it, I believe it, that settles it!”–without being certain that God says it, that bypasses the human mind.
It would seem that simply from observation and logic we could discover that God wants us to use our minds. He provided them. They are necessary to our survival. Even if we didn’t have scriptural statements to confirm this, it is pretty obvious from nature. But we do, in fact, have scriptural confirmation.
How long, simple-minded folks, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in scoffing?
And fools hate knowledge? — Proverbs 1:22
Now I could spend my time listing texts that back this up further, texts that talk about thinking, wisdom, using our minds, and our choice. They are a strong theme in scripture. But I’m going to assume you either know or can find the texts. I’d just like to call your attention to two texts. The first is from the words of Jesus.
15Watch out for false prophets, who come to you dressed like sheep, but inside they are ravenous wolves. 16It’s by their fruit that you’ll recognize them. 17People don’t gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles, do they? 18A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19That’s why you will recognize them by their fruit. — Matthew 7:15-19
This is a sentiment that Paul repeats in Galatians:
7Don’t be deceived! God won’t be mocked! Whatever a person plants is what he’ll harvest! — Galatians 6:7
These two texts make it clear that God has not abrogated the law of cause and effect in his kingdom. The law of cause and effect is one that is basic to human thinking. It’s clear that God wants you to think about the consequences of your own actions, not to mention the words and actions of others. What people think, what they say, and what they do does have consequences. (I discuss choice and the kingdom in the pamphlet Seven Kingdom Principles of Choice, and its relationship to salvation in my essay A Fruitful Faith. I believe that the twin principles of choice and fruit operate throughout the kingdom of God.)
So how can one honor God with one’s mind? Primarily by using it!
Our saving faith is sometimes seen as a termination of our ethical decision making
Some may have wondered about this first point in my list of excuses above. Aren’t we saved by grace? Are we not to accept salvation as a gift? Indeed we are. But Paul noted the same problem I’m noting. My point is certainly not original with me–it’s Biblical! Paul uses most of Galatians 5 and the first several verses of Galatians 6 dealing with the possibility that some would take their salvation as permission to sin. He makes it clear that’s the point. I think the best antidote to this type of thinking is for us not to think of salvation merely as a ticket to heaven, but as spiritual healing. When we think of it like that, we might find the question rather silly. If the doctor provides you with a cure for your disease, and does not charge you (a true miracle, I know), you have received the free gift of healing. But if you go home and say, “I want the disease, I’m going to get it back,” you may well be able to make yourself sick again. You can’t then complain to the doctor that his free gift failed. You set his gift aside.
Christians sometimes depend on Jesus to save them from sin, while at the same time they indulge themselves in destructive behavior. I’ve been working on a paraphrase or representation of the story of Susanna (Daniel 13, from the apocrypha) for my literature and fiction blog, The Jevlir Caravansary. Update: The article is now completed, Susanna: A Transformation. What struck me as I read that story is that the elders who falsely accuse Susanna do everything possible to lead themselves into sin and eventual destruction. They dwell on their temptation. They hide the fact that they are being tempted. They get as close to sin as they can. When eventually they are caught, everything that follows is inevitable. Christians are often like that. “Why won’t God free me from my addictions?” someone asks, at the same time sitting with the object of his addiction readily available. Grace opens the door, grace makes it all possible, but no number of gifts will make you rich if you throw them all away.
Dependence on God is often seen as dependence on him solely in a supernatural sense, what God can do for you miraculously, but not in the natural sense
In my second point I mention depending on God only supernaturally. The problem here is that Christians take actions that will bear one form of fruit while expecting God’s supernatural intervention to produce other results. I am not denying miracles, or asking anyone not to pray for them. I pray for God’s power and God’s action myself. But I also know from scripture that God normally folllows the simple law of planting and harvesting, or as Jesus said, of bearing fruit.
God’s supernatural power is not there to provide you with a license to ignore God’s laws, whether moral or natural laws written in the fabric of the universe.
The inspiration of the scriptures is seen as bypassing the people involved, whether, prophets, secretaries, or readers
This laziness is generally manifested when people simply use “God said” for anything in the Bible. There are portions of the Bible that are identified as the words of God, but there are also large portions which are not. I have even heard Job’s friends quoted as what “God said,” and they are soundly condemned by God right in scripture. It takes more work to find out what God is doing when he acts in history or in our own lives than it is simply to find a phrase that says what we want it to, and then to quote it, but it also means that very often we are ignoring what God actually meant, while taking on the appearance of affirming his word.
The church offices, especially those of teacher and prophet, are seen as bypassing good thinking
God put prophets and teachers in the church for a purpose–to help bring his word to the people. I’m going to be brief about this, but it’s very important! Please think about it! Now that we can all enter the sanctuary with confidence (Hebrews 10:19), we have as our goal getting everyone to approach God for themselves. The goal is not to teach people to accept what we, as teachers, prophets, or leaders, say, but rather to get them to think for themselves, and to listen to God for themselves.
For the individual, the goal is to approach God individually, and not to depend on the teacher, preacher, or even prophet. It may be harder, but it’s the right goal.
Laziness replaces the hard work of good thinking, as when we accept something just because we saw it in a book, and it was written by someone holy
This is the printed version of the previous point. Some people think that just because it’s in a book it must be true. Many who know that one can’t trust it just because it’s in print, will trust it because it’s in print written by someone well known. But I have a secret (not really!) to tell you. There are plenty of Christian books in print that contain misinformation. I’m not talking about differences of opinion–I’m talking about things that people from many different perspectives could agree were just factually wrong. I find, for example, that a distressingly large number of “insights” brought from Greek or Hebrew in popular books are simply wrong, while many others are at least misleading because they don’t have the proper context.
When you get information from a book, you need to check references, and then you need to assure yourself that the references themselves are reliable. There are some facts making the rounds in Christian books that have simply been quoted so many times that everyone “knows” they are right, but nobody knows precisely where those facts came from. You need to check back to a primary source–the person who actually observed and recorded the data in the first place–whenever possible.
You are responsible for planting seeds in your mind. You are the one who is going to bear the fruit. You need to honor God with your mind by looking up the information.
An appearance of piety can replace wisdom. When someone announces–“God said it, I believe it, that settles it!”–without being certain that God says it, that bypasses the human mind.
It’s easy to dishonor God while sounding extremely pious. I cannot count the number of times I have heard someone say, “I’m just doing what the Bible says,” or “That is just God’s word!” when they are not, in fact, correctly quoting the material or are taking it badly out of context. (For some help with context, see my essay Understanding Context.) What God says for a specific situation should settle it, but what God says and what people say God says may well be two very different things.
Always remember: You will harvest what you plant, and you are the one who chooses what to plant!