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Are we just the result of some weird cocktail?

Sometimes the more you study something, the less you think you really know about it.

Here I am, a psychologist, and you'd think I would have figured out by now the correct anthropology — the correct understanding of what a human being is. I used to be a pastor, and I've studied theology, and one part of theology is anthropology — what scripture says a human being is. So, after hassling over it for more than forty years, you'd think a person might have figured it out, but I haven't.

I am caught between brambles.

We obviously have bodies. We also have a sense of being so that we can say, “I” and mean “myself.” The Greek word for “I” is ego, the term Freud used for part of the structure of the self. But in the Bible there are other terms: soul, spirit, mind. Are we bodies, souls, spirits, minds, selves; are we made of five different things all stirred together like some weird cocktail?

I had been content to simply let the enigma ride. I told myself it was something I could not ultimately figure out, that philosophers, theologians, and psychologists have been hassling about this for centuries, and I wasn't going to make any significant advances on the subject. Then, I went to church this Sunday. And there it was again.

The pastor was talking about the renewal of the mind. He was not satisfied with signs and wonders and miracles, with excitement in the worship for apparently just excitement's sake. He wanted transformation.

So, if a person actually achieves transformation, what gets transformed? Is it simply a matter of sitting under a tree until enlightenment descends — sort of like Siddhartha Gautama — the Buddha? I don't think so.

Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” The nature of the transformation is related to the competence one might have as a result of it.

It's not just a physical transformation, so that a person looks better, and it's not a superficial thing like applying cosmetics in a simple make over. It's metamorphosis like when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. It's revolution, like when an ineffective government is overthrown by a brand new one. It's a renewal like when stem cells rebuild a defective part of the body. It's a conversion, like when a person changes their religion. It's a renewal like when a person who is dead to God and lives in spiritual blindness suddenly comes alive to God and becomes sensitive to the things of God. So, one part of that competence is that a person has spiritual ears to hear and eyes to see.

But this is accomplished through the renewing of the mind? How are the mind and the spirit related? How can the things of the spirit be affected by the thinking of the mind? Those who worship God must do so in spirit and in truth. It's not just that people need to think about spiritual things; they must relate to God, who IS spirit, in the modality of spirit.

So, we have a spirit, and we have a mind. Obviously, we have a body. In both philosophy and psychology the relationship between the brain, which is a physical part of the body, and the mind, which is an immaterial aspect of the whole person, has been a difficult thing to fathom. How can a physical substance communicate, relate, connect with, and work with an immaterial, non-physical substance? You cannot measure the mind with a ruler or a scale. You cannot detect it with an electron microscope. You can't hear it or see it on an oscillator. You can't smell it. You can't touch it. Does it even exist? Physical monists, people who reduce the human mind to just the brain, say that the mind is a piece of poetry created to speak about the capacities of the brain. It's fiction. But non-reductive physicalists say that the mind emerges from the basic activities of the brain; they are related, with the mind being dependent on the brain, but with the mind certainly being something different from the brain. The theory, philosophically, is called “emergence” and “supervenience.” The mind can direct the brain, because the mind exerts a downward influence on the brain once it emerges from the brain.

If you are not worn out by now in trying to follow what I'm saying, then please take a breath, because you should be.

At this point in my life the best I can do is to say that the soul, what in Greek is called the psyché, and what in Hebrew is called the nephesh, is a reference to the whole person who has various capacities. When God created Adam, He breathed spirit into the body He had formed, and Adam became a living “soul.” The being is holistic. The being of a human BEING is both material body and immaterial mind. The person's capacity to relate to God — to think of God, to yearn after God, to turn the affections and the mind in worship of God — is called spirit. The whole person's capacity for self-reflection and attention is called “self.”

I am sure that I do not have this all right. I am sure that in some way the immaterial aspect of a person continues with a conscious awareness following death. Jesus said to the thief on the cross next to Him, “Today you shall be with me in paradise.” They were both going to die. Jesus didn't say that the thief's mind (or spirit, or soul) was going to be with Him in Paradise. He addressed the whole person. He addressed the self of the other person. YOU. He didn't tell him that his brain was going to be in the ground but his spirit would be in Paradise. So, in some way there is a conscious awareness of one's existence that continues after death.

So what is a human being that we should be capable of such an experience? I really don't know.

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Published January 21, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated January 20, 2014 at 11:50 pm)

Are we just the result of some weird cocktail?

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