With all the rage that social media stirs up over opinions, for all the campaigning that guidance counselors do for higher education, in all the ways we bow to good taste and praise the informed, it’s obvious that for many people they are the sum of their thoughts.
I am writing– without judgment– as someone who has put a strong emphasis on the mind as the most important component of my personality.
Unfortunately for sophisticated little ol’ me, you don’t have to be particularly smart to be obsessed with intellect. You really just have to be prideful.
A root of pride once grew thick around my own high estimation of my thoughts, until a recent and sobering discovery:
The mind is completely insignificant.
From a biblical perspective, the mind is the weakest, most malleable and gullible component of our inner person. And the more devoted someone is to their own wisdom, the more of a fool they are as measured against the wisdom of God.
“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness.’ And again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise are futile,'” 1 Corinthians 3:19-20.
Futile means useless. Pointless. Incapable of producing a useful result. Thank you, Google word search, that’s not how I want my thoughts described.
Like Descartes, I have bought into the fallacy: “I think therefore I am.”
This perspective has its roots in the erudite traditions of Ancient Greece. Ancient Greeks had the same feelings about the preeminence of the mind that me and Descartes share.
First Corinthians 1:18-25 describes how Jews valued signs and wonders as proofs of reality but Greeks valued wisdom as proofs. Because of this Paul tells the Corinthians, Jesus became both the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Jesus proves the reality of God through both the irrationality of miracles and the rationality of argumentation.
“I think therefore I am.” Descartes said.
To Descartes, the thought life of man is the proof of corporeal existence. He was gravely mistaken. The thought life of the Creator is the proof of corporeal existence. To make man the measure is an egregious affront to God in His specific role as Creator.
See Romans 1:16-32 for a full description of how when God’s role as Mastermind of the Universe is demeaned the punishment is God allowing for the decay of man’s mind.
In Romans 1:28, there is a downward spiral described by Paul that begins with man refusing to acknowledge God as creator, having ingratitude toward Him as creator, and thus God giving man over to the degradation of his own useless thinking.
I must confess as sins the emphasis on intelligence and idolatry of the mind that I have indulged in my whole life.
The Bible never praises the faculties of the mind.
Wisdom comes from God not the human mind. The Book of Proverbs is thirty-one chapters of how foolish, fickle, lustful, greedy, impulsive, conniving, and easily influenced the mind is.
Honestly, Buddhists have a very useful analogy for what the untrained mind is like:
The mind is a monkey. If you don’t give it something really specific to do at all times, it will just swing around slinging poop everywhere.
In the Bible, the only mind that matters is the Master’s.
It has been a life-altering realization for me that the mind is not preeminent, it is base. To trust in it is folly. It is the sand upon which many build their houses at their own peril (Matthew 7:24-27). The man who builds his house upon the words of Jesus– His words which are considered foolishness to the world– is in fact like the wise man who knows to build on a firm foundation.
When I went through a manic psychosis at 23 years old, my basic sense of self was completely annihilated. My intellect slipped away smoothly and completely like sand through an hourglass.
Mania is a fool’s errand. It is hysterical, impulsive, and unreasoning.
Escalating and de-escalating between August ‘09 and October ‘09 mania ravaged for everyone close to me what we all thought we knew about me! My thoughts— my essential self and prized social offering— were mauled and mangled until unrecognizable. My trust in myself was forever marred, because “myself” was my mind. It felt like others would never again trust “me” either.
In the month or so after my “vacation” in Garden Pavilion (Garden Pavilion is the local hospital’s euphemism for psych ward), I attended a church service at Monterey Church. My heart still reeling and not yet hardened— it would become hardened— I went forward during an alter call. While in prayer I received a clear word:
Don’t believe everything you think.
In my life’s most confusing moment, I could not have been given any greater chance at freedom than being allowed to not believe nor take with gravity every passing thought that floated through my mind. This was good news given that at that time my thoughts were pretty dark and painfully existential!
The Book of Jude talks about false teachers sharing ideas that were like passing clouds, an autumn tree, and ocean waves. He wrote that the ideas of false teachers are clouds that deliver no rain, autumn trees barren of fruit, and ocean waves that do nothing but froth up its foam. Useless, futile, disappointing, failing to yield what is promised.
Our minds can be false teachers.
False teachings come from the mind not from the Spirit.
The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.
The most important way we exercise our fear of God is by taking God’s Spirit-breathed word at its word, and allowing it to confound our thinking. Without such an exercise our proud minds will keep us from repentance and from trusting in God’s plan for salvation: the foolishness of the cross.
Our minds particularly need salvation. Perhaps that is why we receive salvation by “believing on” Jesus. Believing on Jesus is a saving submission of our minds to Christ’s deity and His righteousness.
Jesus was foolishness to the world, but He is in fact the wisdom of God. He is the Word of God; He is the wisdom that reveals God to us. Truth proceeds from His mouth like a double edged sword. We renew our minds by the washing of this Word (John 1:1; Revelation 1; Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23.)
Instructions for the care of your mind:
1. Submit your mind to the Word not the Word to your mind.
2. Be aware that the spirit of this age is “information” and “self-expression” and “self-righteousness.”
3. Put on the Helmet of Salvation.
4. Here’s a suggestion from a real smarty, Chuck Missler: “Repent daily of ingratitude and presumption.”
5. Praise and worship God alone.
“Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise,” 1 Corinthians 3:18.
Perhaps in light of 1 Corinthians 3:18 I can see my mental illness, which is the constant threat of a fall into foolishness, as a way God is caring for the safety of my soul.
Is it? I don’t know, but bless the Lord, oh my soul, all that is within me— even a once proud, now humbled mind— bless His holy name.
*Just in case it comes up: Am I one of a breed of fundamentalist known for supporting anti-intellectualism in the church? No.