The following will look at Ed Welch’s guide from Blame It On The Brain to how to distinguish sinful behavior problems from mental illness and how to relate the two to one another in general. Sinful behavior problems can be particularly intractable. Indeed, some thought patterns and behavior patterns that are inevitable in fallen beings are so intractable that they should arguably be typed as mental illnesses. Head injuries, alcohol addiction and Alzheimer’s disease, for example, all require a great deal of compassion in their treatment as they can radically alter the way the individual behaves.
Welch notes that in the 5th century B.C., the physician Alkmeon of Kroton suggested that sensory information were more “earthly” and occupied certain areas of the brain, whereas thoughts were spiritual and were part of the soul and could not be physiologically located in the brain. Plato believed that it was in the medulla that God planted the soul. Aristotle was unsure where the soul was located, although he believed that it was the “substantial form” of the body. Stratos of Lampsaos thought the soul was between the eyebrows, Shakespeare thought it was int he pia mater, which is a part of the meningeal skin covering the brain. Finally, with the tools of contemporary neuroscience, we are closer to locating particularly constituents of the human mind in different parts of the brain.
Welch insists that we must view mental health through the lens of scripture. He rejects the notion that the Bible is solely for spiritual concerns rather than others. He argues that God created everything, including the brain and that God has called us to be students of creation.Since the brain is part of creation, it follows that we should study the brain. Like the study of every part of creation, it must be put under the lens of scripture. Students of the Bible therefore must study the brain but should interpret their data through the lens of scripture.
For example, alcoholism today is solely looked at as a disease. While there are organic predispositions and consequences to alcoholism, Welch says that there is a moral and theological component as well. Since it is seen as a purely bodily disease by many contemporary clinicians rather than one that has to do with the soul, no moral or theological component remains. But what does the Christian do who has heard of antidepressants helping with porn addiction and depression? Will they not decide that the brain sciences are more authoritative and helpful than the Bible in relieving spiritual problems?
Blaise Pascal once said:
“Man considering himself is the great prodigy of nature. For he cannot conceive what his body is, even less what his spirit is, and least of all how body can be united with spirit. That is the peak of his difficulty and yet it is his very being.”
Indeed, the question of the relation of the mind to the body is a vexing question that has held captive many philosophers and psychologists for millennia. Welch asks rhetorically if there are times at which our brains cause us to behave such that we are not really responsible for our questions. Some neuroscientists believe that contemplation of an immaterial mind has no place in science, either because the folk psychology which presupposes the existence of something like a mind is fundamentally in error or simply because it is unobservable, rather than necessarily nonexistent.
Some teach a form of dualism according to which the mind and body are distinct substances that do not interact with each other. Others teach a form of dualism known as interactionism, according to which the body can influence the mind and vice versa. “in other words, thoughts and actions can cause brain activity, and brain activity can cause certain behavior,” according to Welch, and he praises it for its non-deterministic approach to the mind. Some teach what is known as epiphenomenalism, according to which mind is emitted from the brain the same way a locomotive emits steam; the mind would thus have no causal efficacy at all.
Welch notes that it is essential that we consider the mind and the brain linked. Individuals with brain injury may have their personalities, emotions or cognitive faculties radically altered. He insists that there are three questions we must consider when exploring this issue:
“1. Is there really a distinct spiritual substance? Do we, in fact, have an immaterial soul, or is the soul an artifact of Greek thought?
2. If there is such a thing as a spirit or soul, then how would we define it? What does it do?
3. If there is a spiritual substance, how does it relate to or interact with the physical substance of the person?”
Numerous biblical passages and theological confessions straightforwardly teach that humans are composite beings consisting of a body and a soul (Heidelberg Catechism, Q.1; WCF 32.1; Job 34:14-15; Eccl. 12:7; Matt. 10:28; 1 Tim. 4:8).
In any case, where do we locate the “I” in the human brain? Is there a specific part of the brain that houses this ego?
“This elusive “me” has also been noticed in the medical realm. While the body obviously can be easily seen, the “I” is physically elusive. That is, you can’t find it in the brain. for example, there have been brain surgeries where surgeons have had opportunities to electrically stimulate the brains of alert patients. This electrical stimulation can elicit body movements, memories, emotions, and other cognitive activities, yet electrically stimulated activity is always distinguished from “me.” Patients have said, after a surgeon’s electrode revives forgotten memories or provokes sudden movements, “I didn’t do that. You did. I didn’t make that sound. You pulled it out of me.” The “I” seems to escape all attempts to be physically located.”
Furthermore, Welch insists that the Bible teaches that we are two substances. Indeed, Welch argues that it is the result of the Fall that the soul can be separated from the body. The immaterial component of the human is the “pneuma” or spirit. It is also represented as “heart” (kardia), “mind” (dianoia, phrenes, and souls), “soul) (Greek: psuche. Hebrew: nephesh), “conscience” (suneidesis), “inner self” (1 Pet. 3:4) and “inner man” (2 Cor. 4:16), as Welch pointed out. He says that the different words have different emphases although they both ultimately refer to the same thing. According to John Owen:
“The heart in the Scripture is variously used; sometimes for the mind and understanding, sometimes for the will, sometimes for the affections, sometimes for the conscience, sometimes for the whole soul. Generally, it denotes the whole soul o man and all the faculties of it, not absolutely, but as they are all one principle of moral operations, as they concur in our doing good or evil…The seat and subject of the law of sin is the heart of man.”
The human mind is accountable before God for its cognitive, emotional and behavioral decisions (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 1:18, 4:18; Col. 1:21). According to Welch, the Bible defines the mind in three different ways: Self-consciousness and purposeful behavior, intellectual activities and moral action. The Bible considers the body a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) and Paul considers the body an essential component of the human person. The word “sarx” refers to the evil moral impulse but does not typically refer to the human body, at least not in Paul’s letters. Instead, “soma” is the Greek word for the physical body. In the words of John Murray:
“…we are not to suppose that ‘the law of sin’ springs from or has its seat in the physical. It would merely indicate…that the apostle brings to the forefront the concrete and overt ways in which the law of sin expresses itself and that our physical members cannot be divorced from the operation of the law of sin.”
In this sense, the body is the mediator of moral action while the mind is the initiator. Nevertheless, bodily impulses should not reign supreme. Instead, humans must control the body, using the initiator of the renewed mind. Sin continually attempts to take advantage of physiological impulses that have greater sway, for example, when we are sick or tired. Nevertheless, the human mind must control these tendencies.
“First Corinthians 6:12-20 illustrates the importance of not giving way to bodily desires. In this passage, the apostle Paul mentions two popular mottoes of the day. The first, “Everything is permissible or me,” was probably an expression of the freedom that Christians had from the Jewish ceremonial laws. But Paul was concerned about the interpretation of this expression. Permission, when viewed apart from faith, could become license not only to eat everything, but also to participate in sexual sin. “After all,” the sinful logic went, “God is saying that we do not have to deny the body any longer.
To preempt this thinking Paul adds, “but not everything is beneficial,” and “I will not be mastered by anything.” Paul is warning that the unrighteous heart is prone to lust, and when lust encounters the weaknesses of the body, it can exalt bodily passions so that they master or rule the entire person.”
Welch notes that Paul is particularly strict on the importance of maintaining control over the body in 1 Corinthians 24-27.
It is evident that any behavior that violates biblical commands is sin. It is therefore important to control the body (1 Thess. 4:4) and not allow sin to have reign over us (Rom. 6:14). On the other hand, behavior that may more accurately be called a “weakness” issues from the body such as suffering or sickness, Welch explains. Cognitive faculties may be involved in sin but errors of cognition are not sin.
For example, the erroneous equation 1 + 2 = 6 is incorrect but it is not sinful. It is merely the result of weakness. Another example of non-sinful weakness is a hallucination. Hallucination is not sin. Paul does not rebuke anyone for hallucinating. Instead, Welch says, we are to have compassion on such people. Emotions may proceed from either the heart or the body and must be taken on a case-by-case basis.
Welch emphasizes the importance of having a view of the relation of the mind and body that balances the unity with the duality of the human person. It is easy to err on one side. He argues that deliberate behavior may be reflected or represented in human brain chemistry, although brain chemistry is not the sole cause of our mental states. Brain abnormalities thus do not necessarily causes deviant thoughts or behaviors. Instead, the reverse may be true in at least some cases; the brain abnormalities may be caused by such behaviors.
Ed Welch goes on to outline certain crucial practical implications of our understanding of the relation of the mind to the body as students of scripture. First, the brain cannot force someone to sin or prevent them from obeying God. Next, each individual’s strengths and weaknesses are worthy of meticulous study. Furthermore, problems with the brain may reveal problems of the heart. Finally, hearts full of sin can cause psychosomatic or physical illnesses and righteous lives can lead to physical and mental health.
For example, PMS can take our weaknesses for granted but it cannot make us sin. It may make sin more tempting but it is always up to the human to choose to dwell on sinful heart patterns or engage in sinful venting of emotions. Indeed, according to Lev. 5:17, even accidental or supposedly involuntary actions can be the result of sin. Ultimately, however, the brain cannot alienate us from God or keep us from following him. Welch likewise reminds us that no one can make us sin. This goes for other people as well as for your own brain condition.
We can grant extenuating circumstances if the individual is in the manic phase of bipolar disorder of it an individual with dementia is having trouble refraining from making lewd remarks, but we must always keep in mind that such conditions reveal what is already in the heart rather than producing something that was not there before. Thus, if someone habitually harasses you and you eventually lose patience and lash out because you did not get any sleep last night, neither the lack of sleep nor the harassment “made” you sin; it only revealed what was already in your heart.