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Monday, February 27, 2006

The Composition of Man and Mercy

The multi-aspect composition of man, as in mankind, demands part-specific strategies when nurturing toward maturity. Naturally, the assumption here is that our existence is composed of different layers of reality; they are generally referred to the body, mind, soul and/or spirit.

Body is not difficult to understand for in the mirror, it is in full view. There is no mirror for the mind, thus it is slightly veiled from our full understanding. The mind is our ‘thinker’ and is developed through adding new knowledge or study. But we can neither see it or nor have a full understanding of its complexities. It is hidden, but we know it is there and can grow. Some difficulty has been caused over the distinctions between the soul and spirit and their relationship to the mind. I shall not enter into the complexities of this debate but with a few words.

There are some hints in the Bible as the composition of man but the question of whether it consists of a dichotomous, tri-chotomous, or even quadra-chotomous nature is not clearly answered. Not many would argue that man is made up of at least two parts: what is seen and what is not seen. What is seen is the doer, what is not seen is director. Before something can be done, it must be thought. Before I can lift my right arm, I must say to it, “rise ten inches.” Thought precedes and directs action.

But, in our experience, isn’t there at least a third aspect of our humanity? The mind tells me to turn my head to the right so that I can check out the good looking female that just passed. My body, in obedience to the mind, begins turning its head. Precisely at this moment, another part of me says, “JR, what are you doing? You know these actions that may appear to satisfy your attractions lead only to frustration, disillusionment, and devalue your great worth.”

So, I ask, “When the body, being directed by the mind to look at an object, is redirected by an appeal to a higher morality, what or who shall we say is pleading morality’s case?” For the Christian, some reasonable answers exist: it may be the mind changing its mind; it may be the Holy Spirit of God directing our actions; or, it may be some other part of man.

With a preliminary review, I can quickly dismiss the idea that the mind is directing a new action. First, at the moment in which I understand this conflicting message (look, don’t look), the drive to fulfill the primary action still exists; to argue that multiple or conflicting desires exist within the same mind is possible but not plausible. I suggest this because it does not align with other experience. If my mind tells my arm to rise while concurrently telling it not to rise, what will my arm do? But if something beyond my body is influencing my mind, then I am presented with two options and have a decision to make.

Second, not only does the desire to fulfill the first action still exist, with new and external information I have am a given a choice. Shall I do this or that? Choices are possible within the mind but only with additional knowledge. An example: I can go to the store or school first. Obviously, I can choose either according to my priorities. But, either with a map or knowledge of location, I can choose that going to the school first will save me ten minutes. External information is required to redirect the mind. Here is the lynchpin: from where does external information on morality come? What is the moral map that directs the actions? How can I know goodness, and that to watch the passing female falls shorts of the standards of goodness, except that I understand it from a source outside of the mind? Thus, I have difficulty accepting that the mind acts concurrently as the director and the director’s director.

Second, this new information could be the Holy Spirit of God whispering to Christians, like me, that option B is better than option A. This option is completely viable because God is free to do whatever He chooses and He doesn’t ask for my perspective. The Bible is full examples where the God influences man through His Holy Spirit. I only have one reasonable explanation why I, tentatively, do not subscribe to this except upon an exceptional basis.

REAL-TIME UPDATE (RTU): I had intended to make the argument that it was the Holy Spirit that nurtured a man’s spirit and a third part of man other than the body and mind. This third part would thus influence the mind; but, I have concluded that this thinking is wrong. Let me explain why…

The Bible says that man is not capable of any good apart from God. If good exists (good actions, thoughts, aesthetic, etc), it is because God is good and extends His goodness into His creation. Though man in his condition outside of relationship with God is eternally lost, God has imbued his character into his creation in such a fashion that goodness can be manifested by all people. In fact, it is not hard to imagine a non-Christian doing good; this goodness is, in fact, a testimony of God’s character whether or not the person acknowledges Him.

If both the Christian and non-Christian are capable of goodness, what’s the advantage of being a Christian? [RTU: and it was on this question my thoughts have been changed].

If all people are capable of goodness and of understanding what good acts may look like, then all people are capable of knowing bad-ness as acts contrary to what we know as good. We know that bad-ness is not positive and that goodness is not negative. Our minds may convince us that decision A is better, but when an additional option presents itself as goodness, then we have a choice. If we choose to affirm our mind’s perspective and consent to actions contrary to good, then we convince ourselves of our need for mercy because we knew good and chose to act contrary to it. From whom, then, shall we ask for mercy; whose goodness did we offend? From my experience, is this question that leads to God.

Many look to ledger to compare the number of good acts to bad acts and thus determine that they are in a satisfactory condition. Yet, if only one act of badness shows on the ledger, doesn’t the need for mercy still exist? Our minds rationalize that our goodness justifies our occasional badness; but even if our badness is only occasional, doesn’t the need for mercy still exist? In reality, our ledger, my ledger, shows much more than occasional bad acts.

The Bible says that one of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to convince us of our need for God. It says that the Holy Spirit will, “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8). In other words, the Holy Spirit is going to convince us about bad, good, and that we are going to be held responsible for our actions.

The Bible says that mercy is available to those who ask. Don’t miss the opportunity for unlimited forgiveness.

So, is there an advantage of being a Christian? Oh, yes; much in every way. For the time being, it is enough to say that we have been forgiven. In God’s perspective, the bad-acts on our ledger have been removed. The Bible says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).

While this post originally had a different purpose, I suppose I’ve gotten to far off to retrace my steps. So, I save that for another day.

Thoughtful Readers Speak:
"Don’t miss the opportunity for unlimited forgiveness."

Sometimes the forgiveness of a person is just more important. And it's certainly harder to obtain. This smells like the easy way out.
It seems like the easy way out if you view it judicially. Ie.as a judge would forgive the crimes of an accused felon.

Perhaps it is more descriptive to view forgiveness as a debt that has been reconciled. Everytime we act against God's goodness, we go further and further in the hole. With our sin, we've gotten ourselves so much into debt that we can see a way out.

So what Jesus did, was he paid the debt that we caused by our sin so that we wouldn't have to; instead of us being separated from God eternally, he took upon himself the penalty for our sin.

He offers us the gift of paying our sin-debt. All we have to do is tell the 'accountant' that 'yes, we'll accept this gift'.
It's really convenient that somebody else has to pay for all the bad stuff we do.
And that's where your brand of Christianity is ultimately so devaluing of humanity. As if a single action we could take could injure or harm God. What could we possibly owe him in return?

The debt our "sins" incur is the harm we do to each other. God, being unharmable, is in no position to be paid that debt. It's as if I were to loan you money, and instead of paying me, you paid a third party and considered the debt settled. Sorry, it doesn't work that way, unless the third party turns around and gives that payment to me. But it doesn't seem to work that way with God.

The Bible says that the penalty of our sin is death. Not a physical death at the end of our life, but a spiritual death that eternally separates us from God.

But God, because of His great love for us, sent Jesus to incur that penalty so that we wouldn't have to die. We were the ones who deserved death--not him. Jesus paid the penalty of death for sin that He didn't commit.

Now through the trust that Jesus actually died for you and me, Jesus will spiritually apply his sacrifice to us.

We have the debt of sin. Jesus paid the debt for us because He loves us.
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