Pastoral Psychology and the Heart 03

Making a deity of any part of yourself is a poor substitute for reaching out to eternity.

Some of you may have heard of B.F. Skinner and his theory that human personality is nothing more than the net result of the conditioning one has received throughout life. For him, there is only flesh and synapses and memories, but no soul. His theory comes apart most quickly when you deal with humans who have a high IQ or some other unusual degree of talent. They exhibit an independence and creativity that defies any possible explanation through conditioning. Influential he was, but Skinner’s reductionism never accomplished much.

Most Western psychology does assume we are more than flesh and conditioning, but that we have something like a soul. Too much of what humans do cannot be explained without positing a consciousness that is all too real and resistant to conditioning in many ways. But the whole of Western Civilization starts out with rejecting that there can possibly be anything higher than the intellect. So while our culture generally recognizes a body and a soul, there is no real place for the human spirit, except as a mere metaphor.

There was a popular notion in evangelical teaching back in the 1970s that saw human nature as three concentric spheres. There was a body on the outside, a soul inside that, and the innermost sphere was the spirit. The problem with this simplified model was that it encouraged people to equate their physical form with the biblical term “flesh.” We then get a psychology that blames the body for being what it is and that it needs discipline and denial in order to roll back the fallen nature. This is bogus; it’s a notion many people still read back into the Bible. The Bible uses “flesh” as a symbol, a parable.

The problem is not with our bodies, and it’s wrong to assume our troublesome emotions are formed from the collected signals of our bodies. Emotions are part of the mind. They are sourced in the mind. Our fleshly nature is not in our emotions nor in our bodies, though it is expressed in the limitations and mortality of the body. This bogus notion that we can blame sin on the body is part of why we have the false notion in the West that the mind is perfectible, or at least that the intellect is not actually fallen.

Whatever discipline and denial the fleshly nature needs includes getting the mind whipped into shape, too. Here is where we discover that the soul/consciousness/ego is not actually rooted in the brain. Your ego is the breath of God from Genesis; it does not come with the equipment. We can choose to limit our egos to what the intellect alone can handle, but the ego need not be confined there. Part of expanding the ego outward is reaching into the space that is occupied by the will.

Now some versions of that model with the three spheres did include the trio of mind, will and emotions drawn in as segments of the second sphere of the soul. Yet, virtually nothing in the attached teaching explained the will adequately. Only if you had read from research into Hebrew intellectual assumptions would you know that the will was associated in the Bible with the heart. And further, you could then understand that the heart/will was the repository of commitment. This was a critical element in the feudalism inherent in the Old Testament. You were expected to commit to, or put your faith in, Jehovah as His loyal feudal servant. Faith is in the heart, not in the brain. The brain cannot commit, only the ego working in the heart can do that.

In other words, you were expected to make this commitment an exercise of the ego, a decision you could make that went beyond what the reason could grasp. It was expected that under the blessings of revelation, your convictions would seize the truth and drive you into such a commitment, and that it would hold you firmly to that commitment. It was quite plainly indicated that this would be a choice that defied reason by the very nature of it being sacrificial to the point of death.

The heart or will was regarded in the Old Testament as the only link to the human spirit. From the New Testament we get this very clear picture of the spirit being dead by default, and requiring the powerful touch of God to breathe the second touch of life into it. That would be His life, His Spirit. The Bible isn’t all that specific about it, but it comes to us in hints that the heart/will was the only part of us linked to the spirit. So the simplified drawing of spheres could be misleading, implying the mind and emotions could also touch the spirit, but that is manifestly false.

The traffic is one way, coming out of the spirit and into the heart. It certainly affects your emotions, and it should bring order to you mind. The intellect is there to organize and implement what the heart knows is morally imperative. There is no sentiment in the heart; that’s just how we’ve been taught. It’s the flawed mythology of our Western Civilization. We must reject a large burden of garbage that comes with our Western culture.

So we come to the part where we don’t care a whit about what this world calls “sanity.” That’s not our end goal here in pastoral psychology of the heart. Rather, we seek a totally different kind of sanity that brings peace with God and with Creation. It begins by restoring the proper order of things inside. Indeed, the whole business of spiritual warfare is defeating the devils within. The only power that defeats Satan is his Master whom he serves, God Almighty. It’s his job to mess with us, to deceive and convince us to embrace the intellect as a sufficient deity in its own right. That means by default that we turn away from the Tree of Life and become mortal. That’s not where we started off in the Garden of Eden, and it’s not what we were designed to do. We were designed for immorality.

Biblical symbolism isn’t meant to be precise because the fleshly nature is inherently hostile to eternal truth. In many ways, this world is Hell, and the Bible refers to yet another place of punishment called the Lake of Fire beyond that. Nobody in their “right mind” wants to stay here, but if we are going to be here for awhile, we can at least find the path that makes the most sense. That path is what God revealed, and it starts with making us focus on a higher realm than the one around us. We are to pass through the Flaming Sword at the Gate of Eden and begin the long process of refitting ourselves for life there.

We have to reject the Fruit of the Tree of Judging Good and Evil.

About Ed Hurst

Disabled Veteran, prophet of God's Laws, Bible History teacher, wannabe writer, volunteer computer technician, cyclist, Social Science researcher
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