Tag Archives: humanity

What does it mean to be truly human?

Okay, so this is one of those philosophical questions that popped into my head. I’m curious what things you would say to someone who asked this question.

A knee jerk reaction by me:

  1. To love, to relate to others
  2. To work and play
  3. To accept limits
  4. To be real, not plastic
  5. To age without trying to pretend the clock isn’t ticking
  6. To live in ambiguity while acting
  7. To sleep and rest
  8. To emote
  9. To desire
  10. To worship

I’m sure I’m missing some key things here…what would you say?


Filed under Uncategorized

Life amidst brokenness?

As one who makes a living listening to brokenness, there are times when troubles seem everywhere. Everyone is swimming in a pool of their own tears–to quote the former PBS motivational speaker John Bradshaw. Sometimes, the pool seems pretty deep…cancer, mental illness, sexual abuse, infidelity, mania, marital discord, identity confusion, etc.

If not careful, we counselors can begin to believe that brokenness is the ONLY reality–a dreadful position if all we have to offer our clients is a knowing sad smile. On Sunday I went to a class on Isaiah, what some call 2nd Genesis because of the prophetic descriptions of re-birth and redemption of Israel through the work of Emmanuel.

In the class, someone said something that has been banging around in my head. It went something like this (gist, not quote)

It is not a challenge to see brokenness around us–that is easy. The challenge is to see God’s re-creative activity. Oddly, we call reality (God’s activity in redeeming us) a myth and prefer myth (superficial Christmas peace) over the reality of God’s working through brokenness to make us whole. I repeat, the challenge is to see God’s recreation and Glory.

Not sure how much of that was said and how much of that is just my own thoughts. But, still, the challenge for us is to see re-birth and not merely dying and death. What looks like an ugly stump (Isaiah 11:1) to us is a fruit bearing shoot.

See if you can catch glimpses of growth and rebirth today!


Filed under Biblical Reflection, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling, Doctrine/Theology, Uncategorized

Dichotomy vs. Trichotomy?

In the world of Christian counseling past, thinkers (philosophers, theologians, model builders) pondered whether it would be good to consider humanity in two parts (body/soul) or three parts (body/soul/spirit or psyche). These days I can’t recall anyone even raising this as an issue that competent counselors should consider. This absences does beg the question(s): Is pondering the substances of humanity not particularly needed anymore? Is it that our academic predecessors already answered the question?

I’m not sure but I lean to the first reason–most people think this isn’t particularly relevant to their work counseling others. I tend to agree with caveats. When I sit with someone, I try to consider their whole being. We can’t possibly discuss their body without considering their mind. We can’t possibly talk about spiritual matters without using the body. I can just imagine this. “Now, let’s discuss your stomach pain, but we will not consider your thoughts or your spiritual well-being in this part of the conversation…[room goes silent]”

And yet many counselors continue to function like this in implicit ways. The counseling professional who feels incompetent to talk about faith matters (or that it somehow violates ethics) may choose to ignore spiritual matters (e.g., “I deal with only the psyche and I leave faith matters to the pastor). Well-intended, but in denial of the whole person in front of them. Then there are those counselors who see themselves as only dealing with faith or spiritual matters; matters of the will. These counselors may implicitly neglect, even reject, the role of the body in counseling concerns.

We counselors need to consider whether we tend to neglect a part of the person in front of us when we ignore body or spirit issues. Thus, it can be helpful to examine our practical theology of persons. Note I didn’t answer the question in the title. There are a good many who do a fine job debunking the trichotomy position. However, a practical monism likely works better in the session–that the whole person in front of me functions as a unity that cannot nor should not be divided into pieces.


Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, Psychology

Can your body make you sin, part 2

Yesterday I posted an introduction to this topic. Today, I want to give my answer to the first question:

Is it possible that my body (against or apart from my will) might cause me to sin?

  • What is gained and/or lost if we say yes? If we say no?

My answer: Yes.

I suppose you might like some defense of this position. Okay, here’s my best shot in five minutes:

1. Nothing is done by a person apart from their cells. We mediate all worship, desire, etc. through our cells. When we do good or evil, all of us are involved.

2. Sin is not merely an act, but a disposition. All of me is tainted and not functioning as it was originally intended, including my physical body (and don’t I feel the effects of being over 40!).  The dualist position is more in danger of treating sin as only what we consciously choose.

3. I don’t have to know that I broke the law (biblical or federal) to be guilty of violating the law. I didn’t know I was speeding but I still got a ticket. In the OT, lack of intention or knowledge violating the law did not protect against impurity or guilt (e.g., Lev. 4:22; 5:3).

4. If the body is broken and under sin’s curse it stands to reason that our bodies function in ways that are out of accord with our will. If they can move without our control (e.g., Parkinsonian tremors) can they not also move in such a way that violates God’s design for us. We have scientific evidence of this. Stimulate a certain part of the brain, and you will have rageful feelings. Stimulate another part and you may have sexual thoughts. Consider, as a commenter suggested yesterday, a person with Tourettes. There is some evidence of temporary volitional control (a surgeon is able to stop a tick during an operation) but other evidence that the ticks, and in some cases, curses burst out against the conscious effort of the person.

Saying yes to this question violates our Western sensibilities:

If we accept that our bodies can act against or without the will, what do we gain or lose? I think the primary concern by many would be that somehow we will either be held culpable for sins we didn’t want to commit or claim innocence for sins we didn’t willfully commit. And this gets to our thinking patterns here in the West. We want to be only held accountable for things we did do and not held accountable for things we either didn’t do or didn’t have any control over.

It strikes us as evil to be held accountable for that which we didn’t know was wrong. I once got a ticket for making a u-turn on a Chicago city street at 11 pm when no one (but the cop!) was around. There were no signs. I wasn’t familiar with Chicago rules, was lost in an unsavory neighborhood. And yet I still got the ticket. It didn’t seem right. But I did violate the law.

Our American judicial system isn’t the only system that holds us accountable for involuntary acts. Romans teaches us that because of Adam’s sin, all are sinners. I bear the culpability for his sin (and I make plenty of my own as well). I bear the impact of his choices in my entire being. Further we see OT prophets confessing the sins of the community as if they were their own.

So, in short, I think we can answer yes to the question about whether our bodies can make us sin. They can because we (body and soul) are tainted by the Fall. It doesn’t make us more or less out of sorts with God whether our sin is chosen or involuntary. Happily, God doesn’t just forgive willful sin, he forgives sin period and makes it possible to not sin by imputing his righteousness to us.

For those still thinking about culpability, I’ll give a little vignette tomorrow to chew on.


Filed under Biblical Reflection, christian counseling, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, sin, Uncategorized

Can your body make you sin?

I’ve had a small email exchange on this topic with a PhD student at another seminary and so I’m going to raise the topic here. Can your body make you sin? Obviously, I’m going to tackle this question from a Christian perspective that cares about sin and wants to think carefully about our ontology (what it means to be human).  

The major questions behind the question are (a) are we made up of 2 substances (body and soul), and (b) even if we are, does it matter when considering what causes people to do what they ought not? I am not going to even try to defend (a) but I do want us to think about (b).

Some background might help. (If you get bored with background, just scroll down to the questions below.)

1. In the Christian life sin matters. Sin is that which we do that violates God’s definition of holiness. Sin is that which fallen creatures do all the time. Thankfully, God provides a way of escape from the logical consequences of sin (grace via the cross). Despite (no, because of) this gift from God, Christians still care about eradicating sin even though it is not possible. It stands to reason, then, that it can help to discern the sources of sin in order to stop them.

2. The classic Christian view of human nature is that we are made of two substances: body and soul. We are not just our physical bodies but something intangible was imputed to us when God breathed life into Adam. Our soul allows us to worship God. The bible refers to our soul in various ways: will, heart, desires, etc. The soul is the driver of the will and therefore responsible for the moral direction of our actions. Early theologically oriented scientists (think Descartes) assumed the existence of the soul but looked to explain how the intangible soul connected to the tangible body. Now with the advances in neuroscience we have better explanatory power in describing the action of thoughts, feelings, and knowing. However, the will remains a mystery. While we can explain neural networks and what the brain does when desiring something, we cannot yet explain WHY we want or desire certain things. 

Some philosophers and theologians have attempted to deal with classic dualism by suggesting that we are only one substance. I am not capable of succinctly defending this position so I point you to Nancey Murphy and a review of her book here.  She does a masterful job defending non-reducible physicalism.

Okay, now if you think humans are made of body and soul you have these questions to consider.

  1. Is it possible that my body (against or apart from my will) might cause me to sin?
    • What is gained and/or lost if we say yes? If we say no?
  2. If it is possible, am I culpable for such sins? 
    • What is the consequences of saying yes to this question?

During this week I plan to give a feeble defense of a yes answer to both questions 1 and 2. We’ll see how this unfolds.


Filed under biblical counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology