Mental health/illness from God’s point of view (pt 2)

Redesigning our brain

When God designed the human mind he made it like his own. Our minds, therefore, have the same potential as his mind. But to experience that potential, and truly share the mind of God, the human mind has to be faced with the power and influence of evil, because evil is the most formidable enemy of the mind.

God’s mind is not affected by evil at all, of course. It resists evil and wants nothing to do with it. But that wasn’t the case with the archangel Lucifer and one third of the angels, who fell under the spell of evil, despite them being with God, watching him in action, knowing his love, and no evil at all being practiced or even thought of anywhere at any time. But amazingly, evil still managed to creep past all those defenses and sneak into their angelic minds where it spread its infectious nastiness, resulting in outright rebellion against God.

Evil had not been seen like that before, but suddenly it was out in the open, revealing the highly disturbing fact that not only does evil exist, it can also pounce with deadly results on an unwary victim at any time. But from the terrible effects of what evil has done to people ever since, we know now what evil’s purpose is – to inject its venom into the mind to make that mind hostile to God.

And evil could have affected God’s mind like that too, turning God against himself, where Father, Son and Spirit connive against each other and compete, rather than work in total love and cooperation. But God’s mind is impervious and immune to the power and influence of evil, and because he made our minds in the image and likeness of his mind, his ultimate plan is to make our minds just as impervious and immune to evil too.

But HOW can our minds become impervious to evil if we have no idea why evil is so evil, or what damage evil can do to a mind, or how it can slip so easily past our defenses? How do we come to loath its influence and impact on our minds so much that we don’t want anything to do with evil forever either, and we willingly and forcefully resist it, just like God does? The question is “How?” Well, the answer in Scripture is that right from the start God lets evil loose on humans, knowing what evil will do to us, but clearly it’s the only way.

And Scripture’s sad story is that all humans fall under the spell of evil in some form or other, either in evil’s injection of its venom into our own brains, or injecting its venom into the brains of others who mess our minds up. We see that in a good man like Abel being killed by his venomously evil brother Cain, and Eve getting her husband to eat the forbidden fruit when Adam knew he was being tempted but didn’t resist. Evil, in other words, has its ways and means of getting at and into everybody.

And humans seem especially vulnerable, because when evil took aim at the angels to turn their minds against God, it only managed to infect one third of them, whereas with humans evil’s success rate is one hundred per cent. Every human being, in one way or another, has been affected, infected – or infected and affected – by evil.

No wonder mental illness is such a huge problem today. But now that evil has done its damage, with God’s permission, what was the next step in his plan in dealing with evil, since it’s obvious that we can’t deal with it ourselves? And the simple answer from Scripture is: He’s redesigning our brain to resist evil.

And God can do that, because he made our brains redesignable. This is good news for anyone suffering from mental illness, that God can rewire a damaged mind. The brain can even rewire itself naturally, as people who suffer from blindness or brain damage know, that other parts of the brain begin to fill in the gaps, or work round the obstructions, enabling the person to function quite normally. It tells us what God has made possible in our brains, which is good to know, because if God knew what damage evil would do to our brains, he must have a way of repairing our brains too, right?

If our brains couldn’t be repaired, or rewired to work round the damage, what hope would we have? If every time evil managed to control our thoughts and those thoughts became fixed in our brains forever, and there was nothing anyone could do about it, we might as well all commit suicide and get the agony over with. But those working in the mental health community know how the mind responds to the most simple aids – like medication to balance the brain’s chemicals, or therapy to talk a person through their troubles, or mental exercises and training to redesign the brain’s thought patterns. Psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, and the vast army of mental health workers would all have given up their professions long ago if the human mind wasn’t flexible, repairable and responsive to help.

But God made it clear from the beginning that evil is our problem, and there is nothing we humans can do about that. The only solution is for God to redesign our brains so evil can’t get through to them, and that’s the process he put into action through his Son.

And what a challenge that must be for Jesus, because look what he’s been landed with. First of all, it was Israel, who demonstrated beyond all doubt that humans are incapable of resisting evil, even when God was with them personally to guide them, protect them, educate them, take care of all their physical needs, and destroy those who wished to harm them. Even when Israel had a sacrificial system and priesthood to annul the damage done by evil and enable the Israelites to function and continue to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness, they still fell victim to their fears and lack of trust in him. And even when God in his anger and frustration threatened them with dire consequences if they continued in their evil ways, and thousands upon thousands of them died in horrible wars, invasions and diseases, it still didn’t stop them messing their lives up.

Fortunately, the Bible promises that all those helpless Israelites will be raised from the dead, and God never rejected them, but the brutal fact of their lives is that they were nothing but proof of the power of evil. Nothing worked in preventing evil slipping past their defenses and wrecking their lives. And today it’s no different, as many in the mental health community admit, that no matter how well we get to know how the brain works, or what treatments we come up with to aid those seeking help, mental illness continues unabated, causing havoc in the minds of many young people especially, who lose all hope, wonder what the point of life is when it’s so much pain, and they want to end it all.

And here we are now, in what we call a civilized society, when we know all too well that civilization is but a thin veneer covering a savage inner self. Supposedly ‘good’ people do unspeakable acts of evil without warning, and we have no idea why, or what to do about it, other than hit them with medication and therapy, and ship them off to jails and institutions, with little hope of a cure.

When will we humans get the point, therefore, from our own school of hard knocks and brutal experience, that there is something messing up our minds that we have no control or power over? And how much pain and sadness and family tragedies can we take until we turn to God for help, in the hope that since he was the one who made us he’s also the one who knows how to REmake us?

And what if that’s been God’s plan all along, to remake, or redesign, our brains?

That’s not such a strange concept either, because it’s a proven fact that brains can be redesigned. A documentary – actually called Redesigning my brain – demonstrated clearly that our fears and weaknesses can be dramatically improved and adjusted by mental exercises and training. Tolerance of pain can be strengthened, fear of heights almost eradicated, stress and impatience can be calmed, and even the heartbeat can be consciously slowed. The ability of the mind to rewire and adjust is remarkable.

And the good news is, that the maker of our remarkable brain is redesigning it, or retraining it, so it can learn to resist evil too. The huge problem in telling that to the world, though, is that few people believe evil exists, or that it’s our most formidable enemy, or that it’s affecting people’s minds every day in all sorts of nasty ways. We’re also stuck with 2 Corinthians 4:4, that “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

Paul is not shy about the actual existence of a powerful “god” in our world wielding enormous influence over people’s minds, and how this god has a clear purpose and plan, to blind people to “the glory of Christ.”

But what exactly is this “glory” Christ has? Paul explains in the last part of verse 4, that Jesus “is the image of God.” But why would the god of this age want to blind people to Jesus being the image of God? Because Jesus was – and still is – a human being. Jesus, therefore, is living proof that human beings can be in the image of God, meaning humans really can share the same mind God has, and that means the human mind, like God’s mind, can resist evil too.

Well, no wonder the god of this age wants to hide that little gem, that human minds can, in fact, become impervious to evil, just like God’s mind is. It would not only destroy evil’s power over humans, it would also wreck the entire system the serpent nurtured from day one through Adam and Eve, of humans depending on human wisdom for answers to their problems. And he doesn’t want that to happen because his clever little plan has successfully wasted the potential of the human mind to become like God’s mind, by having humans chasing after solutions that Paul says in verse 6, “come to nothing.” And Paul’s right, because has human wisdom brought us any closer to solving the problem of evil?

No, it hasn’t. What the world desperately needs, then, as it stumbles around in the darkness, blinded by the god of this age, is “the light of the gospel,” the “light” being the glory of Christ, who as a human in the image of God provides us with clear proof and hope that the human potential to solve the problem of evil by sharing the mind of God is possible.

The world, meanwhile, thinks the problem of evil in the human mind is within its own power to control, and by its own tools it can make minds good and not evil, despite the overwhelming evidence worldwide to the contrary.

You can see, then, why Paul objects so strongly to the whole idea that human wisdom has anything to offer when it comes to the mind. And he’s living at a time when Greek philosophy and wisdom is at its height too, that we still hold in the highest regard today as well, but Paul summarizes the lot of it in 1 Corinthians 2:9 that “No one’s ever seen or heard, or even so much as imagined, what God has arranged for those who love him.”

That’s quite a statement, that none of the great minds in the past ever came up with any understanding or grasp of what God has in mind for humans, for the simple reason that they didn’t want anything to do with God, or include anything he said in their ideas. And the proof of their resulting ignorance is their conflicting ideas on how the human mind works, and what we’re here as humans for.

And Paul isn’t done yet with knocking the world’s wisdom, either. He exposes exactly why the world’s great leaders of thought, the great philosophers, authors and shapers of society through the ages can never get to the heart of what makes humans tick, what the human brain’s true potential is, and why evil persists.

He explains why it’s all a great fog, reducing humans to going through the motions of living and eating, and at the end of life being no wiser than we are as babies as to what God is doing for us humans. All those years in school and university, all that climbing the ladder at work, all that reading of books and learning from scholars, all that observing in laboratories, all that struggle to make a living and become experts in a trade, all that living and having families and travelling to far off lands – and for what, pray tell, if there’s no understanding of what “God destined for our glory before time began” (7)?

Well, Paul says, the reason it’s all a dense fog is because “no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God,” 1 Corinthians 2:11.

In other words, we have no way of knowing what is going on in the mind of God, nor do we take any interest in it, without the Spirit. “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned,” verse 14.

That’s another challenging statement to anyone considering a career in mental health and mental illness, that the natural human brain isn’t even able, let alone ready, to accept anything from God or God’s point of view. So here we are talking about mental health and mental illness from God’s point of view, and the only people likely to take any interest or get any meaning out of it are those who accept that God is real. And how many people in the mental health establishment believe that? Who, then, one has to ask, has any real insight into what’s going on inside the human brain?

Well, here’s this chap called Paul who claims he does, because he tells us from his own experience in Romans 8:2 that “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” And what he means by “the law of sin and death” in Romans 7:21 is this force that kicks in automatically like the law of gravity, so that every time “I want to do good, EVIL is right there with me,” creating a constant battle between good and evil inside Paul’s head.

Evil was like an unstoppable heartbeat pumping out a constant stream of selfish thoughts and motives, but when Paul suddenly became aware that this was what evil was doing inside his head, he discovered to his horror he couldn’t turn the tap off. It was frozen open, and nothing in his power, not even perfect obedience to God’s commandments, could get that wretched tap to stop flowing.

But then he discovered that the tap had actually already been turned off by Christ’s death, meaning he was free at last from the constant drip, drip of evil leaking its venom into his brain. But it didn’t stop there. There was a reason for the tap being turned off. It was “in order that,” Romans 8:4, ”the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us.” The reason for the tap of evil being turned off in his head was to enable him to turn another tap on that would fill his brain with “the righteous requirements of the law” instead. One tap off and one tap on: The process of redesigning Paul’s brain had begun.

Paul describes that process too, in Romans 8:9, as no longer being “controlled by the sinful nature, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.”

Paul makes it absolutely clear that the deciding factor in the redesigning of our brains is the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit Jesus’ sacrifice is wasted. All it accomplished was turning off the tap pouring evil into our heads. That’s amazing in itself, yes, because we couldn’t turn the evil tap off ourselves, no matter how hard we hit it with our efforts to obey God, but is that it? The tap’s been turned off, but now what? Do we just sit in the bath in silence, no water running, and sort of slosh around in rapidly cooling water waiting to see what happens next?

We don’t have to wait, though, because “if the Spirit of God is living in us” another tap has been turned on, and what it does is equally amazing, because it starts pouring Christ’s mind into us. Where the old tap of evil was pouring its venom into our heads, this new tap of the Spirit is pouring in the perfectly healthy mind of Christ, which explains why Paul calls it “the Spirit of Christ” in verse 9. The Spirit’s purpose is to start flooding our brains with the mind and thoughts of Christ, taking us back to 1 Corinthians 2:16 when Paul says “we have the mind of Christ.” Well, of course we do, because the Holy Spirit now has the tap full on pouring the mind of Christ into our brains.

And then Paul hits us with Romans 8:10, as the most brilliant description of what is now happening inside our heads as a result of Christ’s sacrifice turning off the old tap and the Holy Spirit turning on the new tap. Here it is, verse 10: “But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.”

Or put in tap terms, if Christ is being poured into our heads, thanks to the Holy Spirit opening up that tap to full pressure, then first of all, take note, it won’t make any difference to our bodies. Don’t expect our bodies to suddenly fill up with vibrant new health. That’s not what the tap is for, to inject new life into our bodies, because our bodies in this life are still subject to death as the irreversible consequence of sin.

Evil still gets its way when it comes to our bodies, therefore, even after we become Christians, because the priority isn’t bodies yet, it’s brains. Immortal bodies come later. What God’s interested in most for now is the redesigning of our brains, because what’s the point of an immortal body if it’s carrying around a brain for eternity that’s only half cooked?

But evil doesn’t get its way in the second part of verse 10….

Now we get to what’s happening in our heads because of the Holy Spirit tap. “If Christ is in you,” verse 10, which he is, thanks to “the law of the Spirit of life” (verse 2) pouring the mind of Christ into us, “your spirit is alive because of righteousness.”

For the first time in our lives our spirit comes alive. It’s like our eyes are suddenly opened to what’s going on. We’re in a bath with two taps, one with the letter E on it for Evil, and the other with the letter S on it for Spirit. Tap E has a sign over it saying, “Frozen shut by Christ’s death. Try other tap.” Well, why not, when tap S has a sign over it saying, “For mental health, turn tap full on.”

And why does this tap create mental health? Paul’s answer in verse 10 is, “because of righteousness.” It’s because our brain is filling up with righteousness instead. It’s righteous, just like the mind of God and the mind of Christ. The actual Greek word for “righteousness” in that verse means “correctness in thinking, feeling, and acting.” Because of the Spirit tap, therefore, our brains are being filled with Christ’s way of thinking, feeling and acting. Our brains, in other words, are being redesigned, rewired, and retrained by the Holy Spirit into new thinking patterns, new ways of acting, and new ways of reacting too. Our emotions aren’t running away with us. We aren’t loose cannons when sensitive buttons are pushed. Our minds, we discover, are gradually becoming impervious to evil.

Well, doesn’t that become the most exciting thing possible? It means we’ve discovered the key to defending our brains against evil. Evil doesn’t slip past our defenses so easily. It can still shoot a fiery dart or two that maybe burns a hole in our peace of mind on occasion, but the wounds don’t fester or do any permanent damage. Evil is now shooting arrows at a tank. And wouldn’t you then love to tell the world from your own experience that you’ve discovered the key to mental health, and the antidote to mental illness? The key is becoming impervious to evil, the most formidable enemy of the mind, and it’s now possible for that to happen because the Holy Spirit has been redesigning and retraining human minds to think like Christ’s mind instead.

Do we have a conscious part in this process too, though? Oh yes, says Paul in verse 12. “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation.”

And in tap terms that obligation is simple: Keep the E tap shut off, and in verse 13, keep the S tap full on. And ever since Christ’s death and the gift of the Spirit, mental health for us humans is really just as simple as that.

Paul includes the simplicity of both taps in Ephesians 2:22-24.

Here’s the first tap: “Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts.” In other words, keep the E tap shut.

And the second tap: “and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” In other words, keep the S tap full on.

Or, as The Message phrases it: “Everything – and I do mean everything – connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it. And then take on an entirely new way of life – a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.”

In other words, God is redesigning our brains, and our part in that is to keep the E tap shut, and the S tap wide open

(c0ntinues in part 3 on March 26/18…)

Part 1 was on Jan 29/18


Mental health/illness from God’s point of view (pt 1)

Having a Sound Mind

Does Scripture offer any positive, practical help in the massive problem of mental illness that’s plaguing so many people today? Is God concerned about mental health and mental illness too?

Yes, he is. In the old King James Version of 2 Timothy 1:7, mental health is top priority on the Holy Spirit’s agenda, “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” It is God’s clear desire that we humans have healthy, sound minds.

For ‘sound mind’ Paul uses the Greek word that means curbing one’s desires and impulses, doing all things in moderation, and being modest and discreet. It’s a mind, in other words, that’s under control. Other Bible translations use the English words ‘sensible’ and ‘self-disciplined’.

An example would be 1 Timothy 3:2, in the qualities looked for in a church leader. Taking words and phrases from several Bible translations for this verse it sounds like this: “A leader must have impeccable character, a blameless reputation, and be well thought of. He must be fair, wise, dignified, skillful in judgment, cool-calm-and-collected, shrewd in the management of his affairs, respectful, courteous and welcoming. He’s kind and thoughtful, not hurtful, hot-tempered or quarrelsome, and he never acts rashly, hastily, or foolishly.” And in verse 11, “No exceptions are made for women either – same qualifications, serious, dependable, worthy of respect, and not malicious gossips. They are discreet and can be thoroughly trusted” (The Message).

That’s a lot to consider, but Paul boils it down in Titus 1:8 to “having a good grip on oneself” (The Message). A healthy mind, simply put, isn’t ruled by, or even motivated by, emotion. Runaway emotions, by comparison, are a classic sign of a mind that’s jumped the rails.

Does that mean, then, that Christians should be totally sane at all times, and be totally free from nervous breakdowns or any other mental illnesses?

That’s not what Paul is saying, because all sorts of mental illnesses can be traced back to physical causes, like inherited weaknesses, prenatal damage, brain injuries, infections, accidents, impaired brain chemistry, alcohol and drug abuse, poor nutrition, exposure to environmental toxins (like mercury and lead), and physical abuse and injury caused by other people (like sexual abuse during childhood), all of which can affect a person’s mental state for life, and cause all sorts of mental problems, no matter how ‘Christian’ a person is.

But in answer to all that, Paul says, “Don’t panic, help is available,” and it’s help from a very powerful source too, the Holy Spirit. And what the Spirit has to offer is self-mastery, no matter how handicapped we are by our weaknesses.

Self-mastery is a marvelous gift, because, as one quote states: “God-given discipline (or self-mastery, or having a good grip on oneself) allows people to control every element of their lives, whether positive or negative. It allows them to experience success without becoming proud, and to suffer failure without becoming bitter or hopeless.” Our emotions, in other words, including the dreadful ogre of discouragement, don’t have to blow us to pieces, or lead us around by the nose.

But in saying the Holy Spirit is the source of such control, Paul is also saying that self-mastery over our emotions does not come naturally. We’re not born with self-mastery. It can’t be inherited, or learned in a classroom, or honed by experience. But not to worry, Paul says, we’ve all got access to the God-given gift of a sound mind to stop us becoming loose cannons emotionally, no matter what our circumstances or personality. It’s all part of the Father “blessing us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).

But if it’s all Spirit-given, does that mean we cannot help ourselves?

Paul touched on that in Romans 7 and 8. In Romans 7 he talks very candidly about his own state of mind. He wanted to be a good person, like so many people today who have high morals, work hard, raise funds for needy causes, pay fair wages, sacrifice dearly for their families, help neighbours, and win Civic Awards for outstanding service to the community.

But Paul also admitted in Romans 7:21, that “When I want to good, evil is right there with me…waging war against the law of my mind” – and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He couldn’t help himself, in other words.

So, if meditation, therapy, medication, and endless sessions with a psychiatrist were available in Paul’s day, none of them would have worked, because in Paul’s experience what was happening to him was beyond human control. How could mere humans and human aids combat the ever-present and overwhelming power of evil? Even the heartiest believer in God’s law (like Paul) had no control over the evil thoughts in his head. It was Paul’s conclusion, therefore, that we live in a body of death, and only God can rescue us from it (verses 24-25).

Modern-day mental health experts would roll their eyes at Paul’s diagnosis, of course, because they believe the mind and emotions are within the realm of human help, and can be corrected and balanced by medication and techniques for self-control. And the idea that evil is involved in mental illness is just typical, they say, of nutty religion trying to scare people.

But if these experts are right and there’s nothing spiritual at the root of mental illness, or anything spiritual needed to cure it, and we can all have our minds kept under control by pills and therapy, etc., why is there so much incurable mental illness still? Why are jails full of people with mental problems, that no counseling or medication can cure? And why are so many young people self-injuring and committing suicide if it’s within our expert control to stop them?

Paul has answered that already in Romans 7, but how many mental health experts today would accept Paul’s diagnosis that evil was messing up people’s minds? They’d more likely conclude that Paul himself was suffering from a mix of one or more diagnosable mental imbalances like Split Personality Disorder, or Schizoid Personality Disorder. Maybe Paul was even schizophrenic. They might even admit to Paul suffering from Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, but that would be very brave because no one yet knows the cause or treatment for it. It would also be admitting that maybe Paul had a point, that there really are things going on in the human mind beyond our human control, that includes (dare we say it) the powerful influence of evil.

But that’s a scary thought because it means delving into realms we have no understanding of, and no means of dealing with, either. On the other hand, it we can’t find ways of dealing with the likes of Hitler, or serial killers, or madmen who coldly blow up innocent people, or bullies addicted to inflicting injury for pleasure and power, and psychopaths who have no remorse or empathy for their victims, how much more suffering must we endure while we wait for the mental health experts to come up with new understanding and new solutions?

But who wants to admit that maybe we don’t have the answers, and God does? Or that Paul was right after all, that the reason we cannot come up with solutions is because “the sinful mind is hostile to God” (Romans 8:7)?

Oops. Now we’re really treading on sensitive ground, because Paul is stating bluntly that we’ll never come up with solutions to mental illness while our attitude to God stinks. “But what’s God got to do with anything?” today’s experts ask. “God’s more likely the cause of mental illness, not the solution,” they say, “because look at all the weird ideas that God-nuts in religion come up with, like messing people’s minds up with visions of hell and burning forever. Religious people and Christians have simply disqualified themselves from any contribution to mental health, therefore, because they’re probably the most mentally sick people on the planet.”

And sadly that criticism has merit, but putting aside religion and its silliness for a minute, does Paul actually have a point? He’s definitely right about our natural hostility to God, because we prove it every time we reject or resist any hint of God’s involvement in our world, either in its creation or its problems. But surely it raises the obvious question as to why we’re so hostile to God, when the only thing he seems to have done wrong is not let us do what we want without consequences. Other than that he’s given us amazing minds that get enormous pleasure out of life and learning, and discovering the wonders of creation.

But not all creation is wonderful. Some of it is horrible, like disease, accidents and natural disasters that remain a constant worry for us. Our minds are never free of anxiety about the future, the economy, or the inability of governments to meet all our needs. The planet is under stress, our kids are being bullied in deeply worrying ways, and their future doesn’t look bright as house prices soar, and secure, satisfying full-time jobs for life are under threat. On the surface people seem to be functioning, but there’s a growing undercurrent of helplessness that suddenly opens up in conversations when someone admits to problems in their family. Then the flood gates open as to what’s really going on, and we discover that all sorts of people aren’t coping at all well in this world.

Can we give Paul a chance, then, to explain what he came up with as the cause and solution to mental illness? And he’s not talking as some superior, look-down-your-nose, “I’ve got all the answers,” head-in-the-clouds religious nut, either. He’s talking our language. He admits to having mental problems himself, and how frustrated he is too at his helplessness.

Well, the first revealing thing Paul says in Romans 8, is that the human mind is governed by two laws, the “law of the Spirit of life,” verse 2, and “the law of sin and death.” Putting aside the religious-sounding language, it’s good to know, at least, that there are laws involved, which is something we can understand. Paul also explains in less religious terms in verse 5, what each of these laws does in our minds. The law of sin and death, or “the sinful nature” as Paul calls it, kicks our minds into doing what our “(sinful) nature desires,” while the second law of the Spirit of life kicks our minds into doing what the “Spirit desires,” each with its own visible consequences (verses 6-7).

This can only be observed in humans too, because humans are the only creatures on earth with what Paul calls a “spirit” (verse 10). The Greek word for spirit means the power we humans have to feel, think, decide and make choices, and what Paul then shows in Romans 8 is what happens to that spirit inside us with and without the Holy Spirit.

What happens to our human spirit without the Holy Spirit is slightly unnerving, though, because Paul says it’s dead. In verse 6 he says “The mind of sinful man is death,” and in verse 10, “your body is dead because of sin.” In other words, if we’re simply operating by the first law of what our nature desires, our entire being, body and mind, is floating like a dead fish downstream. It has no control over the evil impulses banging away in our heads that make us (like Paul) do things we don’t want to do, or not do the sensible things we know we should do.

When a person is diagnosed in the secular world as having Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, therefore, what it really means is the poor chap is operating by the first law alone, and there is nothing in the whole wide world that can stop the injury to his mind and body.

No wonder so many promising young people suddenly begin to fall apart emotionally and start cutting themselves and attempting suicide, as they too discover there is nothing they can do about their volatile emotions and the damage they’re doing to themselves and to others. And they feel utterly helpless, because no one, it seems, can help them.

They may receive therapy and medication that enables them to function, yes, just as Paul was able to function in Romans 7, and thousands of people today without the Holy Spirit are able to function as well – but functioning isn’t “life and peace” – as Paul calls it in Romans 8:6.

Functioning doesn’t stop the rage that wells up inside us when somebody doesn’t live up to our expectations, or life isn’t treating us the way we think it ought to. Functioning isn’t enough to stop people wondering, “What’s the point?” after years of struggle and not much to show for it.

Functioning helps, but it doesn’t equip a person to deal with the stresses, pressures and the horrors of a selfish world bent on its own destruction. It doesn’t stop the madness lurking inside our heads that can spill out any second when sensitive buttons are pushed and our emotions explode. But functioning is all that the world of psychiatry and experts in mental illness can offer, leaving a person open and susceptible to emotional collapse and self-disgust, just like Paul who wailed at how wretched and helpless he was in Romans 7:24.

The tragedy of functioning is that it never gives a person the pleasure of being independent. He is always dependent on others to keep his mind from blowing to pieces, whether it be therapists or friends or the endless patting on the back by parents, spouses, teachers, coaches, employers, minions and mentors telling him he’s such a fine chap and doing great. But one let down by any of those people can send a dependent person into a spiral of depression and self-hate again.

What a tragedy that he can never experience the pleasure of being in control of his life, of having mastery over his weaknesses and phobias, or having mastery over the negative and deceptive influences of others, mastery over his reactions when horrible things happen, and mastery over getting a big head and wanting to be admired and noticed. Wouldn’t it be great if none of those things bothered him anymore, and like Paul he could be content in whatever situation he found himself in (Philippians 4:12)?

But such is the power of the second law, “the Spirit of life.” It offers contentment, an inner peace and life that carries us through the ups and downs, that keeps us on a steady course as the storm rages all around us, that enables us to be independent of all the gods and idols of society selling their empty but highly attractive wares as the means to happiness and self-mastery.

God would love us to be independent of all that stuff, and have dominion over this world as he phrased it in Genesis, not be sucked in by it as Adam and Eve were with the promise of “wisdom” from a tree. Wisdom can’t combat evil, any more than a pill or therapy can enable people today to win the war against their rotten thoughts and runaway emotions.

But where does that leave us if all the “wisdom” of the mental health community cannot win this war against our “sinful nature”? Are psychiatrists and psychotherapists stuck forever with a box full of blunt tools, condemning them to hours and hours of listening to people’s problems with no clear remedies for self-centredness, self-pity, and self-justification? I imagine some counselors must also wonder, “What’s the point?” as patient after patient leaves their counseling room still baffled as to how they can break free of what troubles them.

What troubles people is simple, according to Paul; it’s not knowing that the driving force in human brains that makes people think the world revolves around them and their feelings, their needs, and their wants, has actually been done away with. It no longer rules us, or better put, we no longer need to be ruled by it. It is actually possible, therefore, to break free of what troubles us, because in Romans 8:3, Jesus “condemned sin in sinful man.”

Jesus took the law that constantly injects evil thoughts into our heads, and condemned it. He did it by becoming “a sin offering” (3), meaning he took all that evil into himself on the cross – just like an animal sacrificed for an Israelite’s sin in the Old Testament took that person’s sin into itself. And the law of sin and death could never retaliate with a viable defence. It had killed an innocent man, for heaven’s sake. Never again, therefore, would it be allowed to rule people’s minds, just like a Judge who condemned an innocent man to death would never be allowed to preside over people’s lives in the dock again.

So the first law ruling our human spirits had its back broken by Jesus. It looks like it still has control over people, and we have a massive mental health community acting as if the first law still controls people too, as it constantly pumps out its own solutions to mental illness, rather than telling people that what’s troubling them has actually already been dealt with by Jesus.

And the evidence that it’s been dealt with by Jesus is the number of people in the world who are functioning really rather well. They go through a typical childhood in reasonably stable families, they get good careers, have their own families, become well-known and liked in the community, do lots of fun things with their children and grandchildren and friends, and their funerals are well attended.

And the amazing thing is, they manage to do it all without ever understanding or taking any interest in why Jesus was crucified.

How can that be? Well, they’re simply reaping the results and living in the afterglow of Jesus destroying the power of the first law, allowing the world to at least keep functioning without us all going mad and totally wrecking the planet. But it’s still only functioning. It’s a far cry from the “life and peace” that only the second law can supply. It’s all well and good that Jesus’ death freed us from the ravages of the first law, but to be truly free from it personally requires “the law of the Spirit of life” too, verse 2, because, verse 13, it’s only “by the Spirit that we put to death the misdeeds of the body.”

It’s only by the Spirit’s desires influencing our spirit INSTEAD, therefore, that we have self-mastery over the emotions that cause our misdeeds in the first place, and we have total independence from evil and the influences of the world.

We’re living in a world that thinks that’s all nonsense, however. But where do these happily functioning people turn when things go terribly wrong in their own lives, when their emotions spin out of control, nasty thoughts fill their minds, they say and do things that cause damage they can’t repair, they’re plagued by guilt and self-disgust, and they’re tempted to do something really stupid to themselves and to others? Where do they turn to stop the self-loathing and rage in their heads that threatens to destroy them in both mind and body? And what if their mental health deteriorates to the point they admit to needing counseling? What help can these people who have no interest in God then expect?

Well, let’s hear it from Dr. Allen Frances, who served as the chairman of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is the most influential guidebook on mental illness in the world. He’s also had years of experience as a leading psychiatrist, and he said this: “I have reviewed dozens of definitions of mental disorder and find none of them the slightest bit helpful either in determining which conditions should be considered mental disorders and which not, or in deciding who is sick and who is not.”

In other words, the mental health establishment can’t even determine if what’s going on inside your head even IS a mental illness, or not. But that’s the tragic situation this world finds itself in for not being interested in mental health and mental illness from God’s point of view. It is left with no understanding of the laws governing the human mind, no understanding of what opened up to the human mind because of Jesus’ death, and no clue as to what treatment God made available through the Holy Spirit.

So, what is God doing about this awful mess, if anything?….(continues in part 2 on February 26/18)