What am I? How do I work? Why do I do the things that I do? What’s going on inside me when I do those things? Am I normal? Why am I different to others? Why do women do that? Why do they want me to do that?
These are just some of the questions that I wanted to begin to answer. And so I headed off into the depths of John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Christian Life, which would defintely be one of the books on my shortlist for my time on a Desert Island. If I’ve understood him correctly, which is by no means guaranteed, I think he’s saying something like this.
The will, the emotions and the intellect are three elements of the mind.
- the intellect is the mind thinking
- the emotions is the mind feeling
- the will is the mind choosing
When we identify and distinguish between these elements, we’re not saying that these are separate mental faculties. We’re simply saying that they’re three different perspectives on us as human beings.
- So when we talk about someone’s emotions we’re viewing a person through their capacity to feel.
- And when we talk about someone’s intellect we’re viewing a person through their capacity to think.
- And when we talk about someone’s will we’re viewing a person through their capacity to choose.
- If someone in whom their capacity to feel was strong we’d say that they were emotional
- If someone in whom their capacity to think was strong we’d say that they were intellectual or rational
- If someone in whom their capacity to choose was strong we’d say that they were decisive
We all have all of these abilities though in different measure. Intellect, emotions and decisiveness are a function of gifts and personality. They are who God has made us to be.
Each of these abilities is fallen. Our sinful rejection of God has consequences. We can neither think straight, love what’s good nor choose what’s right. That helps us understand why we got it wrong as non-Christians. And it helps us understand why we have to battle against our sinful nature now that we’re Christians.
These elements are not in competition. They’re not vying with one another for supremacy. It’s as though we’re supposed to be feeling people who must master our thinking and our choices and subject them to our emotions. Neither must we be wilful people who must rule over our feelings and thoughts so that we’re just decisive. But the most common error in Reformed Theology is to big up the mind. The Bible doesn’t teach that any one of these is pre-eminent. We’re an integrated whole and any one of these must not be exalted above the others. It’s worth considering what that could look like in practice.
- If we exalt the intellectual our Christian life will be academic and the danger is that we won’t do anything or feel anything.
- If we exalt the emotional our Christian life will be experiential and the danger is we won’t think about or do anything.
- If we exalt the will our Christian life will be very practical and the danger is that what we do won’t be driven by our passion or by understanding.
Instead of these three unbalanced positions, we’re to exceed in all three and so we’re to become impassioned, meditative achievers. Let’s not make the mistake of valuing any one ability over another. It’s not better to be an emotional person. It’s just different.
In everything that we do there is thought, choice and feeling. They are mutually dependent and feed into and off one another. For example, consider this
Our decisions depend on our knowledge. What we choose to do depends on what we know. But our knowledge depends on our choices because what we know is shaped by our decisions over what to investigate, believe and trust.
Our decisions depend on our feelings because what we choose to do depends on how we feel about it. But our emotions also depend on our choices because what we feel about something depends on how we choose to respond. We’re not mere animals.
And so we can’t separate off one aspect of the mind from another. It’s therefore important to train them all to be godly.
Each one of these abilities has the capacity for growth. We can increase our ability to think, to feel and to choose. We can become more intellectual, decisive and emotional. But how do we do that?
We train them to become subject to the word of God. What we think, feel and choose should be subject to the word of God. We ought to think as the Bible thinks, choose what the Bible does and feel what the Bible does. Why? So that we’re godly. So that we think, feel and choose what God thinks, feels and chooses. This happens through the Spirit as we inform our minds and he transforms us (Romans 12:2).
Scripture reflects the interdependence of these essential faculties by emphasizing the unity of human nature in the use of the word ‘heart’. The heart is the centre of human personality. It’s the orientation for good or for evil that drives all our thoughts decisions and feelings. The heart is who we are when all the masks are off.
This is a new discovery for me. I’m thinking, and feeling, my way through this. I notice that the Briefing has some stuff on the emotions inthe September issue. When I find a spare moment I’ll plough through that. And then probably have to change my mind. But i’ll do so emotionally and with great decisiveness!