I remember studying information about the human nervous system. I found it interesting to learn about the withdrawal reflex. It is a protective mechanism that engages when we do things such as touch a hot surface. When I touched my forearm against the side of a hot oven while retrieving a pizza, I did not have to think about pulling my arm away. The withdrawal reflex designed into my body took care of it. What is really interesting is that my brain did not really participate in pulling my arm away. It was my spine.
There are some nice long words describing how the system functions but on a fundamental level, the heat of the oven activated part of my nervous system. And just like most other sensory information, it traveled to the spine on the way to my brain. However, for these types of signals where it is necessary to react in about a half-second to prevent or minimize injury, my spine actually got the withdrawal reflex going. My brain did not yet get the information to process it. Does that mean my spine thinks? If it does think, does that make it a second person? No, of course not.
Most have probably heard that our bodies are made up of roughly a trillion cells. Most are unaware several times that amount in bacteria are alive in our guts. Without those bacteria we cannot digest our food. Those bacteria are all part of what is known as the microbiome of the gut. Are the bacteria in my gut me, or are they separate living organisms? It should be easy to see that though they are alive in me, they are not me.
That opened up an opportunity to consider who and what I happen to be. Some have formed elaborate responses to the question. Others may have never given it much thought. To those that are thinking about it, who or what is doing the thinking? Just like how elaborate and detailed the withdrawal reflex can be explained, science is great at explaining a lot about the what of who we are but is very limited in explaining the who of what we are.
Science only goes as far as explaining me as nothing more than a computer responding to programming and stimuli. Genetics helps me to have predispositions (basic code), and stimuli helps form the algorithms that control how I respond to everything. From my preference for the color red to finding the scent of coffee pleasing, it is all said to be part of the physiological makeup of my brain and body along with the programming I have received over my years of being exposed to various stimuli.
In other words, in a very literal scientific grand scheme of things, I am no better or worse nor more or less valuable than the computer I am using to type these words. In group settings, such as educational institutions, we may be prone to begin to accept such nonsense simply because we apply it to other human beings. However, as individuals we know we are more than the sum of our parts and experiences. Yes, it seems easier to declare this as fact for other people when studying it in school, but there is something in us as individuals that screams a different story.
If we involve the Creator, it rounds out the information forming it into a cohesive whole. The prophet Jeremiah wrote in the bible where God said to him, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). If we consider that we are made and made with a purpose, that explains those thoughts we have no matter what voices there are out there that attempt to explain us away as nothing more than a natural phenomenon.
Let me switch from I and we to addressing you, the reader, directly.
You are not a cosmic accident or incident. You have been created (John 1:1-3, Genesis 1:26-28, Jeremiah 1:5).
You are not a waste. You have infinite value (Matthew 10:29-31, Romans 5:8, John 3:16, Psalm 139:14, Matthew 6:25-34).
If the you of what you are is nothing but a body with flowing chemical electric signals that respond to environmental stimuli such as how your body’s withdrawal reflex works, then there is no hope. If that is true, then anything goes. You would only have to face consequences for actions here based on physical and societal laws. Physical laws are things such as how diving into a pool with no water can kill you or how eating the wrong things can contribute to heart disease. Societal laws are things such as providing jail time for theft or ostracization for going against group rules. However, there is something in you that tells you there is more to it than that. It might be an inkling or just a feeling, but you know there is something more to the who of what you are.
Studies are indicating that gut bacteria, that microbiome, actually has access to give your brain instructions. It is strange to think of separate living organisms in your body having access to your mind to influence your actions, but they take advantage of a feedback mechanism that also works to program your brain. This is not always for the benefit of your body either. There are bacteria in your gut that thrive on sugar. A study showed that eating foods the bacteria like will have them send signals back up the vagus nerve to your brain, attempting to influence you to want more of the same type of food.
Think about that for a moment. The independent organisms (bacteria) living in your gut have the ability to tell your brain what they want on the daily menu. An analogy would be spouting off an order through the microphone at your favorite drive-thru where you are the bacteria and the microphone is the vagus nerve placing an order for your favorite food. Still, even though you can recognize how you can be influenced by those signals, or communication the bacteria are sending, there is something in you that tells you that it is you and only you that is responsible for and ultimately capable of making the final decision of what and what not to eat.
The key is recognizing the influence. In this scenario it is just gut bacteria maybe wanting another Buttercrunch doughnut or Reese’s peanut butter cup. Yielding to the influence occasionally just riles them up to want more. Giving yourself over to it leads to obesity and life-threatening health issues. Now that you realize the potential for influence, let me tell you about another influence.
You have heard of him. He is referred to as Satan. He used to be the guardian of the throne of God but gave himself over to desiring to put himself above God. Scripture often has a dual representation of meaning. For example, scriptures in Isaiah 14:12-17 are talking about a human leader as well as making reference to Satan’s fall. Ezekiel 28:13-15 references his former beauty.
Satan is just a created being. He is not the opposite of God. God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. That means God is all-powerful, all-knowing and able to exist everywhere at once. Satan, our enemy—the devil—has abilities human beings do not naturally have, but he is still a limited created being. Fundamentally, his existence permits you to have free will in your choice to serve God or not.
The desire your enemy has for you is to steal from you, kill you and utterly destroy you (John 10:10). He wants to make sure you end up separated from God for all eternity in hell, which finally ends up in the Lake of Fire—a place of punishment separated from God’s presence forever.
You are born into a fallen world, and you get to make a choice in your life of accepting God’s free gift of grace through Jesus or not (John 3:16-18, Romans 3:23, Romans 5:12, Romans 10:9-10). Many are able to quote John 3:16, but most forget what John 3:18 says.
Satan’s only access to you is through your mind and controlled manipulation of circumstances (the book of Job shows how Satan was limited in what he could do to Job when he accused him to God). The bible talks about human beings having a body, soul and spirit. The spirit is the you of what you are. Your body is the physical body you inhabit. Soul is usually referring to the intellect or thinking part of you in your body. In other words, your mind. That space between your ears is where your enemy whispers to you.
It is interesting to note that the word “serpent,” in the account of your enemy in the Garden of Eden, is derived from a Hebrew word that means to make a hissing sound or to “whisper.” You can look up the word “serpent” in Genesis 3:1 in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible for yourself.
The key is that Satan’s influence is largely based on what he can whisper into your mind, and the only protection for it is putting on the whole armor of God including the helmet of Salvation (Ephesians 6:17) and wielding the sword of the Spirit to be able to stand against the methods the devil will use against you (Ephesians 6:10-18). And to be able to put on that armor, you must have put your faith for salvation in Jesus and be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38:39).
Your own thoughts can be boiled down to imagery and words. Thoughts come as still or moving images or written or spoken words as an internal dialogue. In addition to our own internal dialogues, we do have an enemy that takes whatever opportunity he can to influence our thoughts with the purpose of separating us from God. Subtlety (Genesis 3:1) is a tactic he knows and employs. Think about it. Some of the worst things you have gotten yourself into usually have developed over time as you rationalized away the potential for negative consequences (James 1:14, 1 John 2:15-17).
Conversely, God the Father is at work drawing you to faith in Jesus as your Savior (John 6:44). Peter, an apostle of Jesus, taught that God does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9), but it is your free will choice to put faith in Jesus of Nazareth as being the Son of God, the Christ, the Messiah.
The influence is not like the good angel and bad devil on each shoulder either. Those depictions are great for humor but unwise to be given any credence in reality. I believe the confusion comes in with the physical aspect of conscience that guides decisions to do something or not do something, and the spirit desiring to be under the obedience of and in service to its Creator.
I am grateful that I was not created a slave but rather given a choice. I have never met anyone who wanted to be a slave. However, I have met many who have given themselves over to absolute service for the Kingdom of God by choice. Paul, an apostle of Jesus, is a wonderful example. At one time he was a murderer of Christians (Acts 9:1, Acts 9:21, Galatians 1:13). Then, he changed when he had an encounter with Jesus while on the road to Damascus to arrest the very followers of that same Jesus who met him on the way (Acts 9:1-18).
In Romans 1:1, where Paul introduces himself as a “servant” of Jesus Christ, the word means slave. It was Paul’s voluntary and reasonable service (Romans 12:1) based on what Jesus did on the cross to save Paul from judgment that would have him end up in hell (Hebrews 9:27). Paul knew that he used to be a servant of sin until he was delivered by the grace of God through Jesus (Romans 6:16-18). He now willingly referred to himself as a slave to Jesus based on love, gratefulness and new life in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
With every thought there is the potential for choice. You can take a thought out to an extreme on either end of the spectrum of what is labeled good or bad. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has criteria for diagnoses of many mental disorders that involve extremes of certain types of thought. Understand though that all thought is under influence. Think back to those bacteria wanting more doughnuts to the enemy of your soul seeking to steal from you, kill you and utterly destroy you. In addition to that, you are influenced by your family, peers, society at large and even marketing to just mention a few influences.
Your mind is crowded with myriad thoughts every day. Some are as routine as thinking about a piece of chocolate cake for lunch or how it would be wiser to have a bowl of soup and go for a walk instead. Some are more complicated such as quietly thinking over the pros and cons of a career choice or those sobering moments when you consider your own mortality. It may sound odd to say that each one is influenced, but it is nevertheless true.
You are an independent living eternal being who is made in the image of God (Hebrews 9:27, Genesis 1:26). You are capable of creating your own thoughts However, you also have the influence of a real enemy who wants to destroy you (John 10:10) as well as having the influence of a real Creator who loves you and has a plan for you (Jeremiah 29:11, Jeremiah 1:5). The arena of this spiritual battle (2 Corinthians 10:3-5) begins in your mind (James 1:13-15).
The only similarity you have to a computer is that your thoughts lead to action or inaction like computer code does in an app. You will either act on a thought or not take action. If you have a thought of brushing your teeth before leaving for work, you will either get your body moving to get the task done or you will not. If you see a homeless person who is hungry, you will either feed him or not. The list of actions and inactions and the sequences of thought that lead to either seem infinite, but all are under influence.
Those influences are the things that science puts into the equation of the who of what you are such as cost versus benefit, pleasure versus pain, prior experience, cultural norms and physical consequences. However, there really is a spiritual influence as well. God, the Father, is drawing you to faith in Jesus, and your enemy, the devil, is active in his attempt to keep you away from the free gift of eternal life, hoping to send you to your last breath unsaved.
After your last breath your last thought with the mind you have been given will come quickly. You will then face God (Hebrews 9:27). You will give an account and hopefully not end up like King Belshazzar who was “weighed in the balances and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27). Make it a point to learn God’s word because you will be judged by it (Hebrews 4:12-13). Ignorance will not be accepted as an excuse (Romans 1:16-32 with focus on Romans 1:20).
For those who are saved by grace, the battle rages to render you useless in this spiritual war or to destroy you altogether. Now that you know, what will you do? Will you draw a line in the sand to work on bringing every thought under the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Or will you not?