In our house, we keep a bottle of Tylenol PM on hand at all times. Or as we like to call it, anesthesia. Headaches, muscle aches, you name it—take the recommended dosage, and I’ll see you in the morning.
Any bodily ailment may be in better shape after a night of restful slumber, but the next morning is different. If I take it too late in the evening, my brain is in a fog the following morning. My memory is shot. I repeat myself. Reactions are slower. I repeat myself.
That’s a result of taking a pain medication. But there are other traits of the human mind that need addressing, as well.
Noetic Effect: noun. The residual effect of sin on the human mind and its ability to understand and know God.
The doctrine of total depravity teaches us that every part of the human—mind, body, and soul—is affected by sin. We are not as evil as we could be, but no part of us goes untouched by the effects of sin. In God’s mercy, he limits the amount of evil on the earth.
But the mind? How has the mind been affected by sin? Are we stupid and just don’t know it? Or are the noetic effects something else entirely?
In Romans 1:28, Paul said, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (ESV).
“Debased” is the Greek word ἀδόκιμος, or adokimos. It generally means that something is unfit and should therefore be rejected or tossed away.
The mind of man has been so affected by sin that it needs to be completely renewed. Paul’s main argument in Romans 1 is that man has actively rejected God, and that has real consequences, both physically and mentally. Physically, we die. Mentally, our minds are dark.
Later in Romans 12:2, Paul said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Paul tells us here explicitly what he hinted at in chapter 1. The mind must be transformed. The unregenerate mind cannot know the will of God. But in seeking to have our minds completely renewed in Christ, we can finally discern the will of God.
Paul establishes that our minds are dark and debased and must be transformed. He describes our minds in different terms elsewhere to help see the real effect of sin.
In Colossians 1:21-23 he said, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister” (ESV).
There are two descriptions of the fallen, unregenerate mind here: ἀπαλλοτριόω (alienated) and ἐχθρός (hostile). “Alienated” means to be estranged and not allowed into fellowship. “Hostile” is also translated as “enemy” and even used to describe Satan elsewhere.
And we make so little of sin! Because of wickedness and sin, both our own and other’s, we are estranged from God. We are his enemy.
Apart from being reconciled to God the Father through God the Son, God has cast us out of his presence. But because we are reconciled to God the Father through God the Son, we will be presented holy, blameless, and above reproach (no one will be able to bring a charge against us).
Where does this kind of mind come from? Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:18. “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (ESV).
Here we start to get a glimpse of the effect of sin on the mind. We’ve been told what our minds are—debased, alienated, and hostile. Now, Paul tells us that our understanding itself is darkened. But the effect is the same: we are “alienated from the life of God.”
“Darkened” is σκοτίζω (skotizo). It simply means to be covered over so that what is within is darkened. The metaphor is that our understanding is covered in darkness itself so that it is complete. Why? Because of ignorance and a hard heart toward God.
The remedy for a hard heart toward God is a heart of flesh from God. Only he can do that kind of work. A mind that is debased, alienated, hostile, and darkened doesn’t seek after God. No one does; no not one. Telling someone to love God who naturally can’t is just good advice (and like most good advice goes to waste). But telling someone that God has sought him despite his darkened mind? That’s good news.
The disciples asked Jesus how a man might be saved if it’s easier for a camel to travel through the eye of a sewing needle. Jesus’s response has comforted many who see their darkened minds still struggling to think rightly of God: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26, ESV).
So the human mind is capable is figuring out how to send satellites to Pluto and nanobots into the human body. The mind can formulate poetry like Shakespeare that revolutionizes a whole language. But the mind cannot seek after a God it hates.
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:24-25).
In theology, many things are black and white. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of which I am the foremost. That simple, black and white phrase can be parsed out and studied for an eternity. To reject this simple statement is to reject the core of Christianity and turn it into to something else.
There are other doctrines which also need to be held dearly in order to conform to biblical Christianity and retain the truth of the gospel. Think of doctrines such as the Trinity (who is God?) and justification by grace through faith (how does God save us?).
Some doctrines, while still central to a clear understanding of the Christian faith, have divided Christians. And of course, both sides think they hold the truth. We’ll look at one of these doctrines today.
Creationism. noun. God created the entire cosmos through his spoken word and without the use of evolution as developed by Darwin and those following his work.
Perhaps nowhere else than in the doctrine of creation do we see how important another doctrine is: the authority of Scripture. Scripture may not address how often you need to change your air filters, but on issues where Scripture does speak, God has given the truth by which all other claims must be measured.
Christians devoted to the authority of Scripture can agree on the basic tenets of creationism. All of the created order is by God’s command, not chance. God existed in eternity past as Father, Son, and Spirit and did not need a creation in order to be fulfilled.
Beyond those basic truths, we must agree that what Scripture says about the days of creation are true, whatever they say. Even in poetic sections of Scripture, such as the wisdom literature and parts of the prophets, we do not need to do mental gymnastics to find out their meanings. Yes, we must apply sound interpretive principles, but we apply them because God’s word is meant to be understood.
Within creationism, there are many categories, but some of the more divisive ones are old-earth creationists and young-earth creationists.
Old-earth creationists argue that Scripture can be interpreted with integrity while maintaining recent scientific claims concerning the age of the earth. Young-earth creationists read the days of creation and the genealogies of the early chapters of Genesis and determine that all of creation was created at a high level of maturity.
Are both claims tenable? Or is it either/or?
To show my hand, I generally fall into the young-earth crowd. One of the main reasons I believe this is because Adam, one can infer from Scripture, was formed out of the dust at a high level of maturity, or as an adult. While there is no chapter-and-verse that says this explicitly, Genesis 2:15 does say that God created a man and told him to work in the garden. That command would be difficult to rationalize if given to someone without the intellectual capacity and physical ability to work the land.
Also, if you take the garden of Eden as a proto-temple, as I do, and Adam being a proto-priest, as I do, then it becomes more plausible that God made Adam as an intellectually and physically mature adult male, able to understand and obey religious commands. Ezekiel 28 uses the imagery of someone as a priest in the garden of Eden as a "taunt" against the king of Tyre. That imagery only makes sense if Adam was a priest before God in a temple-like environment in Eden.
God also made Eve for Adam so that he would not be alone and that the world would be populated with more worshipers of God. Without bringing in a set of diagrams from WikiPedia, procreation requires a certain level of physical maturity.
There is one old-earth creationist position that I believe could be justified, but it really share much in common with other old-earth positions. This position says that Genesis 1:1 is the actual creation act of God. We know this because in Genesis 1:2, the earth is already there and is described as formless and void of all life. From that point on, the days of creation are literal. Genesis 1:3 therefore picks up on day 1 of creation week. In effect, the world could be far older than the 6,000-10,000 years held by most young-earth creationists, but other biblical truth, such as the absence of death before sin, can still be tenable.
But even this is somewhat an argument from silence. There is no mention of any gap of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 unless you take 1:2 as describing that gap of time. I will concede that that is a possible reading of the text. There have been a goodly number of theologians in church history who have argued something like this, even before modern debates about the age of the earth.
Other old-earth arguments, such has the gap-theory (aeons passed between the individual days) or day-age theory (the word for “day” is to be taken as metaphorical term for a long period of time), seem to be more willing to concede Scriptural ground. I have read some of the literature arguing for linguistic evidence (what words mean in context) that the words in Genesis 1 and 2 are more fluid and not intended, even to the original audience, to be taken as conveying factual history. I think you start to place a disconnect between the way Jesus and Paul interpreted the creation passages if you start to expand the range of meaning of individual words too far.
There is no sin in trying to reconcile Scriptural knowledge with knowledge gained from the study of nature. Galileo was charged with heresy for contradicting the miracle of the sun standing still in Joshua 10 by saying that the earth was not the center of the universe. Was it a true contradiction, or were Scripture and nature looking at the same event from different perspectives? What role did a miracle play in Joshua 10? Why does no contemporary person reject the geokinetic theory (the earth is in motion, not static) when the church declared it to be a “suspected heresy” in 1633?
It’s interesting to note that what Galileo was charged with was rejection of the authority of Scripture.
But the evidence must be there, and the evidence must not contradict the truths found on the pages of Scripture.
If you join any of the armed forces and head off to their respective form of basic training, you’ll find yourself in an environment that is new to you, no matter your background. It’s meant to be a shock to your system. It’s meant to be nothing like what you’ve experienced before. People from all over the country come together to spend ten weeks confused, tired, and sore.
You spend the first few weeks regretting the series of decisions that led you to this moment. But before long, you realize that your drill sergeants aren’t actually robots sent from the future to destroy you. There is actually a plan in place, determined long before you arrived. Every condition and every environment is designed to elicit a particular response from you. This brings us to today’s word.
Determinism. noun. At any given moment, conditions are such that no other outcome is possible.
You may be thinking, what does this have to do with theology? Well, this brings us to the topic of free will.
John Calvin thought that “free will” was far too grand or distinctive a name for the idea it represents. With all the free will in the world, people use it to do reprehensible things that destroy lives. Do the few good things we do with our lives undo all the evil done by everyone else? Such is the conundrum of free will. You see why Calvin found “free will” too lofty of a term.
Daniel 4:35 reads, “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’”
We’re told that God acts according to his will. The angelic beings of heaven and the creatures of earth are all bound to act by his will, not their own. His will is unchangeable so that not one of us can alter it or do anything else. What this is saying that no one can thwart God's plan. But doesn’t it seem as though you and I make choices every single day?
Theologians have identified three ways that Scripture speaks of God’s will. God’s will can take the form of decretive will, preceptive will, and a will of disposition.
God’s decretive will is what we see in creation. God said, “Let there be light.” Did light respond, “Give me five more minutes”? Absolutely not. Light was not invited or given a choice. Light did what the creator of light told it to do. God told the sun to stand still while Joshua and his men fought their enemies. God’s decretive will is an unbreakable command, whether it is given to sentient creatures or inanimate objects.
God’s preceptive will is what we see in the ten commandments. God tells us not to make idols, but if we so choose, we can break God’s precept (or rule or commandment). These are primarily moral decisions. We see the patriarchs and Israel breaking God’s preceptive will throughout the Old Testament. We see Christians and churches breaking God’s perceptive will in the New Testament.
God’s will of disposition is an unbinding desire. We see God’s will of disposition in 2 Peter 3:9 when Peter wrote that God does not desire or will that any should perish. In fact, the dictionary definition of that Greek word for “will” (boulomai) includes desire and affection. It’s not a command but a disposition. Not every theologian agrees that God has a will of disposition (and sometimes lump it with God’s decretive will), but this kind of usage does have a lot of explanatory power for passages like these.
God’s decretive will, the first kind listed above, is deterministic. God so wills and then so orders things so as to ensure that what he says will happen does happen. Does that then mean that there are some things that God does not decree or know will happen?
Not so fast, heretic.
When we think of God, we must not think of him as simply the greatest created thing. He is wholly uncreated and is completely outside of creation. The word for this is transcendent. God, as pure being, transcends created being. If you haven’t popped some Ibuprofen yet, now’s a good time.
If you drew a circle and wrote the name of every created thing inside of that circle, you could not write God in that circle. God would be totally outside of that circle. God is self-existent and independent of everything.
If I were to build a car, I don’t become part of that car. When God made the world, he did not become a part of that world.
God has so created us that he has worked a measure of free choice into us. He is still quite responsible for creation, but as the only being outside of creation, he has worked moral responsibility into human nature. Is the Ibuprofen kicking in?
Here’s the end of the matter: God is sovereign and has determined the very steps that a man takes. And yet he has worked into that sovereign determinism our responsibility for the choices we make.
What should we take away from this? God has determined all things that come to pass, but he has not removed human responsibility from that determined outcome. Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”
There is simply a divine relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility that we must not tear asunder. We must be aware of falling into one of two traps:
1) God has so determined things that it does not matter what I do.
2) God’s purposes are determined by what I do.
Neither is helpful, and more importantly, neither is true.