Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Friday, May 29, 2009

What does the Bible mean when it says 'our flesh wars against our soul'? Part 1

Romans 8:5-8 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (ESV)

1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.

Gal 5:17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

I guess the basic question I want to ask here is: why does our 'flesh' have to war against our 'soul'? Why can't God just arrange for us to have brains that help us always do the right thing?

I ask this because it's becoming common to say that people behave the way they do purely because of their genes. Accordingly, many people would probably criticise God for shooting Himself in the foot. Since evil is merely the result of our genes, God could avoid all sin and evil merely by giving us better genes. In fact, God could ensure that absolutely everyone in the whole world will be perfect by giving them more helpful genes... so this way of thinking goes.

The problem with this view is that it goes against the concept of 'free will'. Let me explain where the mistake is.

The Bible says that God made us in His image, but not everything about humans is made in God's image. Consider Isaiah 55:8: "My thoughts are not your thoughts" (also Romans 11:33-34). Our emotions, free will, moral sense, and consciousness is clearly made in God's image because God has those things just like we do. But our intellectual reason obviously isn't made in God's image, or we would know all that God knows.

We can either look at free will intuitively or intellectually. Intuitively it's 'case closed'. We know that we have free will. Intellectually it's 'case closed' that we don't have free will, because free will doesn't make sense on an intellectual level.

This is because the only thing that can understand something made in God's image is a thing made in God's image. Since our intellectual reason isn't made in God's image, it cannot grasp the things of God or the image-of-God (it can, however, grasp the things of the universe, since the universe isn't made in God's image).

That said, you can think of free will like this:

a) if humans have free will and God does NOT exist, then we simply don't understand it.
b) if humans have free will and God gave it to us because we're made in His image, then we can never understand it. Our reason would be on the wrong level since it's not made in God's image.

Bertrand Russell once said that 'a stupid man's report of what a clever man has said is never accurate because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something that he can understand.' You could say something like that about humanity trying to understand free will.

If free will exists 'outside' of what our intellect can know then we will unconsciously translate our feeling that we have free will into terms that our intellect can understand, terms where there is no free will.

So to go back to the question: why doesn't God just create 'flesh' that is at peace with the 'soul'? To answer this, we first need to ask ourselves, do we really know what we're talking about?

I say this because if free will comes from the image-of-God in humans, then our different-to-God intellect could never understand it well.

So we can't say with much confidence that God could fix all sin and evil by merely giving us flesh that never wars against the soul/Spirit. That presumes that we have a good vantage point on the issue when we really don't.

More in part 2.

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