There is a lot of conflict going on today, and I’m not referring to conflict between countries, people, or even political parties. While the news and the Internet may be saturated with the more visible forms of conflict, I believe that there is an even greater battle that goes on unseen, waged internally within each of us as human beings. Do you ever feel that the conflict(s) within you are even greater than those that you have with others? When we disagree with other people, we can often separate ourselves from them (whether that means going to the next room, or unfollowing them online), but when we are in conflict with ourselves, we are stuck living in the middle of that battle, day after day.
Now, in order for a conflict to exist, there must be two parties. We might think that we are each just one uniform individual, but a closer look suggests that we have specific “components” of our selves. For instance, when asked what the most important commandment was, Jesus answered as follows:
Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord . And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
Mark 12:29-31 NLT
Since God created us in His own image, and He is a God in three Persons (Father, Son, and Spirit), then it makes sense that we could have different aspects of ourselves, too. Now, there are different ways to separate out the various attributes that make up a human being (so I’m not trying to be dogmatic, here), but I propose the following for the sake of this discussion:
- Heart: I would equate this with our feelings, the emotions that fill our hearts. Some of them are happy and positive. Others are painful and unpleasant. This doesn’t mean that the first category is always good and the latter is always bad, since misplaced feelings of either kind can lead us astray.
- Mind: Let’s relate this to our intellect. This is our conscious thought and ability to rationally evaluate the world around us. We learn things, consider options, and make decisions with our mind.
- Soul: This is our eternal “core”. As I see it, our soul is what will persist for eternity (in a new body, thankfully). It transcends the rest of our selves. This is unique to human beings, over and above other forms of life.
- Strength: This sounds like our physical body. Certain things about it (including our genetically-determined traits, along with problems like susceptibility to various infirmities or diseases) are built in: the combination of God’s perfect initial design, along with years of human sin that have led to decay in our genomes (a “genetic load”, if you will). Other things are somewhat under our control, based on what we do with our bodies (i.e., choices whether or not to exercise, eat well, etc.).
I understand that the Eastern world (Asia, et. al.) considers the multiple aspects of the human condition a lot more freely than the Western world (Europe, the Americas, etc.), but I think that it is healthy to understand our entire selves. Consider some of the hypothetical alternatives:
- For the strict naturalist, our bodies are all that matter, and our minds (thoughts) are just the result of electrical processes, resulting from eons of evolution.
- For the person too focused on emotions, feelings are all that matter (often the relentless pursuit of feeling good), to the exclusion of rational consideration and physical realities.
- For the extreme academic, the mind may be all that matters, to the point where transferring one’s thoughts to a computer (without the rest of one’s self) would be considered immortality.
- For adherents to certain religions, the soul is the only thing that matters, to the exclusion of consideration given to a rational universe (mind), caring for themselves and others (body), and how to cope with feelings (heart).
So, for today, I would like us to pause and consider our whole selves. Perhaps you choose to divide up the various components of what it means to be a human being differently, and that’s perfectly OK with me. Regardless, it is important to correctly understand what we are made up of. It is even more important to recognize that conflict exists within ourselves.. When different elements of our selves are not in alignment (i.e., having full “integrity”), we suffer. If we can agree that this conflict and suffering exist, let’s take a look at some options as to what to do about it, tomorrow.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.