In yesterday’s article, we discussed that we are made up of different aspects. Using Jesus’ words in Mark 12:29-31, I proposed that we consider that we – as human beings – are made up of our heart (feelings or emotions), our mind (intellect and thought), our soul (our eternal “core”) and our strength (our physical body). In addition, we identified that conflict occurs within ourselves when these aspects of our selves are not in agreement. (Some may call this desired alignment “integrity”, “balance”, or “harmony”, which aren’t inherently incorrect terms, but each of those descriptions may come with some extra implications or baggage!)
In my opinion, we are seeing a lot of this conflict spilling out when it comes to identity and sexuality today. While these may be sensitive topics, I hope that you’ll bear with me as we consider the root cause of the challenges that people in these situations face.
When someone has an attraction for someone of the same sex, there is a conflict between their heart and their body (since the human body is designed in a certain way). Similarly, when someone is attracted to someone of the opposite sex, but both parties have already promised to be faithful for life (i.e., married) to someone else, there is a conflict between their heart and their mind. And, a person whose feelings are not the same as their physical gender is experiencing conflict between heart and body, and this tension can become painful.
However, human beings that are wrestling with these topics – identity and sexuality – certainly aren’t the only members of the human race that are in conflict: Those who experience certain types of mental illness suffer conflicts between their mind and their body (like OCD, which happens to be my personal battle), or between their mind and their heart (depression). We might even say that athletes experience conflict between their body and their heart when their feelings tell them to stop practicing and exercising. After all, good habits like this are beneficial to their bodies, but often create a lot of pain along the way.
These are some of the most visible challenges that people around us are facing today (although I’m sure that many struggle alone and in silence), but there are countless more. Choosing whether to tell the truth or a lie is often a conflict between our mind and our feelings. Deciding whether or not to do the right thing when our body is worn out (and doesn’t want to) is a conflict between our mind and our body. Having faith in God when others produce strong-sounding arguments to the contrary may create a temporary conflict between our mind and our soul (although I believe that the truth can bear up under scrutiny, and God isn’t afraid to have us investigate arguments against His existence).
In reality, conflicts within our selves probably impact each of us. So, how do we deal with that situation? Let’s consider the case where our heart and body are in conflict. When this happens, either our emotions pull us away from what is good for our body (like a desire to indulge in harmful habits), or our feelings tell us that we need to temporary ignore what our body is telling us (like a hero overcoming pain to save someone else). In these cases, our mind must decide which one to support.
This can be a tough battle, though, as this verse suggests:
The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.
Galatians 5:17 NLT
Did you see that? There are competing desires within us: one directed to evil, and the other one (the Holy Spirit) focused on God. These are “constantly fighting each other”! Ouch.
As a result, when our mind is the referee – the decision-maker – between our heart and our body, it is important for our mind to make good decisions. The Bible provides some good advice to help us out with that challenge:
So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.
Romans 8:6 NLT
On our own, we’ll probably make bad choices. Even trying to get good advice from other people (especially those who aren’t grounded in God’s Word and the Holy Spirit’s direction) can lead to problematic outcomes. When we listen to God’s direction, though, and follow His instruction, we can expect – as this verse says – “life and peace”. Having said that, when we make a choice between warring sides of our nature, it’s not going to be easy: Choosing to act contrary to our feelings is going to be uncomfortable. Working contrary to what our body finds comfortable is difficult. Changing our mind is tough.
Still, when we are aligned with God’s will for us, we can develop our faith in Him, and trust Him that the discomfort is only for a little while: the rewards are worth the investment in the long run. Giving into every one of our desires, feelings, or whims might feel like it will make things easier in the short-term, but it will continue to harm us – eating away at us over time – when those are outside of God’s will.
So, how should we treat people (including ourselves) who are going through conflicts like this? After all, once sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, it continues to assault us – the whole human race – as each of us chooses to sin sometimes (even those of us who strive to live like Jesus). Let’s take a look at that 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.