Can We Blame It On The Brain?

blame it on the brainNot long ago, I finished a really good book. I had read it before during my seminary days. I enjoyed it the second time just as much as I did the first. Edward Welch is a Christian counselor that brings great clarity to the Christian church when it comes to understanding and dealing with mental health issues within the church of Jesus Christ. He discusses many issues like depression, attention deficit disorder, Alzheimer´s disease, psychiatric problems, homosexuality, alcoholism, as well as other things. He does a fantastic job in helping us understand the difference between physical problems and spiritual problems. Welch also shows how the physical relates to the spiritual and he exposes a great myth that many in the church wrongly believe: that many sinful behaviors are caused by physical problems in the brain. Thus people are forced to act sinfully by reasons they cannot control. Is it possible for people to sin due to a chemical imbalance that they cannot control? Many in the church believe this. They are mistaken. The non-Christian world has stopped using the word sin. Things like alcoholism, fits of rage, and homosexuality are excused due to “new scientific discoveries.” But as Christians, who believe in God’s word, how does that kind of thinking measure up? We need to know this and we must be diligent to search the Scriptures to find the answer.

Example (by me, not the book): I was driving in my car with some friends the other day and we began discussing a problem we saw in a common friend. Someone we know has a problem of buying things and stockpiling them in her house. In other words, she is a hoarder. There is even a TV show about people like this. I have never seen it, but I have heard about it. One of my friends mentioned that our common friend is like this because she grew up in a foreign country where she did not have the privilege of owning very many things as a child, so now she buys things she does not need and piles them in her home.  So the question is a profound one. Is she this way because of a mental deficiency due to an under privileged childhood or does she have a sin problem of greed and a lack of contentment in God? The answer is foundational to Christian counseling because it will determine how one will seek to help a person like this.

If we conclude she is like this due to her “bad childhood”, then we will treat her as a victim of a mental deficiency and will sympathize with her hoarding and then point her to human psychology that will seek to bring her brain into proper “balance”, probably with medication. But, if we treat her hoarding as a sin problem, then we will call her to repent of this sin, and then point her to Christ where she can find true contentment and joy. If she will do this, then she can be free from the sin of hoarding and hopefully see change in her heart to where she quits buying stuff she does not need and start giving away money to things that glorify God. These two methods are completely contrary to each other and do not identify the problem the same at all. The question is, what are we to do as believers in Christ when we meet someone like this? Do we send them to a “professional” who will treat them as a victim or do we confront with love the sin we see in our brother or sister in Christ. The answer should be an easy one. We are called by God’s word to do the latter.

So why is there so much confusion in the Christian church? Simple. We are arrogant and hard-hearted people who do not like to be told that we are living in sin. We would rather think of ourselves as victims, not violators of God’s word. Also, we are often judgmental in our approach in talking with people as if we are above them, so we may give good counsel, but we do so with an evil heart. Unfortunately, this has led many in the church to refuse biblical counsel and has caused many leaders to defer counseling to human psychologists. The result has been disastrous. We have people each week, attending our church worship gatherings, bible studies, prayer meetings, outreach events who are not walking faithfully with the Lord because they think that what they are doing and living that is not in conformity to God’s word is the fault of previous circumstances (i.e. bad childhoods) not the fault of their rebellious hearts. Because of this, they are not repenting of sin. So, their worship, study, and witness of Christ is superficial at best and their joy is circumstantial or non-existent. This often leads to inconsistency in every area of their life (marriage, job, church implication, devotion times, etc) and frequently results in isolation from the body of Christ. Indirectly they do not think that God nor their brothers and sisters in Christ can help them. Only their psychologists or medications can help them. So while they are inconsistent in the things of the Lord, they become extremely faithful with the things that make them feel like a victim and the center of attention. This is dangerous and often unnoticed by the person because their sin is not dealt with, rather it is glorified.

Now, some may think that giving biblical counsel and talking about sinful behavior and thinking is unkind to the person that is suffering. But if done properly in love, it is the most loving thing a friend in the Lord can do for their fellow believer. Also, it reminds the person giving the counsel that they too need to confess of unbiblical behaviors and thinking. So it should bring double fruit where both parties seek to edify each other in the Lord by confession, repentance, and turning to Christ in faith.

So, what are some keys in knowing how to do this? Well, let me get back to Edward Welch and his book. He discusses four principles that can help you and I give and receive biblical counsel with our fellow church members. These principles show how the mind and the body relate to one another while at the same time reminding us that physical deficiencies (problems with our body) are not the cause of our sin (our spirit or mind). We sin because of an unbelieving heart. We believe God’s word teaches that we are mind and body. So, even though the body is wasting away, we can be renewed in our minds day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16). Here are Welch’s four principles:

1. The brain cannot make a person sin or keep a person from following Jesus in faith and obedience.

2. Each person’s abilities – brain strengths and weaknesses – are unique and worthy of careful study.

3. Brain problems can expose heart problems.

4. Sinful hearts can lead to physical illness, and upright hearts can lead to health.1

I hope these help you. There is much more to say on this, and I hope to follow up this post with another that will continue this line of thinking. I believe if we as the church can learn how to think biblically on these things, it will bear much fruit in our personal lives and in the church as a whole, for God’s glory. As I said two posts before, we must not only proclaim that God’s word is sufficient for every day living, but we must practice His word as if we truly believe what we proclaim. His word is pure and has existed since before creation. It is more powerful than anything else available to us. We must, as worshipers of Him, pursue this kind of thinking and help one another to do so as well. For His glory and our joy.

1. Welch, Edward. Blame It On The Brain. P&R Publishing. Phillipsburg New Jersey. 1998. Four principles are a quote from page 49.

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