Reflections on Mind and God (A Brief Essay Exploring What an Analysis of Our Minds Tells Us)

By Mac Deaver

Humans are in a position, but not a predicament. We are somehow poised in an ontological setting which makes sense if we use sense in evaluating it. By “sense” I do not mean physical impressions, but metaphysical or mind impressions. In other words, if we use judgment, then that to which my mind applies seems rational. There has to be some rational explanation for the fact of the coherence of the physical universe and for the fact of the relationship that exists between the physical universe and my consciousness of it. There has to be some explanation for the fact that I can reason about the universe and that I can reason about reason. Human reason is an element of reality that must be accounted for in its relationship to all other reality. By the use of my mind the only explanation possible for myself and for everything else that I consider in the universe can only be a rational one. Even if I finally decide that the ultimate explanation for everything is a physical explanation (as a final cause), I can only come to this conclusion by the use of my mind. It is in this sense that all of my explanations must be rational. But if all of my explanations must be rational (by the employment of mind and reason), then how could it possibly be the case that the final cause could somehow be less than mind and less than reason?

In other words, how is it possible on the one hand that my explanation for the existence of everything must be rational, but that the final explanation as a cause could only rise to a level less than the nature of my own explanation? Can the final explanation as cause possibly be less in its essence than the partial explanation provided by a person living on this earth? If my explanations as an observer inside the universe can only be rational ones (since I arrive at them solely and essentially by the employment of my mind), then how would it be possible for the ultimate explanation of the universe from the outside be a non-rational one? By the “principle of sufficient reason,” we know that there is an adequate or sufficient reason for everything. But how could the ultimate explanation for the universe be sufficient if it is deficient in essence to explain “rational explanation” that exists on earth?

Rocks are not reasons, and they are not impressionable entities. We humans are characterized by reason, and we are very impressionable. Consciousness makes this possible. And even though animals are impressionable because of their own level of consciousness, we humans are aware of our consciousness, and we can reflect on it. We can reason about it in a way that escapes all levels of life below the human strata. Let us briefly and only lightly explore the human mind and see what we see in ourselves and what, if anything, it tells us about God.

Let us begin with exploring what my mind tells me about me. First of all, (1) it tells me that I am a superior kind of being to anything that does not have mind. Any normal human values himself above anything less than human. And most people (and all people who are thinking correctly) value all other people above anything less than human. Even atheistic humanists consider human beings as the ultimate expression of reality on earth. So, at first base, we realize that my mind informs me that I have standing or a certain position in the universe. I have value. It is true that many times some humans act out of harmony with this truth. But their failure to live in the light of this truth cannot and does not destroy it. A man may become so enamored with money that he disregards some humans in the attainment of it. He disvalues certain humans because they stand in the way of his acquiring more of that which he overvalues. However, if he finally is called upon to surrender riches or face certain death, he will let the money go to save his life. Truth finally is realized in his desperate moment. Some animal rights activists seem to be willing on occasion to kill a man in order to spare an animal, but again, if they are called on to surrender the animal unto death in order to save their own lives, truth again surfaces in their minds as to what is the more valuable. But even if we found one of them willing to die to save a mere animal, surely he would, if called upon to choose life for an animal or his child, he would save his child. No one on earth would commend him for sacrificing his child in order to save a brute. According to Scripture any person who would save the brute and sacrifice the child would be devoid of “natural affection” (cf. Rom. 1:31). False philosophical concepts regarding the place of man and animal in the universe cannot be consistently applied to reality.

Second, with regard to what my mind tells me about me, (2) it tells me that I am somewhat complex. Why do I say this? As I reflect on me, I understand that I am thinking about myself. As a person, not only do I have the capacity to focus on something outside of and other than me, but I can turn the intellectual microscope my way and examine myself through it. In fact, there is something altogether different about self-analysis in this regard. When I look at you, I consider you as an empirical being. I see your body and see by the movement of your body that there is someone animating it. And even if I see your corpse at the funeral home, I see an empirical body from which you have gone. And it is true that in the evaluation of myself, I can certainly look at my body and think about my body as well as about my mind. But there is also this very precious, private, intimate look that I can take into myself that is a self-reflection that is not directed by any exploration of my body. I can look inwardly and deeply into my own spirit or self or core of my existence and think about me as an independent and responsible agent, someone accountable for thoughts that are his own and actions that are his own. This inward look that I am taking is my own “look” at myself. I can examine myself and you can examine yourself in a personal and private and penetrating way that is not possible to someone outside ourselves (cf. 1 Cor. 2:10-11).

The complexity of my nature is further seen in the fact that while I realize that self-analysis is pursued by reason, reason finds other things than reason within me. Not only do I reason about reason, but I reason about sensation. Why is it that I like to see certain things? Why is it that certain foods taste good? Certain things smell good? Certain things feel good? Certain things sound good? How can a world of physical beauty make an appeal to me? So, I can reflect on mind, I can reflect on body, and I can even reflect on the combination of sensation and thought as they are combined in my human experience. I “feel” comfortable and good after a fine meal. Not only is the belly satisfied because of food within, but the spirit has been affected and is satisfied because of its connection to the body without. The spirit has an improved sense of well-being and is content because of its connection to and association with a physical body that demands food for its continuation.

Further, I find myself reasoning about my emotion or my non-physical feelings. Here I am thinking about feeling within my mind. I am thinking about my mental states or psychological conditions in which my mind resides. Think about the various moods that we experience in our spirit in the course of a day. We may pass through the feeling of happiness, contentment, sadness, anger, indignation, gratitude, resentment, jealousy, guilt, humility, etc.

Third, with regard to what my mind tells me about me, (3) it tells me that though I am in a sense confined to my body, there is a peculiar sense in which I can extend myself beyond my body. Paul informs us that the divinely constructed limitation of time and space to human beings on the earth is designed so that man will search for God (Acts 17:26-28). But even though we are all limited in time and space, my mind is able to carry me beyond my body and outside my own moment of existence. How can it do this? It is the nature of spirit which entails the nature of thought that makes such a thing possible. My mind simply is not “fixed” to the reality of space and time as my physical body is. The connections are not the same.

For example, my mind is constantly thinking about things that exist outside my mind and outside my body. A lot—if not most—of our thinking, though done by ourselves, is not about ourselves. So, the limitation of my space (my mind being inside my body) does not prevent me from going to other places in thought. I can think of the house down the street, or the next county that joins my county. I can think of other cities, countries, other people that occupy other spaces, etc. I am all the time thinking about things that exist outside of myself. My own body cannot contain myself in this regard. The body gives way to the spirit’s expression of itself as it explores the universe.

And it is the same in regard to time. My body simply cannot contain my mind when it comes to time. While I am still here in my body, my mind still travels to the distant past. I can even contemplate the “beginning” of Genesis 1:1. I know that I can mentally visit, not simply a prior moment to the present, but I can study the very distant past. And I can even project myself by imagination into the future and think about the things that are to come or the things that I hope will come and even the things that I know will not there occur. And I can reason about the future fulfillment of promises made to me, the fulfillment of which is to take place at some point beyond now. And I can even step beyond time in the sense that I can attempt to contemplate the very meaning of “eternity.”

And the thing is, I do not need a “vision” or miraculous “dream” in order to leave space and time. My mind allows me to do this all the time. And even when I am dreaming in my sleep, I somehow enter a domain that seems to border reality with unreality, another kind of dimension where in my unconsciousness my mind still is active, outside of personal consciousness.

Fourth, with regard to what my mind tells me about me, (4) it tells me that in description, language is the key to clarity. When awake, my mind is essentially operative. However, it can take in more than it wants or needs. It can speedily scan so many images. But when it focuses so as to describe anything that it has experienced, it articulates the experienced event by language. Language is necessary to precisely describe what the mind contains. It is amazing that while I can (1) think or comprehend by images or pictures of things, (2) when I tell myself about them rather than simply to remember the picture or image, I use language to do that. Language advances insight.

Fifth, with regard to what my mind tells me about me, (5) I see that my memory is the key to my intelligence or rationality. What we call “memory” is the mind’s enduring quality of visiting the impressions made on it. It is so necessary to intelligence and essential to communication that without it we could not make sense of ourselves to ourselves or to other minds. For example, I can only meaningfully talk to you if I remember each word in the sentence that I speak as I continue to add other words to the sentence. As I construct a sentence to deliver to you, I must remember each word and then its connection to each subsequent word in order to know of the meaning of the sentence that I am speaking. And if you do not remember each word as other words are “tacked on to it” in the sentence, you cannot possibly understand what I am trying to say. Memory is that fundamental.

Sixth, with regard to what my mind tells me about me, (6) it assures me that I exist. Of course, the Bible speaks of “the inward man” (2 Cor. 4:16), “the hidden man of the heart” (1 Pet. 3:4), and even compartmentalizes us into “spirit and soul and body” (1 Thess. 5:23). Paul once used a rare expression in saying, “I verily thought with myself” (Acts 26:9).

I must confess that I am the one writing this article. Technically grammatically correct, it is I, but, more familiarly, it is me. Who is it that holds memory? Who is it forming these words in mind and typing them out on computer? Who is thinking this through? Thoughts don’t think; thinkers think. Thinkers think thoughts. But just here a curious skepticism has arisen.

The famous (or notorious) Scottish skeptic, David Hume, alleged that he could never find himself without a thought. He concluded that he, therefore, could not know absolutely that he, David Hume, actually existed. But how in the world could Mr. Hume analyze his thoughts without comprehending that thoughts don’t think. Minds do! Thoughts are not the agents; they are the instruments. An agent or source has to produce the thought. As already mentioned, thoughts are not simply “non-connected” abstractions hanging out there somewhere in the universe. If they were, we could simply search for them and collect them as we do butterflies. Only minds have thoughts. Only minds that are somehow like God’s mind can produce thoughts but then can think about them. Men can think about thoughts. Incredible! Somehow we have the extraordinary capacity to focus thought on thought itself. That is absolutely amazing. And when we focus on thought, we can see that every thought is (1) meaningful or intelligible in some sense, (2) a production of a mind, (3) a minimal part of a coherent scheme of things called “rationality,” and (4) an essence completely distinct from all matter.

Just here let us observe that the profundity of these truths admits also a very obvious simplicity. We do not deny the existence of “love” simply because we cannot analyze it in a laboratory. We do not give up the concept of “justice” simply because it is not empirically verifiable. “Mercy” continues as a most desired concept even if many people do not show much of it. Such concepts are meaningful to humans living on earth. All humans live with the constant application of such concepts as fundamental, meaningful, and extremely relevant to human living. There is a constant and driving need to employ words that refer to such things in order to make life in some sense worthwhile and enjoyable.

But let us go back to Mr. Hume. He could not catch himself without a thought. That is because when he sought to find himself, he could only do so by thought. There is no other way! The only instrument at his disposal for the search was thinking! Man alive! That indicates the nature of spirit. Spirit expresses itself through thought; it articulates itself through words. The spirit of David Hume was not subject to vision location but rather to location by intellectual implication.

But, the strange thing about it was that when Hume concluded that he could not know that he was there, although he could find a thought there, someone reached that conclusion! If Hume intended to be taken seriously as to his denial that a person could know assuredly of his own existence, then he had to be equally desirous that his affirmation that the denial is true be taken just as seriously.

The “conclusion” that he could not know that he existed was not and could not be without connection to some mind. Now, if it were not David Hume’s mind, just whose was it? It is paramount to David Hume’s claiming: I am seriously drawing a conclusion, a conclusion that I am seriously intending for others to take equally seriously while at the same time I am also equally seriously meaning to be saying that the one saying this possibly is not making this claim at all! Now, just how profound is that? Not only is it not profound, but it is self-contradictory. Epistemological reality is so constructed that when we humans fall into such high-brow nonsense that our irrationality is showing! But who was on this exploration for the “self” when Hume philosophically tried to locate David Hume?

Consider the following True-False questions: When David Hume attempted to find the “real” David Hume but could only find a thought, then whoever was making the search was…

  1. No one;
  2. Someone;
  3. Everyone.

If it were (1) no one, then the search was not being made. The historical writings of Hume inform us that someone made the search. If it were (3) everyone, no one else knew that he was involved, Hume made no claim that others were involved, and all other men, if they had been asked about it, would have denied that they were in on the search. The evidence is conclusive that the search was being made by the same person who claimed that he could not prove that it was, in fact, himself! The strange thing is that the evidence so available to others as to the identity of the searcher and claimant somehow got overlooked by the searcher and claimant himself! What this bizarre scene tells us is that something so obvious on the one hand (the human self), on the other hand can be so recklessly misplaced even while undergoing intense intellectual investigation (cf. Rom. 1:20-23)!

It ought to be mentioned just here that, given “the law of identity,” no one can look for self unless the looker is the self! Hume cannot at one and the same time say that he looked for himself but could not find himself unless he was himself. The whole enterprise of seeking for self is impossible unless the law of identity holds true. Either (1) Hume was engaged in an irrational search or (2) his conclusion is false. If the one he was looking for was not the same one looking, then he was engaged in an irrational venture. If he concluded that he could not find himself because he could only find thoughts, then his conclusion is false because the thoughts implied himself. Either way Hume presents nothing that ought to disturb the rationally reliable conclusion that each one of us knows of his own existence. And, of course, Hume had to live in practical opposition to the unorthodox theoretical conclusion that he reached in his philosophical inquiry.

The fact is that there was something else that kept him from intellectually finding himself in his search. It could not possibly be that he was not there either as (1) the searcher or as (2) the object of search. If the law of identity holds in all of reality, Hume was both (1) subject and (2) object in his search. His thoughts should have told him that someone was thinking them. “Someone” was pursuing the investigation. If he couldn’t find himself without a thought, then the thought should have told him that he was both the one searching and the one for whom search was being made. If Hume realized he was actually the one looking (and he reported to us in his writings that he did make this search), then there is no rational reason for his denial that it was the same Hume whose location he alleged could not be found! If Hume was the one looking, then the Hume being looked for, had already been found even though not recognized!

The “real” is at times emphatically denied by skeptics. Robert Camp in his excellent article, “The Church Carries the Gospel to the Skeptic,” wrote, “It is often said of a mental patient, ‘He has lost touch with reality.’ This is precisely the position of the skeptic. He contends that it is impossible to be in touch with reality. If he only says it, he may be regarded as a great intellectual, but if his actions are governed by it, he is recognized as psychotic” (The Church of Christ—Essential, All Sufficient, Indestructible, Perpetually Relevant, Being the Freed-Hardeman College Lectures of 1971, p. 436). As Camp went on in his article to point out, skeptics cannot live in the light of their own claimed convictions. What they claim to know does not “fit” real life.

Seventh, with regard to what my mind tells me about me, (7) it shows me that my spirit self is far more important and even enduring than my physical body. On this point first let me observe that there is often a connection between the condition of my body and the position of my mind. When my body has difficulty, it affects that way that I psychologically feel. Bodily pain can produce great anxiety within me. But it is also the case that I have “feelings” that are not connected like that to the well-being of my body as such. My spirit can experience some kind of a mood in spite of or without resort to its connection to body. I can have a kind of peace in my spirit in spite of turmoil in the world. I can even have a kind of peace in spite of a bodily ailment and pain. The mood of mind is not always directly the result of bodily consideration. The metaphysical feelings of “guilt” or “innocence,” though not produced by bodily sensation as such do have effect on the human body. None of These Diseases, by Dr. S. I. McMillen, is a good treatment on how the ethic of Christ affects our health in this life. My inner state is more important than my physical body. Many people with good physical health cannot stand life because of their mental torture. If one had only the two options of mental torture with good physical health or bad physical health with mental peace, we would all choose mental peace. The spirit is superior to body.

The second point I wish to make is that the spirit is more enduring than body. Scientists tell us that every time that we live through about a seven year period, the cells in our physical makeup have all been replaced by other cells. We have a new physical body as far as chemical makeup about every seven years. But, notice how this truth was just expressed. I said that “we” have a new physical body. I affirmed the duration of something beyond the duration of something else. The physical body had been replaced by another physical body, but the one whose body it is remains the same in some sense. Also, and interestingly, the new body somehow maintains the same basic form of the old one so that my outward appearance more or less remains the same. My physical body can be identified by others, and I know that by self-reflection that I keep on identifying myself within. I can still recognize my physical form in the mirror as the one belonging to the same spirit within the other body over seven years ago.

And while it is true that my spirit changes in intellectual and emotional and spiritual development, it is not the same kind of change that my physical body undergoes. The growth in development is not a replacement of some sort of metaphysical “cells,” but simply the incline or decline of moral quality. Of course the Bible teaches that the human spirit endures beyond the termination of the physical body (Matt. 10:28; 2 Cor. 5:10).

Now, finally, just what does all of this have to do with God? What is it about the human mind that provides insight into the nature of the Mind that made us all? Does it seem purely coincidental that what we find within ourselves upon self-examination is also what we find contained in Scripture with regard to the ultimate Mind, or God, himself? Let us briefly mention again what, in self-reflection, we have discovered, and then let us see what the Bible says about God.

With regard to what my mind tells me about me, it tells me that:

  1. I am superior to anyone without a mind;
  2. I am somewhat complex;
  3. Though I am in a sense confined to my body, there is a peculiar sense in which I can extend myself beyond my body;
  4. In description, language is the key to clarity;
  5. My memory is the key to intelligence or rationality;
  6. Assuredly, I exist;
  7. My spirit is far more important and enduring than my physical body.

Now, with regard to each insight, compare what we have found about our own minds with what the Bible claims about the ultimate Mind:

  1. God is superior not only to everything without a mind but to all other minds that he has produced. He stands alone as the only self-explanatory and eternal mind (Exod. 3:14; Isaiah 44:6).
  2. God is the ultimately complex being, so much so that while we can and must admit him and submit to him, we cannot completely comprehend him (Rom. 11:33-36).
  3. God has form (Phil. 2:6), but has knowledge of all beyond him that he has made. He is infinite in understanding (Psa. 147:5).
  4. God has always used language with men, either (1) the natural language or communication of nature (Psa. 19:1-6; Acts 14:17), (2) moral law inscribed on hearts of men to inform of the difference between right and wrong (Rom. 2:14-15), or (3) the language of words. On each of the six days of Genesis 1, “God said.” The agent of creation himself—and our Saviour—is called the “Word” (John 1:1-3, 14). The deepest clarity of God’s desire for man is expressed in his word.
  5. As my memory allows me to continually be aware of my own self-identity, God knows himself constantly. Since he is not finite, he does not have to recall, for his Spirit essence is not only to exist but to know. He cannot help knowing everything ( Psa. 147:5; 139).
  6. God assuredly exists. He can be denied but never disproved. He must exist in order for anything else to exist including other minds who are capable to call both his and their own existence into question (cf. Psa. 14:1; Rom. 1:20-23; 9:20).
  7. God, as ultimate Being, is the most important expression of reality that there can be. He is personal and infinite and eternal. Somehow and someway he holds the ultimate explanation of himself within himself. He is ultimate Spirit. He is beyond time and space, though for the sake of man, in the incarnation of Christ, he partially located himself within both for a brief moment in order that man could be saved (Gen. 1:1; Exod. 3:14; John 1:14; 4:24; Psa. 90:1-2).

These things cannot be mere coincidences. We mirror God in our spirit composition. The point of comparison meets in spirit/Spirit kinship. As Moses long ago told us, we are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), and as some unidentified Greek poets affirmed and as the apostle Paul has told us himself, we are the offspring of God (Acts 17:27-29). And the image is not in the dirt (Gen. 2:7). It is in spirit/Spirit (John 4:24; Luke 24:36-39).

Our human minds are made to search for God, the ultimate Mind. The search need not be futile, for God wants to be found that we might be with him forever in eternity (Acts 17:27; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:2; Rev. 20:11-15). So, let each of us be cautioned: A human mind cannot possibly have found its divinely intended location or position in reality if it fails to find love for God (Matt. 22:37). Finding God is certainly necessary to the well-being of any human mind, but it is inadequate. Loving God with the full expression of all that entails is what God demands (cf. John 14:15; 1 John 5:3).