Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)
The Faulty Walnut
Alain de Botton is a British author and public speaker who calls himself a secular Jew. He says, “I was brought up in a very atheistic Jewish family….My father was very fiercely anti-religion.” De Botton’s books discuss philosophy’s relevance to everyday life. He is great at commenting on our modern problems and unknowingly sends me back to the Scriptures for God’s better solutions.1
He calls our human brains walnuts because of their appearance and notes that they are brilliant instruments, able to reason, synthesize, remember, and imagine at a high speed. But our brains are also very subtly and dangerously flawed machines, so that we ought to be skeptical about many of the ideas, schemes, plans, and feelings generated by the faulty walnut that stands at the top of our spinal column. He says that our brains don’t like to stop and think, so we often jump hastily to rapid, instinctive decision-making. We are apt to react rather than reflect, to act rather than analyze. We tend to repeat what we have always done, avoiding difficult truths, and wasting time chatting about sports, politics, or celebrity scandals. He says that we are very good at seeing what others are up to, but lack insights into ourselves. Jesus Christ calls this the “Speck and Log Syndrome.”2
De Botton says that our brains are bad at self-control and self-discipline. We get passionate about the wrong things and scared when there is no real threat to us. One medical doctor stated that 97% of the things we worry about either never happen, or we handle them fine and learn valuable lessons in the process. Our faulty brains look at everything from our own point of view and don’t respect others’ opinions. Jesus Christ is able to empathize and sympathize with human weaknesses,3 but we find it hard to do that with others.
Our brains don’t like uncomfortable information and we obstacles. We look for information that confirms our own biases, choices, and values.4 We are short-sighted, preferring immediate comfort over long-term growth in Christ-likeness. We are prone to follow the mood of our herd, tribe, group, or clan because we desperately want to fit in. The Bible agrees with most of Alain de Botton’s assessments, or it’s better to say, de Botton often agrees with the Scriptures without realizing it.
But why are our brains faulty?
We Are Fallen
God (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) created humankind male and female, in His own image and likeness. The Lord made us to imitate Him in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. God blessed Adam and Eve in Eden and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it as my stewards. Be responsible for the fish, birds, and animals.” The Lord made human beings a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.5 What a perfect beginning!
But our first parents, by their own free choice, distrusted and disobeyed God and fell from their perfect beginning, dragging all of us down with them. Most of human history and current events document this sad truth.6 Thank God, the Lord’s image is not destroyed in any of us, but it is damaged. Now our thinking, being, and doing are bent away from God and His ways so that everyone does whatever seems right in their own eyes.7 Unless the Lord changes us, we are selfish.
But God Restores Us
In His grace, mercy, and love the Lord did not reject or abandon us. He decided to reclaim all that we lost and make it better. From Genesis 3:15 onward, the whole Bible tells about God’s reclamation project. The Lord made a new covenant with His people and promised, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people….They will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”8 God’s reclamation project climaxes in Jesus Christ’s sinless life, atoning death, life-giving resurrection, and His guaranteed return. “In keeping with God’s promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”9
New Ways of Thinking and Living
While we live in this world, God calls and enables Jesus’ followers to think about and practice whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy. The Lord promises that as we live this way, by the help of the Holy Spirit, the God of peace and all His blessings will be with us.10
Here’s a chart on Philippians 4:8 that we covered in class. Items are numbered for ease of discussion. God calls us to think about and practice whatever is…
|dignified, holy, honest, honorable, worthy of respect
|fair, just, righteous, straight, upright
|clean, holy, wholesome
|amiable, amicable, attractive, beautiful, gracious, kind, loving, peaceable, winsome
|commendable, gracious, respectable, consistent with a good reputation
|morally excellent and good, virtuous, consistent with excellent character
|giving praise to God, worthy to give thanks for
Prayer: Lord, help us to see You more clearly,
to love You more dearly, to follow You more nearly, day by day.
To be continued.
Notes (various Bible translations): 1 In this section, I quote or paraphrase often from de Botton’s article on theschooloflife.com. 2 Matthew 7:3-5. 3 Heb 4:15. 4 See more on “Confirmation Bias” at wikipedia.org. 5 Gen 1:27-28; Psalm 8:5; Eph 4:24; Col 3:10. 6 See: The Natural Depravity of Mankind: Observations on the Human Condition by Ferdinand Lundberg. Lundberg defines depravity as individuals putting their personal interests ahead of the law and the common good will. He is not religious. 7 Judges 17:6, 21:25. 8 Jer 31:33-34. 9 2 Peter 3:13. 10 Philippians 4:8-9.