By K. Daniel Glover
Those words of Paul came to mind recently when The Washington Post published a story about a controversy involving the brains of terrorists. When four members of the Red Army Faction killed themselves in the 1970s, German officials ordered their brains removed and studied to determine what short circuit of the mind might have led the terrorists to kill more than 30 people in shootings, bombings and kidnappings.
The story made me think about Paul’s teaching on wisdom because the idea that terrorism or any other sin has its genesis in the brain is the wisdom of men. The “foolishness of God” as revealed in the Bible, on the other hand, makes it quite clear that the corruption or the purity of a man is evident not in his head but in his heart, which is a metaphor for the soul.
That truth is evident as early as the story of the flood. God destroyed man because He saw the great wickedness and continual evil in “every intent of the thoughts of his heart” (Gen. 6:5). After the flood, furthermore, God promised never again to “curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21).
The anointing both of Saul and David as kings of Israel show that purity also begins in the heart. God sent the Spirit of the Lord to change Saul’s heart upon his anointing (I Sam. 10:6, 9). And when Samuel suggested that David’s eldest brother, Eliab, was a more fitting king than David, God told Samuel: “Do not look at his appearance or the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (I Sam. 16:7).
Many other stories convey the same ideas. Esau vowed “in his heart” that he would kill his brother, Jacob, for cheating him out of his birthright (Gen. 27:41). God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to accomplish His will for Israel (Ex. 4:21). And Abijam stumbled as king of Judah because “his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord” (I Kings 15:3).
Solomon made the point best in one of his proverbs: “As in the water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects man” (Prov. 27:19). And in New Testament times, James added that temptation is the result of our own heartfelt lusts. “Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).
The brain does play an important role in spiritual development. It helps us attain the purity of heart we need to stay faithful. Paul emphasized that point when he told the Philippians to think on the things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent and praiseworthy in order to find the peace of God that guards hearts and minds (Philip. 4:7-9).
Yet while scientists have learned much about man by studying the brain, and may learn even more, their quest to find the trigger to terrorism and other heinous crimes is misguided. The cure for sin cannot be found in our bodies; it can be found only in Christ, for “in Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us” (Eph. 1:7-8).