“My Brain Made me Do it!”
Recently I viewed with interest a CNN story with that intriguing title. The program tried to explain bad (anti-social) behavior in some people mainly from a physiological-neurological standpoint. An example cited on the TV program was that of a married man who turned out to be a pedophile and thinking to rape his mother-in-law. Because of this he was imprisoned.
In line with research being done on anti-social behavior, a scan of the man’s brain was taken. The scan revealed a tumor in the cortex of the man’s brain. A surgeon removed most of the tumor and, after his recovery the man kept from his sexual aberrations for a while, and he was returned to his wife and family. However, later it was found that the tumor had grown back, and the man went back to his former anti-social behavior.
The brain surgeon featured on the program questioned the time-honored belief in man’s free will. It seemed, from the example of the man with the brain tumor, that his anti-social behavior stemmed not from the exercise of his will, but from the state of his brain, over which he had no control. Correcting the brain abnormality through surgery, the surgeon suggested, could well fix the bad behavior.
The TV program went on to tell that the man underwent a second surgery to remove the vestige of the tumor, and again the man kept away from his anti-social behavior. However, the program ended there, and did not reveal whether the man’s improved behavior was sustained over an appreciable period.
A plea for leniency
Based on his findings with the man with the brain tumor, the surgeon urged that other people (especially the courts) exercise more leniency and understanding toward criminals, who may merely be victims of some cerebral malady which the persons are unable to control.
Treatment, not imprisonment, is therefore recommended as a better recourse.
A new alibi?
The TV program’s title, obviously, is a take from the age-old excuse men and women have used to explain their misconduct (or sin): “The devil made me do it!” Our Mother Eve had used the same alibi at the Garden of Eden. [See: “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!”]
Many humanistic and non-religious people no longer believe in the existence of a devil, much less the devil’s power to influence human thoughts, decisions, and actions. [Most don’t believe in the existence of God, either! See: Where Did the Devil Come From? and Is There Ever Any Good in Man? and this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, select “Books & Booklets” and scroll down to the booklets titled, “Seven Proofs God Exists” and “Did God Create a Devil?”]
Thus it is understandable that many scientists and human behaviorists would look to some physical cause of sexual aberrations that men and women exhibit. And where better to pin the cause than on man’s “command center” — man’s brain!
While this mainly “mechanistic” or rather deterministic view of man seems to offer some hope for criminals, it begs a number of questions, however.
1. Who, really, controls a man’s brain? If, as the TV program’s surgeon suggests, man has no free will and is merely at the mercy of his brain, who is responsible if something goes haywire in his brain? Should the man’s parents be blamed if perchance they passed on some defective genes that manifested themselves in the man’s damaged brain, resulting in criminal behavior? Or should the parents’ parents and grandparents, and so on, be blamed for the bad genes? Or perhaps should the parents be blamed for not seeking early remedy for their son’s malady, thereby mitigating, if not obviating the criminal bent in the man?
What if the parents do not have the wherewithal for the needed treatment of their son? Should “society” or the government be blamed for making the parents so poor as to be unable to afford the treatment?
What if the man sustained damage to his brain through some unhealthy practice, such as eating the wrong or unhealthy food, not eating enough of the brain-healthy foods; sustaining some brain damage through an accident or carelessness or exposure to contaminants in the environment? Who is to blame for the man’s lack of knowledge of the principles of healthy living? Should the man, or his family and society be blamed for all this? Does not the man have a choice as to what to do with his own life – such as seeking the right health information and applying it?
2. Does it always follow that a healthy brain equals good behavior? Are all criminals thus “brain-damaged?” And do all “good” people have “good” brains? Is there ever a chance that people with perfectly healthy brains can turn criminal? And can some people with brain damage live a non-criminal or moral life? Have sound statistical studies been made on this? Unless proven by facts, this supposition remains a theory.
What is man?
Many scientists believe that man is merely the end-product of eons of evolution. That man is a mere biological or physical “being” (or “animal”) that happens to have “minds” that are able to conceive of ideas and produce things that the rest of the natural order are not able to, or do differently.
People steeped in the theory of evolution (for that is what it is – a supposition yet to be proven by the facts) do not believe that mankind is a “creature.” For “creation” presupposes a Creator – a “Mastermind” or “Designer”– who has made all things for some purpose that He reveals progressively (not all at once) to mankind. [For further discussions on the evolution versus creation issue, see this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, Select “Books & Booklets” and scroll down to the booklets titled “A Theory for the Birds,” and “A Whale of a Tale” and the book The Human Potential.]
The Creator claims to have “authored” a Book (some call it a “Manual for Living”) showing what man really is, what man’s potential really is, and how man can reach that potential. That Book is the Holy Bible. While many scientists and philosophers and similar-minded people disbelieve the authority and power of the Bible, there are quite a number of scientists and other learned people who believe in the revelation of the Bible and in the creation by a divine Creator.
The Bible unequivocally declares that man was purposely made by God in His own image or likeness (Genesis 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 1:7). As the creation story goes (Genesis 2), God made a clay model of Himself, breathed life into it, and it became a living being – man. Later God made woman out of the man’s rib, and caused the man and woman to reproduce and fill the earth with their offspring.
While man was made in the physical image of God, man is not yet in the perfect spiritual image of God, who is Spirit, and has no beginning nor end of life [John 4:24; Hebrews 7:3; see: The Mystery of Melchizedek Unlocked]. In contrast, man is made of matter and is mortal – subject to death and decay. [See: What Happens to Man After Death?] All men will eventually be given a chance to be saved from death, through faith in Christ (Romans7:23; 6:23) [See: Predestination.]
Man made with freedom of choice
At the Garden of Eden God gave our first parents (Adam and Eve) the choice basically between two trees – the “tree of life” and the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” which was actually a “tree of death.” The well-known story is found in Genesis 3.
If God had intended for man to have no free will or freedom of choice, why would He even offer man a choice? But God did offer man a choice! In Genesis 3:16-17 God commanded Adam: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat [including “the tree of life, Verse 7], but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
As most everybody knows the story, Adam (at his wife Eve’s suggestion and urging after the Devil had convinced her) chose to eat of the forbidden tree, the tree of death. [See: “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!”] God had to drive man away from the Garden of Eden lest he put his hand and take also of the tree of life, and live forever (Genesis 3:22) – in sin, and thus become like Satan and his demons, who have everlasting life. God placed powerful angels (cherubim) to guard the way to the Garden and thus keep man from illegal reentry to it. [See: The Flaming Sword East of Eden.]
Our fate sealed by the choices we make
A bouncy song popular in the 1990s went, “Our fate is sealed by the choices we make.” Adam and Eve chose to obey Satan (in the guise of a serpent) and to eat the forbidden fruit. Eventually, they did die, as God had warned them. After some 6,000 years since that fateful incident at Eden, mankind has followed in Adam’s footsteps, choosing the same path of disobedience to God’s commandments. Result? All have had the same sentence of death (Romans 5:12; 3:23; 6:23).
Although each person has freedom of choice, often our condition may be affected by the choices or decisions others make. We no longer live in isolation; now we are in a “global” community. Many barriers of the past no longer exist. What some people in one part of the globe do can and does affect the lives of others in another part of the world. [See: Climate Change.] Well, who’s to blame for all this?
The ultimate blame
All the mess that our world has been in can be blamed, ultimately, on the original sinner – Satan and his angels (now demons) who followed him in his sinful, God-defying ways. An immortal spirit being, Satan was around at the Garden of Eden when God created mankind. Without missing a beat, Satan went to seduce Adam, through Eve, into defying God’s command not to eat the forbidden fruit of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” [See: “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!”]
Because Satan has induced all human beings into committing lies, murders and other sins (Romans 3:23), Jesus called Satan their “father” (John 8:44). The apostle Paul called Satan “the prince of the power of the air [where Satan “broadcasts” his evil thoughts] the spirit which now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath [judged with God’s indignation], just as the others (Ephesians 2:23).
While God will judge Satan and his demons for their own sin – that of seducing mankind into sinning, and their rebellion against God– the Bible clearly shows that God will not dump on Satan the direct blame for the sins of Satan’s “children.” ‘See: Are We All God’s Children?]
This is established by two Old Testament passages. Deuteronomy 24:16 says, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin.” Ezekiel 18:20 resonates: “The soul that sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” Could anything be fairer than that? [See: Two Goats Together.]
We don’t “pass this way but once”
One of my spiritual mentors said to me that it was a “short-sighted” person who made popular the saying “I shall pass this way but once.” Or, “I shall not pass this way again.” Most people think that the life we live in this present world is all there is. That what we do, or fail to do, in this life will be judged finally or once and for all. Many believe that righteous people immediately go to heaven at death, while wicked people go to some fiery hell at death. [See: What Happens to Man After Death?]
The apostle Peter, however, assures us, “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God [the Church of God], and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God” (1Peter 4:11)? Only those who are now called to be members of the Church of God – God’s “elect” now – are being judged for salvation or damnation. The rest of mankind – the vast majority – will have their time of judgment later, at a time God chooses. [See: The Divine Prerogatives, Predestination, This Is Not the Only Day of Salvation, Where Is God’s Church Today? and The Value of the “Firstborn.”]
God is in control!
The Bible clearly says that God is interested in saving all of mankind, and many people believe this. The apostle Paul wrote that God our Savior “…. desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
Likewise, the apostle Peter wrote that the Lord “…is longsuffering toward us not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). However, a cursory look at our communities and nations around the world will show that most people have believed Satan’s lies and have refused God’s truth. Most have continued in their sin and have refused to repent of it.
As Jesus prophesied about our times today, lawlessness has abounded, and the love of many has grown cold (Matthew 24:12). Paul also said that in our day “…perilous times will come” (1 Timothy 3:1-9). He cited a near-catalogue of evil that men would do – and indeed are doing – today. [See: “The Next Chapter of History.”]
Although it seems like Satan has the upper hand in claiming rule over most of humankind, God is in full control. Satan can only do as God permits him to for a time. Revelation 12:9, 12 shows that Satan only has a short time left to do his dirty work of deceiving all of mankind. In His own time God will send His Son Jesus Christ to bind Satan and his demons in some dark prison, thereby making them unable to deceive mankind as before (Revelation 20:1-3).
Repentance a personal choice
To sin or not to sin is a personal choice every person has to make every moment of his or her life. So is repentance a choice each person has to make, as God makes possible. How? Repentance is something that God grants (Acts 11:18). He does this by graciously opening a person’s eyes to see God’s goodness and thus he is led to repentance (Romans 2:4). Paul tells us that “…now God commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
Jesus had warned twice, “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke13:3, 5). A command requires a person’s voluntary act to turn from one’s sinful ways and do what God commands in His word, the Bible. True and genuine repentance is as act of the human will [or “free moral agency”].
Every single human being has a human “spirit” given by God for all to have full control of (1 Corinthians 2:11; 14:32). The human spirit works with the mind, which is an output of the human brain. The human brain is not on “auto pilot.” The brain needs a human “pilot” – the person himself! – to control which way one’s thoughts and actions should go, whether good or bad, legal or illegal (criminal, unlawful). “The buck stops” with the person – not Satan or some entity called “my brain!”
Some have twisted the writings of the apostles Paul and Peter cited earlier (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9) to mean that God would need to remove human will in order that His supreme will would be fulfilled – that He will have mercy on all (Romans 9:18; 11:32). [Watch for: What Is This Thing Called “Will?”]
However, we find (in James 2:13) a condition God has set for showing His mercy to people: “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.” This echoes Jesus’ words, “For if you do not forgive men their trespasses [thereby showing mercy to them], neither will your Father [in heaven] forgive your trespasses [or thus show mercy to you]” (Matthew 6:15). Whether one forgives or shows mercy to others, or not, is an exercise of a person’s will or volition – his or her choice. And if one fails to show mercy and is not shown mercy by God, one’s sin remains unpardoned, and one will perish [See: Why Is the “Unpardonable Sin” Unpardonable?].
Willing obedience desired by God
By presenting every human being with a choice to obey Him or not, God has given each and every one of us freedom of will to choose which way we should go. However damaging Satan’s influence in our lives may be, God provides a way out.
Paul compares our life of sin to being held captive in Satan’s snare, making us unable to do anything but the Devil’s will (2 Timothy 2:6). Paul elsewhere describes this kind of bondage as that to “the law of sin and death” in our human person and being (Romans 7:21-22; 8:1), making it impossible to obey God. We can only be freed from that law through The Higher Law of the Spirit [also see: God’s Spirit and Obedience, The Flaming Sword East of Eden, The Deceitfulness of Sin, and Is There Ever Any Good in Man?]
It therefore behooves each person to make sure he has good or full control of his own spirit. One of the facets of the “Fruit of the Spirit” [of God] is self-control or self-discipline (Galatians 5: 22). The use of alcohol and regulated drugs can cause a person to lose some or much control over his thoughts and behavior. That is why being “drunk” [intoxicated with alcohol] is a sin in God’s eyes (1 Corinthians 6:10; Romans 13:13; Galatians 5:21). In most countries drunk driving [or “driving under the influence”] is a crime. So is the use of mind-altering drugs a crime. Hypnosis also causes a person to lose control of his will and consciousness. Degenerative diseases [such as Alzheimer’s or as a result of head trauma] can also affect brain function and behavior. In such cases, God may hopefully judge the person, in mercy, on the basis of his life before the degenerative affliction. Or else God could heal the person by some miracle. After all, nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37)!
Let’s get it straight!
God holds every person accountable for every thought, word and deed that proceeds from the person himself. Jesus said, “You have heard it said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27). “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the Day of Judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 13:36-37. “… the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His [Christ’s] voice and come forth [ be resurrected] – those who have done good, to the resurrection of [everlasting] life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29). “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad”(1 Corinthians 5:8).
God will not judge an entity called “my brain” in the Day of Judgment. Instead God will judge a person—not his “brain” — according to his thought, word and deed. God has given each person the responsibility to rule his own spirit. “Whoever has no rule over his spirit is like a city broken down, without walls” (Proverbs 25:28). [See: “No Walls, No Ceiling?” and The Great Wall.]
The bottom line is this: let’s take good care of our brain so that we can use it to do what is good instead of evil. It is our person or ourselves that God will judge, not our brain as such! Let’s not use the cop-out, “My brain made me do it.” Let’s simply say, “I did it!” Then, repent of it – and be forgiven. There’s no other way to salvation.
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.