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ss nucleus - winter 1997,  Dionysius Dialogues - The Christian Mind

Dionysius Dialogues - The Christian Mind

Dionysius and Nitpickerus continue their debate on the Christian mind...

Nitpickerus: What's all this talk about Christian minds? I thought that faith was a matter of the heart. Isn't it primarily about our passions and emotions?

Dionysius: Well, if our Christianity doesn't stir deep feelings in us, then there's something seriously wrong. God displays emotions. Jesus wept,[1] got angry,[2] was filled with joy.[3] But our faith should be far more than that. God wants us to love him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength:[4] he wants to transform our wills, feelings and thoughts.[5] If our thinking is right our emotions and motivations will follow.

Nitpickerus: But what's different about a Christian mind?

A different source of values

Dionysius: First, it has a different source of values. We believe in a God whose mind can be known because he has revealed himself intelligibly.[6] Look at the way most people come to moral judgements. They do it on the basis of gut-feeling, reason or what makes or doesn't make them feel guilty. Or they simply judge actions on the basis of consequences or consensus.

Nitpickerus: So what's wrong with that?

Dionysius: All these methods have their origin in man himself. Most importantly, all of them are fallible.[7] Emotions buzz and fade. Reason may fail or start from flawed premises. Conscience can be blunted or oversensitive. Consequences are often difficult to judge. Consensus is subject to prejudice and perversion.

Nitpickerus: But surely each person has to find the truth that's right for them.

Dionysius: Absolutely not. The Christian mind recognises that there is such a thing as absolute truth, and that God reveals it.[8] Our source of values is divine revelation, not human intuition. So our first question when discussing any issue is to ask, 'What has God revealed in his Word on this matter?' God has spoken clearly in history and that is our benchmark. In the same way we recognise that there is a real devil, the father of lies,[9] whose aim is to mislead and deceive. Next, the Christian mind has a different view of humanity.

A different view of humanity

Nitpickerus: What is humanity? Are humans just clever monkeys, the product of matter, chance and time in a godless universe, or are they something more?

Dionysius: The Christian mind recognises that we are made in the image of God;[10] creative, eternal, relating, rational and conscious. We are special.

Nitpickerus: Isn't that a bit speciesist?

Dionysius: Unashamedly so. All human beings have a special dignity which animals don't have simply by virtue of being members of the human race. God created us for relationship with himself, and sent Jesus to die for us. This gives us a special responsiblity to care for even the most vulnerable members of our species. It's not 'survival of the fittest'.

Nitpickerus: But we all die.

Dionysius: We do, but this doesn't render our care meaningless. The third point is that the Christian mind has a different view of death.

A different view of death

Nitpickerus: But what is death? Is it just the cessation of molecular function or is there some kind of afterlife?

Dionysius: Some people think that death is the end; others that it leads to reincarnation or some disembodied existence of the soul. But the Bible is quite clear about the reason for death and what follows it. Death is the consequence of our rebellion against God.[11] It's the result of sin, of living in a fallen world and inheriting a fallen nature. Furthermore, it's not the end but leads to judgement.[12]

Nitpickerus: A day of reckoning?

Dionysius: Yes. A day when all of us will stand before God and give account for the way we've lived our lives.[13] This has profound implications for us as Christian doctors. We recognise that death is inevitable and that we are ultimately powerless to stop it. So whereas we will be concerned to give our patients the best treatment possible, we also recognise that ultimately what matters most is their eternal destiny.[14] Where will they (and we) go on the day of judgement?

Nitpickerus: So death is not to be resisted at all costs?

Dionysius: No. Instead we'll recognise when it's inevitable and be honest about our own limitations. We won't speak of it as a glorious release either. It may be a gateway to Hell.[15]

Nitpickerus: So if death is inevitable, what is left to motivate us as doctors?

Dionysius: Medicine is much more than death prevention. It's about relieving symptoms, forestalling complications and above all consoling, advising and caring for patients. That brings us to a fourth thing: the Christian mind's motivation.

A different motivation

Nitpickerus: What motivates most doctors? For some it's the desire to get rich or to exercise power over disease or other human beings.

Dionysius: Or perhaps to win the approval of society, particularly of patients and colleagues.

Nitpickerus: Maybe, but isn't that all a bit cynical? I think that most non-Christian doctors genuinely want to make a difference in the lives of others. What's different from that and the motivation of Christians?

Dionysius: The issue is why people want to make a difference. Christians are motivated by love for a person, Jesus Christ. We love because he first loved us.[16] We want to serve others because the God who made the universe first humbled himself to serve us.[17] We want to follow his example. Just as Jesus laid down his life for the weak, we want to do the same.[18]

Nitpickerus: But this is all a bit idealistic Dionysius. When we really start to care for others we realise how much it is going to cost us emotionally, physically and spiritually. We come face to face with our own limitations.[19]

A different source of power

Dionysius: Exactly. And so we recognise our need for a different source of power. This is the final mark of the Christian mind. We are sinful human beings, unable to obey God or follow him without him enabling us to do so.[20] We need the power of his Holy Spirit working in us, replacing our sinful motivations, thoughts and actions with godly ones.[21] We can't do it alone. This drives us to be always in prayer, realising that we need his help for everything we do.[22]

Nitpickerus: Isn't that a bit defeatist?

Dionysius: No it's being realistic. When we genuinely seek to serve Christ and follow in his footsteps, we start to get more of a glimpse of how weak we are and how strong he is.[23] It's only if you're not trying to live a Christian life that you think you can do it alone.

Nitpickerus: So what makes a Christian doctor different?

Dionysius: The fact that this new way of thinking dominates all he or she does. He knows that God is real and that he has clearly spoken and still speaks into our world. He knows that he and his patients have the dignity of being made in the image of God. He knows that the world, though horribly marred by sin and death, will one day be put right[24] and that death is not final but leads to judgement. As a result he strives not only for the physical healing of his patients but for their salvation as well. He is motivated by the love of God which he has personally experienced and realises that without God's help he can do nothing.[25]

Nitpickerus: So what shall we discuss in the next issue of Nucleus?

Dionysius: Let's give it a rest!

  1. Jn 11:35
  2. Jn 2:14-16
  3. Lk 10:21
  4. Mk 12:30
  5. Rom 12:2
  6. Heb 1:1,2
  7. Je 17:5,6
  8. Jn 17:17
  9. Jn 8:44
  10. Gn 1:26,27
  11. Rom 6:23
  12. Heb 9:27
  13. Rev 20:12
  14. Mk 8:36
  15. Rev 20:15
  16. 1 Jn 4:10
  17. 2 Cor 8:9
  18. Phil 2:5-8
  19. Rom 3:23
  20. Ps 38:5-8
  21. Ezk 36:26,27
  22. Eph 6:18
  23. Lk 5:4-8
  24. Rom 8:19-22
  25. Jn 15:5
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