Biological basis for behaviour….

I could blog about this for ages. This will have to be an introduction. What got me into this was the The Happy Husband: “I can’t take too much credit” citing his discovery that a bad thyroid can influence our moods and behaviour.

C.S.Lewis says

Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends.

Can we be quite so certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with a bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of Himmler ? That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it.

Most of a man’s psychological make-up is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst out of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us: all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be some suprises.’

It is vital I believe that we do not confuse natural temprament with Christian character. We each have different natural outlooks. Our biological nature, interacting with our upbringing, and our responses to the sets of experiences we have been through, our current situation, and the company in which we mix all produce an environment in which we then choose behaviour.

We often like to talk about free choice. I do not believe that exists. Not in the way most of us think about it. Our choices are in fact constrained by all that I have mentioned above and more. God himself quite clearly sometimes constrains sin, and sometimes could almost be accused of encouraging it by allowing it free reign. (God is NEVER of course the author of sin) But there is such a thing as human responsibility. God will judge us, allowing for all the circumstances of our life- including our biology- and ask as C.S.Lewis points out ‘What have you done with what I gave you?’

We all have the same goals, but our natures mean that we have different strengths and weaknesses. Whilst there is an ideal character set we all aim for – the fruit of the holy spirit- each of us will find bits of that easier to produce. Some of us for example find wrestling with shyness a problem, whilst others need to stop being the centre of attention. It is a clear command of God for us to love one another and thus the shy person will have to learn to communicate (how can we love without doing this) whilst others of us may need to learn to shut up!

In church life also, there are different gifts which at least in part reflect our natural personalities. Although we may find ourselves leaning more to one part of church life than another, however, I believe we must all have the goal to be balanced in all aspects of church life. I liken this to learning to love God, his word, christians, non-Christians and the church. We need to learn to do all of these well, but will all find some of them easier to do than others.

So, if you are depressed you need to recognise that you both cannot blame yourself entirely for it- chances are there are some chemical imbalances in your brain. But you also must recognise that you cannot absolve yourself entirely of your responsibility for your behaviour triggered by your mood. There are things that we can do to improve our mood- especially in the longer term. So, take medication if it is necessary, but also work on your negative thought patterns, your behaviour, your relationships with others (and God is of course the most significant other) and in being transformed by the renewing of your mind.

We are bio-psycho-socio-spiritual beings who make choices based on all these aspects. Disorder in any aspect of our persons effects all the others. Positive developments in any aspect of our persons effects all the others also.

About Adrian Warnock

Adrian Warnock has been a blogger since April 2003, and part of the leadership team of Jubilee Church, London for more than ten years, serving alongside Tope Koleoso. His book, Raised With Christ - How The Resurrection Changes Everything was published by Crossway, January 2010. Read more about Adrian Warnock or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

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