Christianity and the Duality of Human Nature

Reading the scriptures is always profitable, they inspire, grant wisdom and bring us closer to Christ. Something I’m always surprised about though is how well they capture the human condition. Fundamentally humans are a being caught between two natures. We have our animalistic instinctual side that drives us with the same biological urges that drives every other creature in the animal kingdom. On the other hand we have our rational mind that allows us to look beyond what is and imagine what might be, to override our base urges and instead choose to act according to will alone.

Both cause their fair share of problems. On one hand it’s easy to see how simply acting on instinct and raw emotion can get you into trouble, however it’s the problem our rational mind creates that defines most of the human experience. Humans have the ability to think in abstract terms and imagine the future in ways that no other animal can. This ability grants us many benefits, but the curse it carries with it is the understanding of our own mortality. Man knows his inevitable fate, unlike every other creature on Earth who simply live in the moment and accept what is, humans can see into the future and know what is to be.

To act too impulsively, reacting from moment to moment only on what is happening now without considering the future ramifications of your actions is to debase yourself and become more animal than man. On the other hand allowing the rational mind to dominate entirely can drive one to despair as you lose the ability to live in the moment and face unending existential angst about what could possibly happen in the future, a situation that is hardly uncommon in this day and age. How do we reconcile these warring aspects of human nature? As you might expect, Christ provides the answer.

25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

The tendency to worry about the future consumes so much of our lives. We spend so much time worrying about contingencies that may never occur and while we do so the moments of our lives we should be enjoying tick by. Jesus reminds us that worrying is counterproductive. We need to accept how things are at the moment and deal with the future when it comes. Of course that’s not to say that nobody should ever plan for the future, common sense needs to be applied, doing everything you can to improve your circumstances is commendable, butt worrying about your circumstances when there is currently nothing you can do about it is pointless.

What about the other side? That’s where self denial comes in. The body is a beast that needs to be tamed. We have so many instincts that can lead us wrong, so many emotions that we feel like we must act on. Keeping the body in control by practicing methods of abstinence is a key part of Christian life. Fasting so that hunger doesn’t rule our lives, chastity so that lust doesn’t overcome us. It’s a common opinion in the modern world that such acts of asceticism are pointless or repressive or even harmful. That to deny the self is unnecessary and that true happiness can only be found in embracing our wants and desires and expressing them. Nothing could be further from the truth. The asceticism of Christianity is liberating. It liberates the mind from the tyranny of the body and allows the true expression of a persons character. To only act according to the will and not allowing yourself to be dominated by biology is a great freedom. As Paul states:

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Together the two halves form a complete whole. A fully spiritually developed Christian is one who has mastered both aspects of their humanity and reconciled them to Christ. Living and acting according to the will of the mind, but also living from moment to moment and disallowing the mind from wandering and causing the day to day anxieties that are so familiar in modern life.

The life of a human is one torn between two natures. To know what is right but unable to completely act according to what we know is right because all too often we succumb to feelings, emotions and urges that lead us astray. Finding peace in this life all depends on how well we manage to control our darker selves while remembering to find contentment in those moments where we have time to reflect. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, but for some people the flesh is willing and the spirit is weak. Reconciling the dichotomy of our fleshly, animal selves with our mind that soars and seeks to understand the highest transcendental truths of reality is the key to finding God and our place in creation.

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