One of my sons was very forgetful as a young child; he was absentminded. He would forget his trombone on days he needed it for band. He would forget his lunch. He forgot his soccer cleats for games.
So we worked on it. We would have him place his trombone right in front of the front door along with his lunch. Problem solved, right? One would think so. Only he would step over his lunch and trombone on the way to the car and still forget them. How? I don’t know. I’m not wired that way.
When he was really young, he was reflecting on some consequences he had faced for being forgetful, maybe he didn’t have lunch that day, I don’t remember. But he was in bed and I was saying good night and he was practically crying. He said, “Dad, I don’t want to be this way.” Well, I didn’t want him to be that way either. We prayed.
And that didn’t change him either. He forgot more important things in high school. He would finish his assignments and bring them to class on the day they were due. However, our school had a rule that the assignment must be turned in at the start of class. He would forget and turn it in at the end of class. Points would be deducted for a late assignment. Other kids were turning in assignments, and it wouldn’t trigger his memory that he needed to turn in his.
One day they had an exam and he didn’t know there was an exam. And my wife said, “Didn’t the teacher go over a study sheet in the class before?” and my son said, “Well, now that’s making sense to me.”
So my wife would sit down with him every night and go through his calendar. It helped a lot. But he needed that because he was forgetful, distracted.
Is forgetfulness a moral issue? I wanted it to be at that time. I wanted to find some way that his forgetfulness was sin. But it’s not.
What Is Man? The idea for this is based on a lecture by Edward Welch, Westminster D.Min, 8/14/2007
Every philosophy of life has an anthropology. It has a theology of what people are like. An anthropology includes why you do what you do –your motivation. It includes a belief in strengths and weaknesses or what can a person do and what can’t they do. What are they responsible for and why aren’t they responsible for other things.
Of course the only true anthropology is found in God’s Word. We’re described as sinners, worshippers, and seekers—but not after God.
Most of evangelicalism—those that believe the Gospel—believe that man is made up of two parts: body and soul. The body is material, but the spirit and soul are immaterial. You cannot see them with your eyes. You cannot see them under a microscope. You can’t cut them out of the body. They are immaterial. They exist together but can be split apart—that’s what happens at death.
We could say that you are made up of both inner and outer elements. The body is your outer person and the spirit, soul, heart, etc. are the inner person.
So you have two types of problems: body issues and soul issues. Maybe this seems too simplistic to you. After all, how can you tell where body issues end and soul issues begin? That is the dilemma sometimes. They are often interrelated.
You’re one person with two interrelated parts. Your body is an instrument for either glorifying God or sinning. It carries out the desires of your heart.
How do the body and the soul, the material and the immaterial interact? Have you ever thought about that? How do they influence each other? Maybe I should ask it this way, what happens to your sanctification when you get tired? Or hungry? Or sick? Do those body issues influence your heart?
You are body and soul… and each influences the other. Any particular problem can have its source in both your body and your heart. For example, your worry (spiritual issue) can cause real physical problems, and your lack of sleep (body issue) can influence how you respond to your life (spiritual issue), can’t it? So how do we make sense of that? Is the body able to make you sin?
2 Corinthians 5:10 (ESV) For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
The body mediates our moral (good or bad) deeds; it doesn’t initiate them.
Ezekiel 18:20 (ESV) The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
My environment may have been bad, but I’m still responsible for my sin.
1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV) No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
For the believer, we are never tempted beyond our ability. Our body cannot make us sin; God says he won’t allow it.
All things spiritual are the inner person. Violations of God’s commands are always a heart issue.
2 Corinthians 4:16 (ESV) So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
The Apostle Paul said that we have an outward man and an inward man. While our body is wasting away our spirit can be thriving.
How this Helps
So what? That might be what you’re thinking.
The outward person—the material part of you is not characterized by sin or obedience, but by strengths or weaknesses. What are you good at? What talents do you have? Those come from the outer man. The body is the mediator of moral action, not the initiator of it.
The body can never make us sin. It’s an outside influence on our heart like the world, friends, and the devil. We might add our past or experiences. They all influence, but cannot make us sin. This means that each of us will face greater or lesser temptations because of the peculiarities of our bodies and our history.
What are you good at? What talents do you have? Those come from the outer man.
- Some can hear better
- Some are stronger
- Some are more athletic
- Some can see better; don’t need corrective lenses.
One way we can identify body strengths and weaknesses is by asking ourselves whether what we’re considering is a moral issue or not. So are the following moral issues?
- Figuring out directions?
- Not seeing cultural cues? (Asperger’s Syndrome, nerdishness, close talkers). Some people are more skilled relationally. Others don’t get the nuances of interpersonal relationships.
- Memory in general? “I told you to get milk on the way home. Why didn’t you?”
- Being a detail person?
- Punctuality? Ability to judge time and distance? Those of us that are punctual really struggle with the idea that this might not be a moral issue.
- Ability to smell your own body odor? I’ve met some people lacking that ability. 😉
- Or how about these?: “the physical experience of panic, hallucinations, disrupted sleep, physical agitation, a mind that races from one thing to another, or an inability to make useful and practical plans.” Ed Welch, “Spiritual Growth in the Face of Psychiatric Disorders,” Journal of Biblical Counseling 29:3 (2015), 46. This is an excellent article that explains how understanding body weaknesses … Continue reading
Now is it possible for a non-moral weakness to become a moral issue? And if so, how? I think these weaknesses can be sin if I’m unwilling to work on them. Why? Because they are all ways that I can love my neighbor. Getting better at them means I love my neighbor better.
When you recognize that these issues are body weaknesses or strengths, not sin, you can be patient with them. This is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). So if your friend is forgetful, you can be patient. Their forgetfulness is not sin, and you are wrong if you try to make it a sin so you can justify your irritation.
My wife and I have different body strengths and weaknesses. Mostly we complement each other. It was easy early in our marriage for me to think that my wife needed to become more Kraig-like, not Christlike. But she doesn’t need to become more like me in areas that are not moral. Both of us need to become like Christ.
We need to be patient with our families. Understanding that some of our irritations with each other are body weaknesses can help us.
|↑1||The idea for this is based on a lecture by Edward Welch, Westminster D.Min, 8/14/2007|
|↑2||Ed Welch, “Spiritual Growth in the Face of Psychiatric Disorders,” Journal of Biblical Counseling 29:3 (2015), 46. This is an excellent article that explains how understanding body weaknesses changes how we view people with certain psychiatric diagnoses like, ADD, Depression, and panic attacks, and it gives practical help for counseling them.|