What is the mind? I remember one theologian who played a word game in seeking to answer that question. He said, “What is the mind?” And he said, “No matter.” And then when someone said, “Well, what is matter?” he said, “Never mind.”
He was trying to communicate that what we call the mind, though we recognize it is inseparably related to the physical organ of the brain, cannot be absolutely equated with the brain. The brain may be the seat of the mind, it may be the organ that the body uses to think, but there is a difference between the physical organ that does the thinking and the thinking itself. So, we ask the question, “What is thought?” Is thought merely a biochemical, electrical impulse that can be measured in exclusively physical categories? Or is there something nonphysical or spiritual about thought that is basic to our existence as human beings?
We know that as people we think, we have ideas and concepts in our minds, and we have a tendency to locate the source of that thinking in our heads, not in our fingers or toes. We also know that physical injuries to the brain and chemical imbalances can alter patterns of thought. We recognize the existence of mental illness where people lose the capacity to think rationally, and yet people who are perfectly healthy mentally also at times think irrationally. So, we often wonder where the line is between mental illness and mental soundness—between sanity and insanity. It’s often been said that there’s a thin line between genius and insanity, between those who think at extraordinary depths and those who somehow cross the border into madness. That thin line between genius and insanity is one that some people skate back and forth over frequently.
Is there ever a time when we’re not thinking? At times, we may not be thinking in some deep, logical order or analysis. We may be daydreaming. But even while we’re daydreaming, we’re having thoughts. We’re having ideas that we’re aware of. But there is also the phenomenon wherein we’re asleep and sometimes our train of thought takes bizarre turns. We’ve all been awakened in the middle of the night by a nightmare, when the thinking in our sleep frightened us or alarmed us.
These issues further multiply the difficulty of sorting out exactly what it means to have a mind and to think. As Christians, we understand that the Scriptures teach plainly that being moral creatures is inherent to our humanity. Being a moral creature entails the ability to think and behave in a way that corresponds to or opposes some moral standard. The standard, of course, is the law of God, and God holds us accountable for our obedience to His law.