Perhaps the most fascinating and relevant scientific exploration today is taking place in what many now call “the last frontier”—the human brain.
The brain, says Dr. Kenneth Campbell of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, “is the source of so much of what is both good and bad about humanity. It has given us brilliant ideas, great literature, art and music. However, it is also responsible for aggression and violence, war, racism, and addiction.
“Yet there is something about the complexity of the human brain that we cannot model. We can study the heart or the kidneys and determine what goes wrong, because we grasp the mechanics of it. But the brain is a machine we do not understand. We still don’t know how the human mind works.”
Standing on the verge of discovery is exciting, especially when we anticipate that those breakthroughs in knowledge will be about ourselves and how we function! But no matter how much science uncovers about the physical machinations of the brain, unless we tap the Word of God, the most vital understanding will go missing.
Yes, the Designer of life long ago revealed crucial insight into the mind of man—and His mind—that lays the foundation for understanding how and why we think and behave the way we do. It’s not a scientific explanation—He leaves the physical for us to discover—but it’s indispensable for fully comprehending who and what we are.
And furthermore, a spectacular event that occurred nearly 2,000 years ago offers an amazing connection to understanding the human mind! That event is commemorated in one of God’s annual holy days, the Feast of Pentecost.
What can possibly be represented in the meaning of that day that relates to discovering the marvelous potential that lies within every human’s mind? Connecting those dots opens understanding that can change your life forever!
First, consider the apostle Paul’s remarkable statement in 1 Corinthians 2:11: “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?”
He was addressing an audience that included Greeks who came from a culture entrenched in a belief system shaped by their great philosophers. The Greeks believed that in each human is an immortal soul trapped within a physical body until death, when supposedly it is released to go to heaven or hell. Centuries later that pervasive but nonbiblical idea crept into and firmly rooted itself in a “Christianity” that was rapidly veering away from the early Church’s beliefs.
The Bible teaches that man is mortal, and the biblical word translated soul simply refers to natural human or animal life. However, Paul did acknowledge that something else is there in us, something distinguishing us from anything else in the physical creation. Our brains are similar in construction to those in animals, so what explains the enormous gap between us? What gives us the capacity to think abstractly or rationally, create artistic and technological innovations, develop words and languages, think sequentially in words and images, develop character qualities such as humility and patience, and form moral distinctions of right and wrong?
God created a spirit element in us that makes human beings different from the animals, and grants them certain spiritual abilities, such as choosing between sin and righteousness.
Paul called it the “spirit in man.” His understanding wasn’t new, for in Job 32:8, written many centuries earlier, we read, “But there is a spirit in man.” In addition to being formed in His image, God created a spirit element in us that makes human beings different from the animals, and grants them certain spiritual abilities, such as choosing between sin and righteousness. Unseen and undefinable, it is what makes us humans … well, human!
Comprehending the “spirit in man” is only one piece of this astounding puzzle, however. Paul also stated, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). And a few verses later he boldly asserted that “the natural man” does not receive and cannot know the things of God, “because they are spiritually discerned” (verse 14, emphasis added throughout)!
But wait! Surely we, with this “spirit in man,” understand things of God. Actually—no! Paul declared in verse 11, “Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.”
Note this! Just as the spirit in man exists, so exists the Spirit of God. And just as the spirit in man is not another “person,” the Spirit of God is not a third person in the Godhead! It is, however, the mind and power of God that is uniquely His (see “What Is the Holy Spirit?” in the May/June 2014 Discern).
So how can we understand “the things which God has prepared for those who love Him”? Paul answers: “But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God” (verse 10). He adds in verse 12, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (King James Version).
Astonishing words those, because they reveal perhaps the greatest element of God’s creative power. That is, mere human beings—we who naturally have a spirit in us—can actually receive the supernatural mind and power of God—His Spirit!
When Jesus appeared to the disciples after His resurrection, He did something highly unusual—“He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22). Since we know the Holy Spirit was not actually given to them at that time, what did He mean? Earlier He had promised to send them a “helper,” a “comforter,” the Holy Spirit (John 14:16). So here He is not only repeating that promise but symbolically demonstrating the nature of the Spirit that He would send. The Greek word here for Spirit is pneuma, indicating that it would be like a breath, like a wind—something they couldn’t see, but that would powerfully influence them.
A few weeks later Jesus told them, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
His promise was soon fulfilled in one of the most amazing scenes ever in human history, described in Acts 2:1-4:
“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues [languages], as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
When this incredible display brought thousands of people rushing to see it, another miracle took place. Everyone heard the words of the apostles spoken in their own language (verse 6)!
Then Peter stepped forward and under God’s inspiration gave the first “witnesses-to-Me” sermon. He explained how ancient messianic prophecies had been fulfilled in the person of Jesus; how He had been resurrected and was now sitting at the right hand of God; and how, “having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear” (verse 33).
Then Peter made it intensely personal, laying the responsibility for Jesus’ death squarely on the shoulders of every single person: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
These words were crushing! “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’” (verse 37).
Here God was giving them the spiritual discernment we read of in 1 Corinthians. Only when God works in us is it possible for us to understand the gravity of Christ dying for our sins, to humbly confess our guilt and to seek His mercy with deep remorse.
But with such a heart and willingness to do whatever He says, God offers us this amazing assurance: “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (verses 38-39).
Yes, the Spirit of God can be given to a human being! Through a miraculous process that only God comprehends, He can unite His Spirit with the human spirit, creating something brand-new, something supernatural, in that man or woman!
David once wrote in awesome wonder, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made!” Here we stand today, 3,000 years later, still marveling at the complexity of our human brains and mystified by how our minds function. As intriguing as it may be to know more about how it all works, though, that’s not our most important need for understanding.
David didn’t know about neuroplasticity, synapses, the architecture of the brain or the geography of thought, but he knew the most important element of his life. God had given him His Spirit. And at the lowest time in his life, when he saw how the weakness of his human spirit was working to destroy him through sin, he cried out to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit” (Psalm 51:10-12).
To this day the people of God identify with David’s prayer, deeply cognizant of our need to walk according to the Spirit of God. And every year the Day of Pentecost vividly reminds us of the miraculous events that shook the world on that day and of the miracle that has continued to work in our lives ever since. It’s the miracle of receiving the Spirit of God that has been united with the human spirit within us, opening up to us the pathway to salvation!