Speaking God’s MessagePosted: May 6, 2011
The Holy Spirit and the Human Mind
Truth is just truth; you can’t have opinions about truth.
— Peter Schickele
Pentecostals have differing opinions on psychiatry and psychology. Many reject the disciplines altogether. Psychotherapy, the efforts to relieve guilt and adjust other mental or emotional disturbances through applied methodology, is indeed suspect. Even among its practitioners it is incurring criticism for its inability to provide real, permanent, complete cures.
But well-taken criticism of psychiatry and psychology from Christians is due more to the assumptions which frequently underlie their practice than to the disciplines themselves. At the root of much psychiatry and psychology is the view of man as a mere animal with no real spiritual dimension (except that which can be taken as a psychological phenomenon). Added to this is the assumption that the mind is merely a mechanism which can be adjusted or manipulated. If there is guilt for past or present sins, excise it. If there are feelings of depression, loneliness, an inner longing for a deeper meaning to life, adjust them. If there is psychological disturbance, fix it.
But the essential practice of studying the human mind — of psychiatry, the medically-related study; of psychology, the study of human behavior — is perfectly valid. If “all truth is God’s truth,” then the truths made available through study of the mind can and should be appropriated and applied to the human condition and to Christian experience.
The Subconscious Mind, Seat of the Real Self
The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.
— Proverbs 20.5, NIV.
Though one might argue with details, Pentecostals must acknowledge the fact of the subconscious mind. When we are asleep we are unconscious, yet we dream.1 This demonstrates some realm of consciousness, albeit the realm of fancy, which is active while the conscious mind rests. Psychiatrists have dubbed this realm of consciousness the subconscious (or UNconscious). The subconscious appears to work with considerable independence from the conscious mind, or at least it seems largely beyond conscious control. It also seems to be most active when the conscious mind is inactive or deeply occupied.
Most of us are familiar with various manifestations of the subconscious mind, if only we recognize them. Many people have had the following experience: You are driving your car along a familiar route or a stretch of open road. You have something on your mind or allow your attention to wander freely. You are not thinking about your driving, yet you remain perfectly in control and arrive safely at your destination. Then you realize you do not remember the trip. Your car was driven and your actions were guided by some sort of secondary consciousness.
Other examples are rife: You are occupied with some business, perhaps with your head down and your back to the door. Suddenly, out of your deep concentration you become aware that someone has entered the room. Though not consciously seen or heard, the intruder is nevertheless perceived. Or you suddenly tune into a conversation or a news report to which you had not been listening, when a key word or name grabs your attention.
A final example is controversial. Many Christians are suspicious, perhaps justifiably, of hypnotism. They fear it to be a relinquishment of control, or even an occult practice. But hypnotism purports itself to be a way to reach the subconscious mind. The conscious mind is “put to sleep” in a trance so the subconscious can be contacted — not unlike conversing with someone who talks in his sleep. Hypnotism is regularly used by law enforcement agencies to help witnesses recall details. Reportedly, witnesses under hypnosis are able to recall minor details of clothing, appearance, the make and color of an automobile, etc., which escaped the attention of the conscious mind.
The human mind might be compared to a deep body of water. The surface and shallows are easily observable: the waves whipped by the wind, the well-lighted levels immediately below the surface, the rocks and other objects which protrude near the surface. This is the conscious mind. But the subconscious mind is deeper, darker, and relatively unexplored. Its contents are not immediately observable from the surface and are harder to get to.
Yet the subconscious depths actually constitute the major portion of the mind and the reality within its makeup. The depths are what the body of water actually is. They are more representative of its true character. Surface features are just the portion apparent to the casual observer. The human mind is a vast sea which we have only begun to explore. Of all the complex structures and processes of the human body, the mind is the most complex and mysterious. Modern science can tell us some of the things the mind does, some of the ways the mind works — or at least make an educated guess. But it still cannot tell us why.
The brain consists of an intricate arrangement of cells called neurons. Electrical impulses fire from neuron to neuron across synapses, much like a spark leaps across the gap of a spark plug. When a person sleeps or his attention is unengaged, the intensity and frequency of firing decreases but never altogether ceases.
Neurons die if they become inactive. The chaotic firing serves to keep the millions of nerve cells idling and alive so that they can be shifted instantaneously into gear in response to a stimulus.2
Even when we sleep, the brain’s neurons must keep idling like an automobile engine, so they will not die. This might help explain why we dream. Freud and his followers have postulated that dreams represent the working out or attempting to work out of unresolved conflict in our lives. This may to an extent be true. Many instances have been recorded of scientists, mathematicians, and inventors resolving difficult problems in their sleep, awaking with the answer. Creative writers are often warned to keep a pad and pen at their bedsides, lest an idea that comes to them in the night slip away before morning.
But such examples only illustrate that the mind is never really asleep. It is always working in some realm, some dimension; and when the conscious mind is asleep (or otherwise fully engaged), that realm is the subconscious.
The Inner and Outer Self and Mental Wellness
To thine own self be true . . . thou canst not then be false to any man.
— Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Experts today believe the subconscious mind represents the true inner self. The outer self, the conscious mind, is subject to illusions and delusions, and to outside influences such as education, indoctrination, persuasion, intimidation, peer pressure, and propaganda. The outer man might accept intellectually the principles of human evolution or atheism. Most Christians, however, would agree that inside every person lies a deep longing for God. Conversely, one might outwardly give assent to salvation and forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, but inwardly harbor feelings of guilt, despair, and the belief that he or she cannot truly be saved.
Unless there is a mental/emotional consensus in which the internal, real self is externalized, or in which the outside influences (preferably good ones such as Biblical teaching) are absorbed and made a part of the real self, there remains an uneasy tension within the individual. That person is like “a house divided against itself.” Sometimes the separation between the inner and outer self becomes severe and debilitating. A deep disappointment or trauma may represent a situation internally unacceptable to the individual, which might prompt him or her to withdraw the real self from reality, in full or in part.
A state of separation between the inner and outer self — between the conscious and subconscious — is often marked by neurosis. Neuroses are outward symptoms of psychological or emotional disturbance. They might include anxiety, compulsive or obsessive behavior, phobia, or depression. Other denials and separations from reality include schizophrenia, passive aggression, compartmentalization, and rationalization. Studies show that the more communication that exists between the inner and outer self, the more well-adjusted the person is. In simple terms, the person is true to himself. He (or she) has nothing to hide from others, because he feels free to let his true self be known. We call this transparency. But most of all, he has nothing to hide from himself. He is at one with himself, with no illusions, no dissemblance, no dysfunction, no tension within his own personality.
Though psychological studies specifically of Spirit-filled Christians are too few to be conclusive, they suggest that those who function in the spiritual realm tend to be very well adjusted within themselves.
The Seat of the Holy Spirit
In response to, “Are you filled with the Spirit?” some people will answer yes because they spoke in tongues at church camp or during a close encounter with the Lord. But does that mean they are filled with the Spirit today? Not necessarily.
— John A. Wilson3
Many of the ancients believed the seat of human emotions was in the bowels, which are noticeably affected by emotional extremes. Similarly, we idiomatically place the emotions in the heart: it beats harder when we are moved. But we know scientifically that the emotions, along with the intellect and the memory, reside within the brain.
When the Holy Spirit enters into us at salvation, where does He reside? Experts declare we human beings use less than 10 percent of our brain capacity. While the Holy Spirit needs no flesh in which to reside, He does desire to indwell us and leave His imprint upon our very beings. Perhaps this extra capacity is provided for the Spirit to imprint and actuate our minds, that we might know the mind of the Spirit and be empowered to do God’s will.
Having said that, it seems reasonable to surmise further that the Spirit resides not in the conscious mind, which is subject to outside influences and false realities, but in the subconscious mind, the seat of the real inner self.
In a recent article, Raymond T. Brock notes that the corpus collosum functions to provide communication between the hemispheres of the brain; or it can rather inhibit communication in order to make information more selective. He suggests that in verbal manifestations of the Spirit, the information can be made to bypass the cerebral cortex, which provides for direct control, and use only selected portions of the brain to operate the speech organs.4
This sounds reasonable. The Holy Spirit does not at any time take control of a person. Paul makes it clear that the prophetic spirit of a prophet remains under his control (1 Corinthians 14:27-33) and that it is possible to “quench the Spirit” (I Thessalonians 5:19). It is in fact necessary for the gifted person to lend himself to the Spirit, yielding his control, his free will which the Spirit will not violate, to the use of the Spirit.
In order that a person speak God’s message and not his own, then, it is necessary for the message to flow from within his true inner self, the subconscious, bypassing his direct control. The message must then emerge into the conscious realm, where it is pronounced by his organs of speech. The speaker remains perfectly aware of his actions and hears the message. The message is in the speaker’s natural voice and is shaped by his speech patterns and orientation.5 It is, in fact, filtered through his conscious mind, though he has for the time being voluntarily relinquished control.6
Both delving into one’s innermost being and yielding control to the Spirit can be difficult to the inexperienced. Most people seem to have only a passing acquaintance with their own subconsciousness. We tend to lean too much on the conscious and concrete. The novice does not know what to expect. A believer might feel moved to speak during worship, to the point that speech seems apt to gush out in a flood, yet he might hold back out of fear — fear of the unknown, fear of embarrassment, fear of being “in the flesh.” This is natural. It only illustrates the need for practice and experience. The most important practice, or at least that which is available to the Spirit-baptized believer, is speaking in tongues in private prayer. Without fear of embarrassment or being out of order, one can experience the flow of the Spirit’s words from within. One can learn to discern the difference between the Spirit and self. Most importantly, one can learn to yield control readily to the Spirit, opening the channel to the innermost self, and thus to the indwelling Spirit.
The Baptism is the submerging of the whole being, including the mind, and tongues proves the submerging of the mind. Speaking a language unknown to the mind shows that the mind and whole being are at that moment subjected to God. What physical phenomenon would better prove the submerging of the mind than tongues?7
If the words spoken are truly flowing directly from the indwelling Spirit, they should change. The speaker should not be simply repeating the same words over and over. As the Spirit-baptized believer learns to let tongues flow more freely from within, he or she should increase in vocabulary and fluency and find the language itself changes over time. The Spirit has an infinite vocabulary and knows all languages in heaven and earth. Why should we limit the Spirit? The believer who speaks only the same few words, though genuinely moved by the Spirit, may be sadly limiting his flow in the Spirit. The Spirit, who speaks a here-and-now message, deserves a here-and-now messenger.
According to an intensive survey of Assemblies of God adherents by Margaret Poloma, only 67 percent reported having spoken in tongues at any time. Only 40 percent could claim they spoke in tongues regularly.8 Clearly, there is a lack of sound teaching or a lack of emphasis on speaking in tongues in our churches today. If the Holy Spirit does indeed reside in the subconscious, the true inner self, then the one who exercises the verbal gifts, and all other spiritual gifts for that matter, should also be in close contact with that inner self. He or she should become more well-adjusted, psychologically speaking, in proportion to the free flow of the Spirit (one might say edified). The more accustomed an individual is to the free flow of the Spirit, the more readily he can be used by the Spirit in whatever gifts are bestowed.
Knowing more about the Spirit can help the unbaptized or ungifted person know what to expect, what to look for, and how to seek for the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit. If people in our modern American culture have difficulty receiving Spirit baptism, which does not seem to be the case in many other cultures, perhaps it is because we tend to deny our true inner selves. Perhaps the act of receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit involves to a large extent the willingness of the individual to throw open all the doors of his/her heart, all the hidden closets, to the light of Jesus Christ; the willingness to face up to the ugliest gremlins of past and present and offer them up to Jesus to deal with as He will; as well as the resolve to thereafter submit to the will of the Spirit to do His will and not one’s own: to hold back nothing.
The idea that the Holy Spirit resides in the subconscious and the manifestation of the Spirit involves a free flow from the inner self bears further study from the various perspectives, including the historical, the psychological, and the theological. That the theory carries implications for the entire spectrum of spiritual manifestations is evident. Perhaps manifestations such as the phenomena of being “slain” in the Spirit and dancing in the Spirit, when genuinely prompted by the Spirit, merely demonstrate the free release of conscious control to the Spirit: the one resulting in a trance to the point of falling down with abandon; the other in an equally abandoned expression of utter joy.
- Some people claim they seldom or never dream. However, it is probable that they wake up into the conscious realm abruptly or for some other reason simply fail to remember their dreams. If one wakes gradually into consciousness one is more likely to dwell upon his unconscious “meanderings” and retain them in immediate memory.
- Gary Taubes, “The Body Chaotic,” Discover (May 1989):66.
- John A. Wilson, “Are You Filled with the Holy Spirit?” Pentecostal Evangel (November 5, 1989):4.
- Raymond T. Brock, “The Mystery of Glossolalia,” Paraclete 23 (Fall 1989):25.
- Speakers of prophecy often deliver messages in characteristic ways. For instance, readers of the King James Version typically deliver messages in King James language, while readers of modern versions do not. One speaker might declare, “Thus saith the Lord” and deliver the message in first person; another might say, “This is what the Lord says,” and use third person — all depending on the speaker’s orientation. Such individualisms, however, have no real bearing upon the message, if it is genuine.
- This voluntary relinquishment of control is to be contrasted with that of voluntary demon possession, as in spiritism. Spiritists often report having no control or recollection of their experiences while under possession and only regain control when released by the demon.
- From a reprinted article by the late J. W. Welch, “What the Baptism Really Is,” Advance (August 1989):5.
- Margaret M. Poloma, The Assemblies of God at the Crossroads: Charisma and Institutional Dilemmas (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1989), pp. 7, 12.
© 2011 Paul A. Hughes. Originally published in Paraclete 26 (Spring 1992):17-22. Also found in Google Books, and contained in the essay collection, Christ in Us: The Exalted Christ and the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit (2007) by the author, available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online book retailers.