In a sermon this morning, the pastor at church raised the question about why some Christians do not seem to act in accordance with what they profess. That led into the issue of walking according to the Holy Spirit: "This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh." (Galatians 5:16). He brought up the issue of internal struggle between selfish fleshly desires and godly desires: "For that which I do I allow (approve, accept) not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I." (Romans 7:15). He illustrated that with a well-known anecdote about a Native American who said to a missionary that he had two wolves fighting within himself, one good and one evil. When asked which was stronger, the man responded, "The one that I feed."
From time to time, almost every one of us asks ourselves, "Why did I do that?" We may ask it differently, at times, depending upon what puzzles us: what we did, what we said to another person, perhaps even what we thought without yet having said or done anything. Since words and actions begin as thoughts, the question eventually boils down to, "Why did I think that?"
Some of us are more prone to introspection than others. Some ask ourselves this question frequently, regarding particular things that we thought, said or did, or even abstractly - "why do I..." rather than "why did I..."? Some of us overdo it. Introspection can become a bad habit, especially if it becomes disingenuous or dishonest, just a way of always preparing excuses if called to account for our actions. Then again, every once in a while, we encounter those persons who don't seem to ask themselves such questions very often, or at all.
Having religious beliefs about the existence of God and/or Satan and/or angels can complicate introspection, as it appears to add so many possibilities to the question of where our thoughts come from and what makes some grow in our minds while others wilt or evaporate completely. (Here, I limit myself to the mindset of monotheistic religion - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, listed in their order of origin. That is not only because I believe as a Christian that the Jewish and Christian Scriptures are uniquely true, but also because I admit to complete lack of knowledge about how a polytheist like a Hindu has been taught to approach or avoid the question. I am sure their ideas on the subject have many unique aspects.)
Here, also, Scripture gives guidance that helps to avoid unlimited expansion of where we believe our thoughts come from. "But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed." (James 1:14). Those temptations to which we tend to yield reflect the desires we have within ourselves.
Even those of us who do not have beliefs in religion or unseen sentient beings other than humans have to recognize that the people around us, both those we know personally such as our family and friends and those we do not, such as those whose books we read or whose radio programs we listen to or whose television shows we watch, also have input into what we think, how our thoughts grow and give birth to new thoughts and eventually to our words and actions. The old question of "nature or nurture" will never quite go away.
Sometimes instead of looking outward or upward, however, we have to look inward, at how strength or weakness, lack of sleep, hormone balances, or what we eat or drink can affect our thoughts. Alcohol and mind-altering drugs have effects, of course, but some people can tend towards depression or anger because of "harmless" foods or a greater or lesser sensitivity to synthetic additives. Confusion or clouded thinking because of an allergy or sensitivity can lead to anger and frustration and to poor judgment or impulsive actions. "Ethnic tendencies" such as stubbornness pose other questions: are they genetic or merely acquired by cultural training? Do my own tendencies to argue about things or view things as a fight or a struggle come from my Scandinavian ancestry? (If Vikings can't be called "combative," who can?) Or is that "just me?"
I am thankful that being a Christian provides me with hope that my sins have been dealt with by Christ's death on the Cross, which His Father accepted as settling all requirement of payment. That helps quiet thoughts about what will come of my past words and actions - and even those unspoken thoughts that God knows I have had. I am thankful that Scripture provides detailed principles about what God expects me to do in the present and future, and that I can "walk with the Holy Spirit" for guidance in how to apply these principles on a daily or even momentary basis. (Sometimes the Spirit's guidance may just be a feeling that I have to do something, or that something else is a "bad idea," and I may understand better later and be glad I followed it - or wish that I had.) As a Christian this gives me encouragement and hope, which is why I became one. I made a decision to place faith in Jesus Christ as my Saviour and admit I needed saving and could not do it myself. That is not easy, and anyone who says it is either hasn't been very thorough about it or hasn't done it at all. It can be downright painful.
This whole question of what feeds our thoughts, and which thoughts we encourage or disparage, is always with us. It isn't a question that we can settle. The only thing we can settle is how we intend to approach it, what pattern we intend to follow as often as possible. In that regard, I hope the tendency God seems to have given me to be "set in my ways" - which I also have called a Scandinavian trait - will be helpful. It's not going to go away.
(See "About Me")