Some thoughts occurred to me while watching a video today. When the video loaded, and displayed a tranquil scene of a cabin in the wilderness, lit by lamps, with an open fire, and with the rain beating down outside, it triggered an emotion in me. That emotion is difficult to describe precisely, but it was a kind of envy at the beautiful scene and a kind of joyful appreciation of its beauty.
The video I was watching was on a continuous loop, with a few seconds of footage repeated over and over again. The feeling that I have attempted to describe lasted maybe 10 seconds. After a few minutes spent watching the video I could still appreciate the beauty of the scene, but the emotional impact was no longer as strong. How could this be when it was the exact same sequence of images that I was looking at? Why did my feelings changed in relation to the same scene?
In essence, whatever you watch on television is just pixels lighting up in different ways, and nothing more than that. These pixels do not contain within themselves emotions which they communicate to you. So why are we able to remain entertained for hours staring at the same old pixels firing in a slightly different way, as is the experience of billions of TV-obsessed human beings throughout Planet Earth?
The argument I would like to make is that our emotions depend on God, rather than our circumstances.
In my book The Philosophy of a Mad Man, I described the experience of being drunk without having consumed any alcohol. This admittedly happened during a season in my life that would later be described by doctors as psychosis, but that’s irrelevant to the point I’m making. The moment I picked up an empty whisky bottle, God brought a feeling of drunkenness over me and I started staggering along and feeling like someone who had consumed a great deal of alcohol. About a minute later, God returned me to my normal sober state in an instant. God was being playful.
If you’re familiar with the Biblical story of the fiery furnace, you’ll know that the story depicts certain people standing in a fire and being unaffected by the flames. This is the same kind of thing that I exemplified with my ‘drunk without alcohol’ experience above. The reason why it’s possible for God to place human beings in a fire and not have them burn is because the so-called ‘rules of nature’ are not absolute, and they can be changed by God in any way and at any time.
When you look at a painting and consider that it is beautiful, it’s because God creates certain feelings in you. There’s a famous saying which I saw on a greeting card once that encapsulates this: “Joy is not in things, it is in us”.
It’s no less possible for the prisoner to experience delirious joy in their circumstances than it is for the millionaire in their mansion. And it’s no less possible for the millionaire to be depressed than the prisoner. This is why I have titled this post ‘The Insanity of the Envy of the Circumstances of Others’. It is not someone’s circumstances that make them happy or sad, it is God arousing certain feelings and thoughts in their bodies and minds.
It’s important to note that God often employs our emotional responses to things with a degree of regularity. So, for instance, when the latest Coldplay single rockets to the number one position in the charts, it’s because a certain chord sequence or melody line has triggered the emotions of thousands of people in a similar way. But the truth is that this is due to a decision by God to provoke a similar emotional response in those thousands of fans, rather than anything intrinsic to the music being the trigger.
So, Coldplay singer Chris Martin may well thank God for another number one hit, for it is God who is responsible, in every way, for the success of the song.
The implications of what I have said in this post are far-reaching. This perspective actually lends some credence to the materialist idea that mental illnesses are caused by brain states rather than circumstances (if doctors didn’t believe this was the case they wouldn’t prescribe pills which directly target the brain). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not agreeing with the influential materialist “you are your brain” view of reality, which I believe is entirely misguided, but I just want to highlight that it’s understandable that doctors take this approach and I understand their thinking.
The truth of the matter is that we are not controlled by our brains. We are controlled by God. God is the omnipresent animator of the entirety of creation, and things only happen on a particular occasion because God actively causes them to happen. This is why it’s possible for me to enjoy watching a video for a short while, but then get bored and feel the urge to change the video an hour or two later. God has caused me to respond to the exact same media in a different way.
If there are any readers who are thinking there is no evidence for God being the animator of our thoughts and feelings in the way I have described, I warmly invite you to read my book God’s Grand Game, which explores the idea in much greater depth, including chapters entitled “What is Causing Our Thoughts?”, “Modes of Mind”, “God’s Control of Mental States”, and others. You can view a list of retailers that stock the book by clicking here.