A Divided Mind

The apostle James warns that “a man of two minds” is “unstable in all his ways” (Jas 1:8). While we hopefully aren’t unstable in all our ways, we all certainly have suffered, at some point or another, a divided mind—especially when it comes to decisions. Perhaps we weren’t sure what to do financially, or whether or not we should move forward with a relationship. Perhaps we find the little choices of daily life persistently baffling and exhausting. Based on some astute sociological observations, I’ve seen that even shopping for clothes can cause profound consternation.

Whatever divides our minds, whatever draws us in different directions, introduces instability into our lives and minds. We hem and haw, leaning one way, now the other. The encouragement to “just make a decision” only ratchets up the pressure without showing us a way out. Why can’t we live in a world where these decisions could just be simple?

One answer that may not seem helpful, at least initially: decisions are complex because of the kind of thing we are. We’re made of body and soul. Our bodies are subject to our souls, but not perfectly so, which means that we’re a knotty mess of mind, heart, emotions, past experiences … you name it. Original sin and our own personal sin make it difficult for us to weigh relative goods rightly. Because of this complexity, we’re attracted to contradictory things at the same time. Sometimes we waffle over a decision where we already know the right thing to do, we just don’t want to do it. But other times the decision is not clear at all—both routes could be quite good. Regardless, the reason for the interior conflict is clear: we’re the kind of thing that desires goods that are mutually incompatible. 

Ok, so because of what we are—sinners with body and soul—we sometimes suffer from “two minds.” What should we do about it? First, it’s interesting to note that we find this division stressful at all. When someone describes a relationship as “complicated,” I always hear, under whatever mask of irony a person wears, an unspoken desire for simplicity, for clear understanding. We suffer the complexity of life; we don’t rejoice in it. Whenever we weigh contending goods, we yearn in two directions and our heart breaks a little. If only things were more simple.

The Psalms have something to say about our problem of complexity. One of the more curious lines in the Psalms reads: “For God has said only one thing; only two have I heard: that to God alone belongs power, and to you, Lord, merciful love” (Ps 62:12–13a). We know that God is perfectly simple, meaning that there is no multiplicity, no division, no “two minds” in God. But nonetheless, when he speaks in the act of creation, he produces multiplicity. We dwell in the midst of this multiplicity and are a part of it. And we find it, at times, quite frustrating.

But this verse offers a thought that is quite consoling. What are the two things that we hear when God speaks? Power and merciful love. His power overwhelms us: “Where were you when I founded the earth?” God asks Job. Indeed, where were you? His love too goes beyond anything we can imagine. Because we are complex, we can focus more on the power or more on the love, even though in God they are one. His love is not distinct from power, meaning that it achieves everything it desires. What does God desire? He has made it quite explicit. He desires above all our love. 

How can we love God above all things when we are pulled in so many directions? We can love him in this way because his love is all powerful. He desires us to love him above all else. All our decision-making can, with his grace, be ordered to him and be made simple. We have his assurance that what he desires and promises, he will accomplish: “I have spoken; I will do it” (Ezek 37:14). When God speaks, we don’t hear about contending loves. We hear one merciful, powerful love.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Dominicana, the student publication of the Province of St. Joseph in the Order of Preachers. It appears here with kind permission. Click here to read more.

Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash


Br. Philip Nolan entered the Order of Preachers in 2015. He is a graduate of Williams College and spent two years living in New York working for First Things

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