Professional Christian Counseling
The Cause and Cure of Human Struggle
The Root of Physiological Pathology
The Human Sin-Nature Caused Death to Become a Reality
Not only did the acquisition of a personal values system conflict with God’s will, differences among humans result in conflict among their own individual values systems as well. That conflict can be stated this way, the greater the differences humans hold, the greater will be their conflict with each other. Conversely, the more alike people are, the more tolerant of one another they will be. This is precisely why people of the same stripes tend to congregate and form communities. They have essentially said that their alikeness is good.
No matter how much alike we are, there is a physiological problem that results from people living closely with other people. As we find ourselves in community with each other, the subsequent social interactions that ensue are ripe for judgment and left amygdala detections. The left amygdala, often referred to as the "watchdog" constantly scans for things amiss, out of place or even threatening. It is easy for us all to see when another person is in pursuit of pleasure for themselves because we often get dismissed or trampled in the process. Their insensitivity and lack of concern for us are deemed “bad” if not “evil” at times. According to stress expert Robert Sapolsky, this creates a negative reaction in the body, he writes:
Stress physiology, as applied to the average vertebrate, is the study of the defenses mobilized by the body in response to physical challenges—being chased by a predator when injured or sprinting after a meal when starving. In contrast, humans have the cognitive sophistication to activate habitually the identical stress response for purely psychological or social reasons—worries about mortgages, relationships, and the thinning of the ozone layer. While activation of the stress response is critical to surviving pursuit by a lion, it is pathogenic when mobilized chronically and many Westernized diseases are caused or worsened by overactive stress responses.
Detecting threats create stress and stress produces excessive amounts of adrenaline and cortisol, which have deleterious effects on the body. Prolonged or chronic stress contributes to a person’s early demise in one of seven ways:
1. It creates opportunities for accidents. As we feel pressure to accomplish tasks quickly, we often fail to take precautions that would protect us from injury. Perhaps while in a hurry to get out the door you have snapped a pair of shoe strings as you apply too much strength to aging fibers? If so, this is but a small example of what we can do on a larger scale. Driving too fast in the rain, on ice or in fog; speeding through a light that has turned red or taking unwarranted risks to garner favor are all things that people do under psychological pressure that can result in an untimely death.
2. It causes fights and quarrels. The self-induced stress of wanting something another person has or of protecting what we have that someone else wants from us can cause turbulent interactions that can lead to the death of someone. An heir to a wealthy relative may end that person’s life prematurely to gain a fortune, or a homeowner may take the life of a thief in order to protect his property. Wars result between nations when the aggregation of the common values that one group holds collides with the different values of another group.
3. It may lower a person’s immune response to disease. According to representatives of the American Institute of Stress, stress plays an aggravating role in every disease. In fact, the Institute goes on to say that virtually all doctor visits are stress related.
4. It may increase blood pressure and hypertension that can lead to stroke. 32% of the population suffers from hypertension. Stress causes the body to produce adrenaline that increase the heart rate while also constricting blood vessels that divert blood to the arms and legs for a strong fight or flight response. Elevated flow in constricted vessels increase blood pressure leading to a potential heart attack or stroke.
5. It may cause Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CHD is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Colloquially called the stress hormone, cortisol secreted during stress combines with omega-6 fats and calcium that produce artery clogging cholesterol and plaque in the process know as atherosclerosis or coronary heart disease.
6. It may escalate senescence, commonly referred to as the aging process, stress reduces longevity. Psychosocial stressors increase the rate of aging at the cellular level by increasing the rate of telomere shortening. As proteins at the ends of DNA molecules, telomeres shorten with each replication of a cell. Cells renew at their best between the ages of 20 and 25. Once telomeres shorten too far, the cell can no longer divide and will eventually die. Therefore, telomeres act like a biological clock that helps determine lifespan. &  God knows how much stress each life will have and has calculated the number of our tears (see Psalm 56) and days (Cf. Job 14:5). Rabbi Kushner describes in his popular book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, how he watched his son die of a very rare form of “rapid-aging” called progeria before reaching age fifteen.
7. Stress may cause someone to take their own life. Suicide occurs when something important is threatened, but a solution to get that value met, or to protect it from loss cannot be found. As the situation appears hopeless and the person feels helpless, suicide becomes more appealing as a solution to resolving the stress. An interesting phenomenon occurs once that choice is made. People often go from depressed to happy believing that they have found a viable answer thus escaping disappointment and finding gain.
Therefore, every other person will eventually die due to the effects stress has had on their body. In this way when the left amygdalae of Adam and Eve was activated, death literally entered the world as a consequence of being able to detect good versus bad just as God pronounced that it would in Genesis 2:17. The Biblical accounts of Genesis chapters five and six provide us with a striking confirmation.
Genesis 5:5 offers the fact that Adam lived 930 years and then he died. Obviously Adam did not die immediately from eating the fruit. Nevertheless, death did enter the world that day as a process that would eventually take the lives of every person. Take note of the following deescalation. Continuing on, we discover that Adam's son Seth lived 912 years some eighteen years shorter than his father. Seth’s son Enosh lived 905 years and his son Kenan lived 910 years. Kenan’s son Mahalalel lived 895 years which is forty-five years less than Adam. Do you detect a general pattern?
Genesis chapter 5 continues like this until we get to verse thirty-one where it says Lamech, the father of Noah, lived to be only 777 years old. In just the first ten generations following the Fall of Man, the lifespan of those listed had declined by 153 years. By Genesis 6:3 the lifespan of had declined to a maximum of just one hundred and twenty years. For the past three thousand years or so, Psalm 90:10 rightly points out that while some of us may still live to 120 years, most do not:
“The length of our days is seventy years―or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.”
By emphasizing that our lives are full of “trouble and sorrow”, the psalmist is telling us that stressful life circumstances contribute to our early demise. Even what we might consider small stressors, can have huge impacts. It is a well documented fact that something as simple as changing clocks forward or backward during daylight savings time increases the odds by 24% that an elderly person will have either a heart attack or stroke in the two days afterward. Conversely, in a large comprehensive study evaluating 126,000 people, researchers have found that religious involvement increases life expectancy by 29%. Through internalizing the generational effects of parental stress via epigenetics, and from living in increasingly dense concentrations of community, the average life has gradually decreased to the maximum span now naturally possible. This is not what God wanted for mankind which is best seen through the story of Lazarus.
There is a misconception among Christians, about the death of Lazarus, that can be cleared up here. Many Christians have come to believe, like others from John’s story in chapter 11, that the tears of Jesus (v. 35 the shortest verse in the Bible “Jesus wept.”) regarding the death of Lazarus were due to His grief over the death of his friend. No, that is not exactly the case. Jesus was not grieving the fact that Lazarus was gone and that He would never see him again like we might think. Grieving is based on the disappointment of loss. Jesus couldn’t possibly have thought that. Why? Because Jesus knew that momentarily He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. Where is the loss in that? And, what would be disappointing and sad about that? As we contemplate the tears of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, we see the distress He felt as “God the Creator” especially as he was reminded of a promise He made to Abram centuries earlier. It was at the tomb where He was confronted by a comment directed at Him by the Jews who were attending to Mary in her grief over the death of her brother. We read in John 11:37, ‘… “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”’ The Scriptures said that Jesus was deeply troubled by their remark. We must realize that His grief could not have been due exclusively to the death of Lazarus. No, He was there to raise him from the dead. This was going to be a happy occasion. Jesus was taken aback by the realization of those present, that He was not able to protect Lazarus, and others like him from dying. He had to accept the free-will choice of Adam and Eve to eat the fruit would eventually lead everyone to a physical death. It was never his intention that anyone should die. The Jew’s comment reminded Him of how He had obligated Himself through the covenant that He made to Abram, to redeem his heirs from the damage of what Adam and Eve had done. Their comment brought to light the fact that He would have to die in order to satisfy the injustice of what Adam and Eve did to their progeny by eating the fruit. Jesus knew that he must endure all of the consequences of an active left amygdala. He grieved over the fact that all of this would have been unnecessary had Adam and Eve only obeyed and refrained from eating that fruit. No Jesus was not grieving the death of Lazarus, He was grieving that death had to enter His pristine world.
Once Adam and Eve ate the fruit introducing stress and ultimately death into the world―God set in motion what His preplanned reaction was going to be. The first was to forestall death for man as long as possible. Adam lived only 930 years which is far short of eternity but much greater than what is true for people today. God’s goals that humans would live as long as possible has not changed. God promotes human lifespan to whatever degree that it is now biologically possible. What some theologians have called punishments or curses, God meant to be redemptive instead. The exercise that comes from working by the sweat of one’s brow (cf. Genesis 3:19) is one of the best ways to counteract the physiological consequences of stress. God was not being mean to Adam by forcing him out of the garden to work the land—it was for his own good. Besides keeping arteries clear, exercise releases endorphins, which are the body’s natural tranquilizer and mood enhancer that help us to feel better about life traumas, thus counteracting psychological stress and extending our lives even more. Furthermore, eating fiber from the grains that Adam’s work produced is still a great way for modern man to reduce the artery clogging cholesterol that contributes to atherosclerosis and CHD.
Second, God reacted by imposing human responsibility. Knowing the difference between good and evil brought a need for justice and making wrongs right again. Disputes among people must be dealt with fairly so as not to increase injury. Thus God reacted by writing laws on tablets of stone and on the hearts of his people in order to restrain stress inducing sinful behaviors. God gave the Holy Spirit (the Comforter) in which to bring awareness of right and wrong into the minds of humans (cf. Jeremiah 31:33 & Romans 2:15) and to convict the world according to its sin (cf. John 16:8 ― NLT), in order to guide people toward healthy, stress reducing ways of interacting with each other.
Because of what we have learned about what stress does to the body physiologically, for someone to cause stress for another, whether intentionally or unintentionally, effectively shortens the physical life of the person who is being stressed. Thus, the offender’s actions technically constitute either a form of murder or reckless homicide. First John 3:15 indicates that if anyone holds hatred toward someone then they are indeed guilty of murder. As justice demands “eye for eye” reparations, this created a logistical problem for when God should carry out justice.
Because any and all sin shortens the physical life of the person being harmed, justice demands life for life which requires the shedding of blood (cf. Hebrews 9:22). Since the physical punishment of death could not be accomplished without being at cross-purposes to God’s objectives for long life and procreation, He had to make a solution that accomplished both. While we do have Biblical examples where God has intervened supernaturally by requiring someone’s life upon their sin, (the most obvious OT example is Korah in Numbers 16 & Ananias and Sapphira in NT, Acts 5) mostly He has chosen to wait. He waits because immediate action would thwart procreation. If God did exact justice by taking someone’s life at the moment of sin, no one would survive long enough to bear or raise children, the result of which would be human extinction instead of the procreation he required of Adam and Eve. Instead, judgment has been delayed for a time in the future following the sinner’s natural physical death. Taking a sinner’s life prematurely might also give someone an argument (at the judgment), where they might claim that God did not give them enough time to repent (see 2 Peter 3:9). Therefore the writer of Lamentations 3:22,23 was correct when he wrote, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness” (NIV).
Third, since a necessary reaction to gaining the knowledge between good and evil must include restraint through laws, comparing someone to the standards of those laws adds a potential for additional psychological harms. Pointing out someone’s badness can cause one of three things. First, while it intends to limit and control someone’s negative behaviors, it causes some people to learn to rely on others to make decisions for them. Why? Because they have come to believe that they are incompetent at choosing their own actions. When this happens between two people, it can create a cycle of dependency causing the dependent person to lose self-confidence and fear venturing out on their own. Furthermore, pointing out someone’s bad behaviors may also insinuate deficits in character that create beliefs of unacceptability and disapproval which bring forth feelings of embarrassment and shame. When this happens between two people, it can create a cycle called codependency. The third possibility, one that Proverbs 15:1 identifies, is that pointing out a person’s bad behaviors can lead to defensiveness and an escalation of conflict.
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The Root of Physiological Pathology Page
Mikel Kelly, MA, LMHC
The Vortex Model
Of Human Growth &
“Whether we call them challenges, crises, or conflicts, the trek to adulthood is difficult because the path is strewn with obstacles.” And, “Each life takes on a myriad of twists and turns.”
— Developmental Psychologists Robert
Kail & John Cavanaugh
Vortex Model of Development
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 Human Development: A Lifespan View, 2nd edition, Robert V. Kail & John C. Cavanaugh, 2000, United States, Wadsworth. (p. 18).