Pavlov's dog used to salivate at the ringing of a bell, for the dog knew that munchies were close at hand. His behavior had been programmed. Given the right stimulus, the bile ducts did their thing independently of any reasoning to the contrary. Of course, the trouble is that dogs don't reason. They are just a bundle of instincts. And what of us? Are we just a bundle of programmed instincts moulded by our genes and the environment? Does reason play any part in the decisions we make day by day? Are we independent free individuals unaffected by the brute force of our flesh, or are we just complicated dogs?
The Bible actually says of humanity that we are slaves - we are not free. It says we are slaves to sin. Humanity is in rebellion against God and as a result, we are slaves to our brute nature, slaves of the "flesh". And what part does the intellect play in all this? Most times it serves only to rationalize, to justify our brute behavior. None of us can see this in ourselves of course. In others, it's patently obvious. "All are mad save ye and me, and ye a little."
Like the birds, we are into gathering and feeding, courting, mating, nest building and decorating, raring and surviving. Yet, unlike the birds we turn instinct into an art form. There's the mum and dad who can't let the young fly from the nest. They play little games with their young, games of emotional blackmail and dependence structuring. Meaning for mum and dad comes through the ideal of a close family, while the kids are filled with guilt every time they try to assert just a little independence. There's the husband who fears stalking death with the onset of middle age and tries to deny its coming reality in the arms of a younger woman - the "my wife doesn't understand me any more" syndrome. There's the wife wanting to be possessed, but angry at being oppressed. There is the strutting male defining territory in the office. Flesh and blood, all of it, but corrupted by sin, and we its slave - and all of it justified. The greed for survival becomes family obligations, business acumen, or tax minimization. Worst of all, much of it is justified in God's name - greed becomes a blessing for faithfulness.
"What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!"