Do you remember the 2001 film A Beautiful Mind starring Russell Crowe as a brilliant mathematician with schizophrenia? The film is loosely based on the real John Forbes Nash, whose story is told in greater detail in the (unauthorized) biography by Sylvia Nasar. (I haven’t read the book, so all references here are to the movie only. Just a warning: If you haven’t seen this movie, there are some spoilers coming.) John Nash sees things a little differently than other people and is rather eccentric, but he has a mind that can solve problems like no one else. In the film, as Nash’s schizophrenia worsens, his mind causes him to see and talk to people who don’t exist. When his problem is diagnosed, he is given a series of treatments and put on medication that keeps these hallucinations under control – in fact, eliminates them. However, Nash does not like the negative, incapacitating side effects of the medication and complains that it interferes with his work, so he decides to stop taking it.
In one scene of the movie, Nash is discussing this problem with his doctor. The doctor explains to him that, although some days may be symptom-free, the disease is degenerative, and Nash will continue to get worse. He tells him that without treatment, Nash’s delusions will become out of control and may eventually “take over.” John Nash is not satisfied with this conclusion and feels there must be another alternative.
Nash argues, “It’s a problem – that’s all it is. It’s a problem with no solution. And that’s what I do – I solve problems; that’s what I do best…All I have to do is apply my mind.”
The doctor responds, “This isn’t math. You can’t come up with a formula to change how you experience the world. You can’t reason your way out of this!”
“Why not? Why can’t I?” asks John.
“Because,” the doctor answers, “your mind is where the problem is in the first place.”
But John is not willing to accept this and insists, “I can do this. I can work it out. All I need is time.”
As I watched this conversation between Nash and his doctor, I suddenly noticed a parallel between Nash’s condition and his attitude towards it, and that of the depraved human heart. The Bible tells us that Man is born with a heart that is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Man in his natural state is not aware or concerned about his sinful condition, and when he is confronted with his sin, he will try to deny it, justify it, ignore it, or deal with it in his own way. But none of these responses is adequate to change his spiritual condition.
In the beginning of the film, Nash doesn’t know his delusions are imaginary – he is completely ignorant of his problem (as is the viewer). But his delusions cause him to act irrationally without realizing it. When others try to tell him the delusions aren’t real, he tries to reason with them and prove that they are. His doctor and wife help him to see the truth, but Nash has difficulty accepting it because, while some of his delusions are frightening, there are others that he has come to love. He is offered medical treatment, but decides to reject it in favor of trying to deal with his problem on his own. When that doesn’t work, he merely chooses to ignore the delusions.
Unlike schizophrenia, which is estimated to afflict about 1% of the population and typically appears during early adulthood (www.schizophrenia.com), 100% of humanity suffers from natural depravity of the heart, a condition inherited at birth. Quoting from Psalm 14, Romans 3 explains, “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside… There is none who does good, no not one.” Since “the wages of sin is DEATH” (Rom. 6:23), man’s problem is not just uncomfortable, difficult, inconvenient, or embarrassing – it’s fatal. Man has a problem which needs to be solved if he is to truly have life.
Many people, willing to acknowledge that they aren’t “perfect” and to recognize their short comings, try to convince themselves that in time they can improve themselves if they just try harder, learn more, or — “fill-in-the-blank.” The natural man is unaware that his deceitful heart prevents him from identifying the problem for what it truly is – sin. He refuses to accept the truth about his sinful condition when he hears it, and when presented with the only solution – Jesus Christ – he rejects it. Just as John Nash could not use his mind to solve his problem because his mind was where the problem resided, neither can a person solve the problem of sin that resides within him because it is his own sinful heart that deceives him regarding the problem. Some external intervention must occur, some help that comes from outside of the individual himself.
But it is not enough to acknowledge our sin and then merely co-exist with it. In the film, when John Nash’s colleague asks him if his delusions are gone, he says, “No, and maybe they never will be. I’ve gotten used to ignoring them, and as a result they’ve kind of given up on me.” He gets to the place where he can identify his hallucinations for what they are and even dismisses them at times, but they are never completely out of his life; he merely chooses to live with them. However, Nash will continue to have a twisted view of the world around him for the rest of his life. He will never truly be able to trust his own assessment of reality and learns to seek help from those around him to distinguish the real from the imaginary. He admits that he is “always suspicious of new people,” and he has to rely on others to confirm whether they are real or not.
When John’s delusions cause him to act irrationally, he may simply ask others (as he does in the film), “Is there any chance that you could ignore what I just did?” and they will most likely be gracious and do so. But there are times when his hallucinations cause him to go beyond public displays of crazy behavior and minor offenses. At one point in the movie, Nash almost drowns his baby son because he is distracted by his delusions. He also harms himself because of his distorted understanding of reality. When his wife asks him, “Would you hurt me?” John can only answer, “I don’t know.” He comes to realize that he is not safe to be around and has the potential for harming others or himself. His condition is permanent and is really quite serious.
Likewise is the condition in which man is born. In our natural state, we do not realize the seriousness of sin. We try to tell ourselves that we’re not that bad, that our sin is nothing more than human weakness or character flaws. But God is holy and He does not take sin lightly; he cannot tolerate it. In order for a man to understand and accept how they have offended this holy God, God himself must remove his heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). It is very dangerous to suppose that when I stand before God and He asks me to give an account for my sinful life, that I will just be able to ask, “Is there any chance that you could ignore what I did?”
While there are treatments for schizophrenia, there is no cure. In light of that fact, it’s amazing how John Nash learned to cope with his illness and accomplish what he did in life. Almost by sheer will and determination he was able to at least partially recover from his delusions, apparently without the aid of medication (according to comments made by Nash in an interview.) But such is not a possibility for the natural man who suffers from a depraved heart. Just as John Nash was confronted with the truth of his condition by his doctor, God has given us His Word to show us our true condition. And just as Nash had medical treatments available to help him, as well as the support of his wife and friends, God has also given the Holy Spirit to open the spiritual blind eyes, and to convict, instruct and restrain us from within. Most importantly, God has provided the only “cure” for man’s sinfulness – the only Savior of sinners, the Lord Jesus Christ.Have you seen the film A Beautiful Mind? What did you think of the movie? Do you agree with the correlation I made – please share you thoughts!
- The Doctrine of Total Depravity (www.monergism.com)
- The Stony Heart Removed (www.spurgeon.org)
- A sermon by Al Martin on Total Depravity (www.sermonaudio.com)
- A Beautiful Mind (film) (www.imdb.com)
- A Brilliant Madness (www.pbs.org)
- One on One interview with Professor John Nash (www.youtube.com)