The Mind in the Life of Faith

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:4–5, ESV)
“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” (Matt 22:34–38)

     The difference in what Jesus says the first commandment is and the text of Deuteronomy 6:5 can be jarring if you assume that “heart” means the same thing today that it did in ancient Israel. That’s not the case, however, and what God meant when he called for all the heart is an often neglected and vital aspect of Christian life. But before I expound on that, perhaps a brief word from Dallas Willard will help set the stage:
“We live in a culture that has, for centuries now, cultivated the idea that the skeptical person is always smarter than one who believes. You can almost be as stupid as a cabbage as long as you doubt.” (Hearing God)

     I love and appreciate the late Dr. Willard for many reasons, and this bluntly accurate statement is one of them. It is often the case that Christians especially are assumed to be less intelligent than their skeptical counterparts not because of some inherent lack of training or obvious mental deficiency, but simply because of their faith. This is particularly prevalent with reference to conservative branches of Christendom. Before we bemoan this however, we have to ask ourselves a question. Do we contribute to the assumption that Christians are, by and large, imbeciles? We may be inclined to find that question offensive, but let’s be honest. While it is certainly not the case that foolishness is exclusive to the Christian faith, there is no shortage of foolishness that attaches itself to the name of Jesus, and that worries me.

     To be clear, I’m not about to spend the next 700 words or so insisting that every Christian must have a terminal degree and an IQ of at least 130 to be acceptable to God. Rather, I want to make the case for loving God with the mind as a necessary component of the life of faith. This must, in my opinion, begin with the Greatest Commandment, given in Deuteronomy 6.

     To love God with the heart is often misunderstood and thought to mean mere emotional attachment, as we might mean today in saying, “I love you with all my heart.” Yet that is not what the Hebrews meant, at least not exclusively. While the Hebrew word here does literally mean the blood-moving organ, the Hebrews understood the heart not as the seat of emotion, but the seat of the will and the intellect, where information was ultimately processed and decisions were made. Jesus latches onto this reality in his quotation of this passage. He mentions heart and mind, leaving out strength in the process. This is puzzling to some scholars, a few of which assume that Jesus simply misquoted Deuteronomy. Aside from the absurdity of God Incarnate misquoting a book that he wrote, this speculation misses the point, I think. Rather than goofing up, I would humbly suggest that Jesus intentionally spoke as he did to fully expound what he meant when he told Israel the Greatest Commandment in the past. Heart and mind are emphasized here, emotion and intellect, whim and will. Therefore, Jesus called Israel (and us) anew to the high calling of loving God with all the faculties that we have, the mind included. So what does it mean to love God with the mind?

     Here’s my working definition: To love God with all of your mind entails a striving to think as deeply and meaningfully about all three persons of the triune God, and what they have revealed about themselves, as one is able, with the goal of having that knowledge lead to a greater glorifying of God and a deeper love for him, born out of amazement at what can be known about him. Easy, right? Let’s chew on this for a bit. Firstly, I want to go ahead and dismantle an objection that might be raised. To love God with your mind does not mean you have to be a world-class theologian. In fact, many such people love God very little. Instead, loving God with your mind means using the full extent of your mental capacity to ponder the glory and wonder of God and refusing to settle for simplistic quips or laziness. Little children who are amazed at a God who is big, powerful, and caring love God with their minds just as much as the college student working out the intricacies of justification and sanctification in their own lives, though it looks different. This is admittedly subjective, but that subjectivity is necessary because each person has different capacities. The key here is not brilliance, but sincerity.

     Another objection is whether intellectual love has any place for emotion. To that I would say, “Of course!” Contrary to apparently popular belief, emotion and intellect are not opposed. Further, where is emotion processed? The brain, the same organ used to process information, is the center of emotional response. Emotion and intellect lend their strength to one another, driving us and creating a fire in our hearts. For example, when I think of the many ways in which my grandmother is a wonderful person, I cannot help but feel emotion well up within me, namely love and admiration, and that love drives me to more seriously recognize her dignity and worth. When I turn then to consider God and the infinite glory and majesty that he possess, what else would be a reasonable response except to feel wonder, love, and awe fill my heart, and what else would be a suitable response to that than to say, “I must know this God more!” What else could possibly satisfy once we have pondered for a mere moment the God of the Bible? So no, I don’t think that emotion and intellect oppose one another. In fact, the peerless intellect who is not brought to their knees when they turn their mind to God has not yet begun to mine the depths of the glory God. Otherwise, their response would not be mere scholastic musing but instead, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Ro 11:33–36)

     Loving God with the mind is a lifelong discipline that will richly reward those who set themselves upon it. It entails not only knowing God well, but also being wise and intentional in how we think in every area of life. Whether it be the articles we share on Facebook, the assumptions that we have, or how carefully we listen to preachers and teachers, the mind matters in the life of the Christian. As I continue to publish here, I hope to help the interested reader think more carefully about God, matters of faith, and culture. Will you join me in turning our minds Godward and loving God with the mind?

Soli Deo Gloria!