For some context to this post, I recommend reading both my post on the way we talk about the Holy Spirit, and my post on arguing about God. You don’t have to have read them to understand what I’m going to talk about, but it might help give you some background as to how my thought’s developed on this topic.
There is Biblical precedent for loving God with your mind. Jesus’ instructed anyone who wants to follow God to love him with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and there are examples in Acts of Paul reasoning and debating with some of the groups of people that he talked to about Jesus, which suggests to me that he was communicating in a fairly intellectual way.
Because of my personality and upbringing, I find loving God with my mind easier than some of the other ways we’re called to love God. I love to think and talk about faith-related issues both big and small, and my recent Holy Spirit post that I linked to at the top is an example of where I’ve done this on the blog. For me, using the inclination towards questioning, debating and researching that I believe God has given me is an integral part of honouring, worshiping and loving God with my mind.
The risk of this kind of attitude is cynicism and reducing belief in God to an intellectual exercise. So how do you find the balance between using the mind that God has given you, but still loving him in a personal, relational way?
For me, it starts with the conscious knowledge that any powers of intellect that humans have is a gift from God, and like any other gift in the Bible, it should be used to serve and bring glory to him:
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 10:5
I want to unpack that further with a metaphor that is really helpful to me: there are certain beliefs that I hold in an open hand, and other beliefs that I hold in a closed hand.
The beliefs in my closed hand are the non-negotiable truths of Christianity that I believe not only through reason but through a personal, experiential relationship of God which goes beyond what you can argue about. These include fundamental truths such as the divinity of Jesus, the bodily resurrection, and the power of the Holy Spirit that is alive in the Church today. I’m not saying that those beliefs qualify me or anyone else as a Christian, but they are a non-negotiable, integral part of the foundation of my relationship with God.
The beliefs that I hold with an open hand, however, are the majority of my other beliefs. In fact, to call them beliefs is too strong for some of them; many of them are simply ideas that I think best describe my current knowledge of God. These are notions that I am willing to allow to change – in fact, with many of them I expect them to change – as I learn more about God, as I grow closer to him, and as I hear more of the wisdom of other Christians who see aspects of God that my personality and biases would never allow me to see.
An example of this open-handed category is my idea about the language of the Holy Spirit. Before writing that post, I spoke with several close friends to allow them to help me formulate the thoughts, and even right before posting, my fiancée suggested changes which I duly made.
But what I also love is that a couple of days after posting, a friend of mine commented on Facebook, raising thoughtful and valid questions about some of my points. His comments helped me to see the wider issues of salvation and justification that I hadn’t considered, and helped me to begin to develop my thoughts further.
His comments also were an example of constructive engagement with faith-related topics. In a post a couple of months ago (linked to at the top) I talked about the pointlessness of internet arguments about faith, and I stand by that position – I still think there is no point getting worked up and essentially trying to score points against people online who hold a different view.
However, the internet is an excellent facilitator for people who want want to engage thoughtfully in a conversation, and who are open to being challenged in a constructive way. When we hold ideas in an open hand, we say that we are willing to change our mind if given sufficient reason to do so, which contrasts sharply with the kind of argument that sees two people going hammer and tongs over an issue that neither of them are willing to budge on.
As a Christian, in all of the ideas that I think about, whether I hold them in a closed hand or an open hand, my goal needs to be the worship of God. That’s what I think the 2 Corinthians passage is talking about with regards to making every thought captive to Christ, and not getting involved in fruitless debate.
Loving God with your mind should never be about intellectual exercises that get you nowhere. That’s why I think that it’s important to be sure of the beliefs that you hold in a closed hand – they keep you on track.
Let me be clear: I’m not advocating the closed-mindedness that some people associate with Christianity. I’m saying that the point of Christians engaging with faith topics intellectually should be to grow closer to God, and not to make themselves look clever or, even worse, to tear others down. I never want my debating and reasoning and thinking to shake others’ belief in God, and I never want it to lead me to denying something good that God has done or is doing. I want to avoid intellectual snobbery at all costs.
I also want to be clear that for Christians, this is not a lonely endeavour. If you’re starting to ask questions, then ask them, first and foremost, to God. Start by being silent and listening to what God has to say. The same friend who commented on Facebook mentioned that since he has started making time in the morning to read the Bible and spend more time with God, his thoughts on different topics have started to develop and he is starting to see God change his perspective on some things. For me, this willingness to learn from God himself is one of the healthiest manifestations of loving God with your mind.
Loving God with your mind is still loving God, and that love will bring you closer to God and allow you to know him more. If you are using your mind to question and to think through issues whilst still maintaining humility in your relationship with God, you’re likely going to end up in a good place.
If you’re anything like me, then I want to remind you not to neglect to love God with your heart, soul and strength as well. Loving God with your mind is only part of what Jesus called us to do. Love him with everything you’ve got, even as you ask questions, and investigate, and research, and talk, and read. You won’t go too far wrong with that.