In an ever-polarized world, there is an internal polarization that we all feel to be true. While often our society is divided on issues of politics, race, gender and border control, there is a deeper division that we experience and share only with those closest to us. That is the division between our heart and our mind. It seems as though we are sent mixed messages between following our heart and following our mind. Regardless of your religious leanings, you are probably prone to place one of these over the other. And if I were to bet which you have placed above the other, I would bet your equation looks like this “mind > heart.”
If you are an a-religious type you might think of the famous quote by Rene Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.”
If you are the religious type you might think of the famous Old Testament passage Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
Point and case, right?
But if that is the case, how to we expect our mind to affect our hearts? From the Christian perspective, how is a broken mind going to effect any change to a deceitful heart when so often our heart wins out over logical faculties? One example of this hierarchy failing to deliver on its promise is seen within addictions. Be it smoking, drinking, technology, or gambling; addictions function the same. We know the facts about why a particular addiction is damaging, yet our mental awareness doesn’t always change our desire for an addiction.
While I think most of Western society would like to consider the mind the primary operating force, it would be more accurate to say that our hearts truly are the driving force behind most of our action in the world.
Ashley Null summarizes this point well in an interview about Thomas Cranmer, “what the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies. The mind doesn’t direct the will. The mind is actually captive to what the will wants, and the will itself, in turn, is captive to what the heart wants” (Null, 2001).
Null here lays out a contra-formula for how we are used to operating. Heart. Will. Mind. In that firm order. Unfortunately, our heart is not a very trustworthy guide. Or, at least it seems like our hearts are continually changing direction in search of the next great thing.
This idea of the heart continually seeking is not a new one. St. Augustine famously said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” It would seem that our hearts know that they need, just not where to get it.
To take this idea further, James K.A. Smith in his book “You Are What You Love” says this in reflection to the Church. “Too much of our cultural analysis is rooted in thinking-thingism: we scan culture, listening for ‘messages,’ bent on rooting out ‘false’ teachings. But if we are first and foremost lovers, and if our action is overwhelmingly governed by our unconscious habits, then intellectual threats might not be the most important” (Smith, 2016, p. 37).
Often when we think about our lives as Christians, our primary concern is for our mental understanding of God and his work through Christ. We believe that right thinking is of most importance. But to a certain degree, we have wrongly thought that knowing about God is the same as knowing God. However, this is not how God has designed us to experience truth. Head disconnected from the heart. Heart discontented from the mind. Rather God opens up a truly only third way to live, a world in which heart and mind are brothers in the same cause.
God does this through the work of Christ. Jesus is the one who reorders our hearts and our minds. Beyond that he gives us a new heart, a divine heart united with his (Ezekiel 36:26, Mark 7:23). Likewise, he gives us a new mind, united to his (Rom 12:2). Jesus is concerned with the heart and the mind, but to reorder our mind he must deal with our heart first (Matt. 12:34, 15:8).
Jonathan Edwards, a famous puritan theologian, puts it beautifully in his publication “A Treatise Concerning Religions Affections” when he says this, “As there is no true religion where there is nothing else but affection, so there is no true religion where there is no religious affection.” Edwards goes on to compare true religion to a flame from a candle stick. “As on the one hand, there must be light in the understanding, as well as an affected fervent heart; where there is heat without light, there can be nothing divine or heavenly in that heart; so on the other hand, where there is a kind of light without heat, a head stored with notions and speculations, with a cold and unaffected heart, there can be nothing divine in that light, that knowledge is no true spiritual knowledge of divine things. If the great things of religion are rightly understood, they will affect the heart” (Edwards, 39). In short, Edwards speaks rightly to the notion that truth and affection are indeed brothers in the same cause, to know God.
How then should we view our life? If our heart is the driving force, how do we conform fully to the image of Christ? We must consider how God might “tune” our hearts (as the old hymn says).
In my Christian high school arts class, Mrs. Isaacson always had us recite this verse, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8).
It wasn’t till later in life that that verse would make sense!
There exists a strong link between our imagination and the desires of our heart. What we feed our heart and mind will most certainly capture our imagination. While not enough time to write here, we should feed our imagination beautiful things. All truth is God’s truth. All beauty God’s beauty. Both of which culminates in Christ. To shepherd our hearts, we need to train them to want what is beautiful and to imagine what is unseen.
“Change happens not just by giving the mind new arguments but also by feeding the imagination new beauties” (Keller, p. 160).
Because our imaginations are influential in shaping our hearts, we must take inventory of the stories we believe. What stories are you being told by your church family, social media, marketers, and your neighborhood? How does the Gospel story speak into these?
It should be easy to know what things you enjoy and those which you do not. Remember that all temporal delights are a gift from God that is meant to point us to our eternal delight in Christ. Next time you get the perfect cup of coffee or hear that song, remember the creator who has given you not only the materials to create that coffee or song, but the very humanity which produced it, as well the senses to enjoy it. This is explained well, again, by St. Augustine who said, “Idolatry is worshipping anything that ought to be used, or using anything that is meant to be worshipped.” While our delights can expose our deeply rooted idols, our delights can be used as a tool for true worship to Christ.
For me, I find much joy in the arts. When I am confronted with a piece of art that makes sense of my reality, I can't help but thank God for the artist, the medium, and the senses to experience it.
Christians have the immense freedom to admit when their hearts are off. When their heart betrays what they say they love. Beyond that, we have rich practices that have helped form us for ages. “Worship works from the top down, you might say. In worship we don’t just come to show God our devotion and give him our praise; we are called to worship because in this encounter God (re)makes and molds us top-down. Worship is the arena in which God recalibrates our hearts, reforms our desires, and rehabituates our loves. Worship isn’t just something we do; it is where God does something to us. Worship is the heart of discipleship because it is the gymnasium in which God retrains our hearts” (Smith, 2016)
In our Sunday worship, God retunes our hearts. He has not left us to figure it out but is active in the renewal of our heart and mind. What would it take for you to start viewing the rhythms of your church not just as something you do, but “where God does something” to you?
Whether you are a Christian or a-religious, there is hope for your heart to be fulfilled in Christ. The God of the universe, who fills all in all, wants to remake your heart should you submit yourself to his work in Christ.
Edwards, J., Crissy, J., & Goodman, G. (1821). A treatise concerning religious affections,: In three parts. I. Nature of the affections, and their importance in religion. II. Showing what are no certain signs that religious affections are gracious, or that they are not. III. Showing what are distinguishing signs of truly gracious and holy affections. Philadelphia:: Published by James Crissy, no. 177, Chesnut Street, opposite the State House. G. Goodman, printer.
Keller, T. (2016). Preaching. Place of publication not identified: Hodder & Stoughton.
Null, A., Dr. (2001, September 01). Dr. Ashley Null on Thomas Cranmer [Interview by ACL News]. Retrieved November 30, 2018, from http://acl.asn.au/resources/dr-ashley-null-on-thomas-cranmer/
Smith, J. K. (2016). You are what you love: The spiritual power of habit. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group.