And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”
So he answered and said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.”
And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”
We spend a lot of time in our minds: processing situations, trying to work out what things mean, planning, creating, imagining, scheming, worrying, remembering. It has often been said that thinking comes before doing. In other words, before you do anything, you have already thought about doing it – consciously or subconsciously – in your mind. If that is true, then we ought perhaps to spend more time thinking about how we think.
I think a lot. There’s something in my nature that’s driven to seek, to gain knowledge, to understand. It’s why I’ve always been a lover of books. It’s also why, after watching a film or TV show, I like – much to my wife’s annoyance – to discuss and deconstruct it from various angles: what it meant, what was good and bad about it, whether I liked it and why, and so on.
I have that same desire when I read the Bible. Now, of course, there are parts of the Bible that do not lend themselves to this kind of analytical thinking. There are parts that are best read and appropriated as prayers or expressions of worship, and I’m fine with that. But there are other parts that I read, read again and think to myself, “What did he mean when he said that?” I think this is why I’m so enjoying getting into some slightly deeper theological reading: I get a kick out of reading the thoughts of someone who has really wrestled with the text and refused to settle for easy or obvious interpretations, but has instead determined to use all of his or her mind to get to the bottom of it. (My current favourite in this regard is one Nicholas Thomas Wright.)
A wise man once asked me the question, “What would it look like for you to love God with all of your mind?”
This man had been asking about me: what makes me tick, what are my strengths and weaknesses, what do I enjoy and not enjoy, etc. We had been talking about everything I’ve written above – how I like to analyse, to seek meaning, to learn, to dig deeper. And that was when he asked me the question: “What would it look like for you, Rob, to love God with all of your mind?” He told me not to answer it, but rather to take it away as something to consider and ponder.
I guess there are two obvious angles from which one might approach this question.
On the one hand, too much thinking doesn’t help me love God: if I insist on thoroughly understanding every little thing about God and His ways and breaking it down into a form that I find rationally digestible before I can accept it in my heart, somewhere along the line this is going to be an obstacle to loving God. The infinite, transcendent God cannot be theorised, deconstructed and classified like a mathematical principle. To insist on trying to do so is, at some level, to deny His very Godness. There also comes a point where the thirst for knowledge and understanding leaves no place for faith; and we must remember that it is through faith that we connect with God’s saving grace, not through knowledge. Knowledge is a matter of the mind, but faith is first and foremost a matter of the heart.
From this perspective, then, loving God with all of my mind means submitting my mind to God and recognising the inherent limitations of human thinking.
On the other hand, the mind I have is the mind God gave me, and the particular way I think is part of my personality – part of what makes me me. To refuse to make full use of it would be to waste what God has given me, and to withhold part of my faculties from him. And what better way to use a mind than to delve deeper into the nature and ways of God?
The conclusion I’ve come to is that, for me, loving God with all of my mind means holding both of these approaches in tension. It means passionately bringing all my mental powers to bear on the things of God, while never forgetting that His thoughts are higher than my thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). It means being determined to wrestle rather than accept pat answers, while remembering that even something as foundational as the peace of God passes all understanding.
Above all, loving God with all my mind means recognising that, many times, I need to let go of my desire to think and understand, and instead reach out in simple trust. After all, you can know everything it is humanly possible to know about God and still not know Him.
Jesus’ invitation to His disciples was not, “See if you understand and agree with me, and if you do, then accept me”. It was simply “Come, follow me.” My prayer is that I would never let my mind get in the way of answering “Yes” to that invitation.