How is it to love God? And how is loving connected to the mind? Does love and brain connect?
The heart and mind are commonly separated in many people’s understanding. The common worldview of the postmodern society is either loving belongs to the emotions and thinking belongs to the mind independently or emotions belong to the heart and the mind belongs to the brain in an autonomous fashion.
How should we view the harmonious relationship between mind and love? How does this understanding shape the way we love God? In this article, we are going to link the relationship between the mind and love, especially in the context of loving the Greatest and Best Lover- God Himself. We will also see how our mind influence or fans the flames of emotional love.
Note: (This material is a research paper I produced for ABTS masteral course requirements)
Loving God as a Command
Jesus identified that among all the commandments of God, the greatest of these is “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. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:36–39). In the realm of God’s Kingdom, loving Him is not merely a sway of emotions or a drive of random desires, but a command to constantly cultivate. The word used here for the mind is dianoia, a word dedicated to expound the act of deep thought and imagination. Note here that deep thought is not only for the “intellectual elites” but for everybody. In Greek, commandment is entolei which means an authoritative prescription.
How the Heart and Mind Intersect
If loving God is a mind-work, how is it to love Him? When God created man, He made man to be like Himself- a person who is a spirit (Genesis 1:26). Being a spiritual being, man possesses the very faculties that have the ability to obey His greatest command. These faculties include the mind. Loving God above all always include thinking (Piper 2010, 85). People may tend to separate thinking from feeling, but the Scripture describes both systems as interrelated. These two scripturally intertwine in their activities. Considering Luke 1:51, the Bible is plain in teaching that “thoughts” are happening in the heart. “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts (dianoia) of their hearts.” Genesis 6:5 also describes that God saw evil thoughts in the heart: “and God saw that every imaginations of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (KJV).” So the mind and heart intersect in meaning, but they are not duplicates. Therefore, loving God does not only happen in the heart, but also in the mind. Loving is not only feeling, but thinking.
The Role of the Mind in Loving God
Since loving is also thinking, the mind has a major role in generating emotions and acts of love. Through the instrumentality of the mind, love transcends in the rest of the inner parts of a person. A mind that devotes thoughts to God produces love (Piper, 83-84). It is in the mind where we know God, and this is the main reason why thinking is very important. We cannot love God without knowing God, and the way to fulfil this is to employ our thinking as fully as possible in order for us to be delighted and moved and impassioned for Him. Scientifically speaking, the brain is an agent of love, not a stranger to it.
“God gave us minds so that,… we can know the truth and beauty and worth of God through Jesus and treasure him above all things and spend our lives expressing this in as many ways as our minds can pursue.” (Piper 2010, 91) It is the very window where the light of God comes in and brightens up the inner darkened recesses of our being. It is the opening that daily fuels the rest of our faculties towards treasuring God above all things.
Since thinking is inseparable from loving, it is truthful to declare that the only way that passions will be stimulated, is that when the mind is captivated. How we shape our thinking drives our emotions and cravings. Thoughts that reside in the mind may drive or suppress love. That’s why the Scripture clearly emphasizes that one has to “love God with… all your mind.” (Mark 12:30, Authorized Version)
The Needed Balance between Thinking and Feeling
As a slight reminder, one must be careful not to over-emphasize thinking as the ultimate expression of loving. There is a tendency to lose balance by over emphasizing one from another. The attempt of loving without feeling leads to heady hypocrisy, and loving without thinking leads to empty emotionalism. Genuine love for God is an authentic experience of feeling, not just mere thoughts or actions (Piper 2010, 87). On the other hand, genuine emotions of love have to be grounded on a solid and sound understanding of Divine Truth awed in the mind (John 4:24). Love for God is an experience of affections or feelings, not just mere thoughts or actions (Piper, 86-87). The goal is that emotions and thoughts for God mutually work together towards loving Him. Christ even commanded that He must not only be worshipped in emotions, but in “Spirit and in Truth” (John 4:24)
The Role of the Will in the Direction of the Mind
There is also an important aspect we need to look at in understanding authentic love that the Scriptures desire for us. We need to look at the faculty of the human will. When man fell into sin, Scripture is clear that this separation caused man’s will to obtain natural inability to love God, natural power to reject God, and natural inclination to do evil. A truthful examination of our mind’s spiritual anatomy gives us a clear understanding that without the Supernatural Work of the Spirit of God, all human effort to generate love for God will be in vain. Without the Spirit, all we can do is human manipulation. In spiritual anatomy, the will therefore drives the mind, which then drives emotions, and emotions drives actions.
The Natural Mind
Rejection and suppression of the truth is not primarily caused by man’s lack of knowledge, but by man’s inward will in opposition to the knowledge of God that he already has (Mohler 2011, 51). Observe that apostle Paul makes it succinct in Romans 1:19-23:
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
“The real knowledge crisis is not merely what people do not know; it is also what they will not know.” (Mohler 2011, 51). It is therefore crucial to understand the scriptural and universal constitution of the natural mind. Equipping ourselves with this knowledge gives us wisdom on how we shape our evangelistic, discipleship and mission endeavours for our society. This is a radical truth that radically transforms since this truth embodies that reality of every human throughout history. Humble acknowledgment of this truth strips us from confidence in human manoeuvring for the goal of mind transformation.
Man’s will that drives his mind has been devastated since the fall. Since then, God gave humanity to the consequences of the will and mind’s self-destructive tendencies and will never survive without His salvific grace. Empowered by the will, the natural mind will always choose to separate and not love God. This devastation produced teachings and lifestyles that catapulted humanity to self-destructive and godless ruins.
Since the will drives the mind, the problem of the natural mind is not that it only needs more thinking, but that its thinking is driven towards greater separation from God. The natural mind has no ability and interest to understand the things of the regenerate mind, and more information is not a solution. The effect of sin to the mind, must lead us to continually think on how the natural man thinks. Following Christ is a call to continually renew our thinking in the power of His Word and Spirit (Mohler 2011, 52-65). Scripture also commands to work on destroying any teaching or knowledge that is not according to the knowledge from God. (2 Corinthians 10: 5).
Ministering to the Mind
The truths of the Scripture that we have crystallized from this study could help us develop present and future ministry endeavours towards the mind. Transforming the present understanding of this generation leads to a better-equipped and accurately efficient ministries now and in the future. The desire to do work by the Spirit of God and the Principles of the Word allows us to enjoy eternal benefits and allows us to behold genuine expansion of God’s Kingdom on earth. The ministries that we build must have the ultimate goal of loving God and helping both believers and non-believers alike to love God above all. In order for these to succeed, we should continually build upon the foundations of sound Biblical understanding, and careful integration on how these timeless truths can be timely effectual to our context.
Both the understanding of the natural mind and the relationship of our hearts and minds are crucial to the development of our love for God. Christians, therefore, must seek to understand how the world thinks and diligently cultivate our understanding for God in order to harvest miraculous zeal and delight for His Person. With all boldness, Apostle Peter urged believers to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter3:18, KJV) because he understood the crucial role of the knowledge of God to the development of our love-relationship with Him, the attainment of a fulfilling life and the achievement of joyfully eternal victories.
Mohler, R. Albert Jr. copyright © 2011. Thinking. Loving. Doing.: A Call to Glorify God with Heart and Mind book generally edited by John Piper and David Mathis. Chapter 2 written by Mohler entitled The Way the World Thinks: Meeting the Natural Mind in the Mirror and in the Marketplace
Piper, John. copyright © 2010. Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by Crossway, Illinois
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) unless otherwise noted, copyright © 2001 by Crossway.