In this video, Bethany Jenkins, Jen Pollock Michel, and Jasmine Holmes offer helpful insights on what it means to love God with our minds.
The following is a lightly edited transcript; please check the video before quoting.
Bethany Jenkins: I would love to hear from us and have a conversation about what it means to love God with our minds. Would you guys have thoughts about that?
Jen Pollock Michel: I think it’s interesting to think about, because we assume that we know what it means to love God with our heart. But love God with your mind? Is opening up a textbook and doing your calculus a way to love God with your mind?
I’m in a church where a lot of people do love God with their mind. They’re doing incredible research; they’re doing all kinds of things, all kinds of intellectual endeavors. They show me that there’s not this kind of sacred-secular divide.
It’s so easy to think we love God with our heart when we worship him and when we raise our hands and worship when we’re at church. But is my friend who is a breast cancer researcher loving God as well? And I think she is. I just don’t think we always have those categories.
Jasmine Holmes: Absolutely.
Bethany Jenkins: What do you think, Jasmine?
Jasmine Holmes: Yeah. As you were talking, I was just thinking of my teaching literature this year and we’re learning about the Ancient Greeks and reading The Iliad and The Odyssey. And it’s a Christian school, so we’re going to have all these conversations of, “Is it okay to read Greek mythology? Is it okay to read secular things? And is that loving God with your mind?” And I think that it is a form of loving God with our minds because in doing so, we learn more about the world that he made and learn more about the cultures that he made.
He put our minds inside of us; he put this world inside of us, and being created in his image, we’re made to search, and to seek, and to know, and to understand. Those actions can be an act of worship.
Bethany Jenkins: I also think it’s really important, from my perspective, to do that as a testimony and a witness to other people who aren’t Christians. Because quite often you can appeal to a public truth about the mind, but when you only focus on loving God with your heart and your emotions, it quickly becomes, “That’s my private truth. This is my story.” But if you can appeal to something that is actually true in the world, and if we believe all truth is God’s truth, then we can actually have a strong witness to our neighbors to say, “Well, you see this, and I’ve learned this. Isn’t that beautiful? Well, let me tell you who created that.”
And so, I think the work that your friend is doing with the breast cancer research is pointing to things that are all truth and God’s truth. And it compels people to think about, “Well, who is that God? What does that mean?”
Jen Pollock Michel: I think it’s surprising, too, for people who are outside of church. I think a lot of times, they have this kind of impression of religious people not really being very intellectually sharp.
Bethany Jenkins: “Religion is the opium of the people?” [As alleged by Karl Marx.]
Jen Pollock Michel: Right. Exactly.
They view religion as just an emotional crutch. They assume that you can’t be intellectual, or smart, or care about the life of the mind and also believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And so, I think it sort of blows apart their categories when you demonstrate that you actually have curiosity about the world.
I think that’s actually a spiritual practice is just to be curious about the world.
Because if God created everything, it’s a way to worship him. It’s just to ask good questions and wanting to know how things work, and what important things happened in history. Those things are ways that we worship him because he was in all of those things and is in all of those things.
Bethany Jenkins: One of my friends, when he was in college at an Ivy League college up in the northeast, he started a Christian student thought journal. And he started it because his roommate in college said to him, “You mean, Christians think?” And so, he thought, Well, maybe we should actually start a thought journal where we’re engaging and trying to create commonplace conversations about a Christian’s approach to different things. And so, now, it’s been going on for years and it’s still at the school. And so, that creates great conversations.
Is there something unique about being a woman loving God with her mind? Is there, maybe, a cultural importance of that in a unique way?
Jasmine Holmes: I think that there can be, kind of, a stigma to women loving God with their minds at times.
We are supposed to love him in a different way from the men around us. Our focus is supposed to be different. But honestly, when it comes down to it, I think that we’re just people. We’re people who are called to love God with all our hearts, our souls, and our mind, both women and men. And while we may do that in different contexts at times, it doesn’t change the heart of the matter, which is the loving, the searching, the seeking, which can take place, male or female.
Jen Pollock Michel: I feel like there are a lot of women who want to offer this corrective. I’ve heard biblical teachers say things like, “Women, you’re overly emotional. You’re supposed to love God with your mind. You need to become more rational.”
We can overvalue the mind. We can say that the emotions are fallen and the mind isn’t. Instead, we really have to say that all of our faculties are fallen, and all of our faculties are capable of being redeemed. So loving God with my emotions, there’s something scary about that. And there’s actually something scary about loving God with my mind, too, because it’s not as if I’m going to get everything right just because I love God with my mind.
And that’s what we have post-enlightenment. We need to recover a holistic view of the human person, and that’s why we have Deuteronomy, right? It teaches us to love God with all of who we are, every part of our beings.
Bethany Jenkins: Well, and we have not only Deuteronomy but also, you said post-Enlightenment. Definitely, in the first century, you had a whole group of people that were loving God according to the law and the mind and yet, they were called white-washed tombs. So there was a lack of that passion. So I think, even though we are called to love God with our mind, which is a beautiful and a good thing, there’s a danger in overemphasizing the mind.
And we shouldn’t forget that when the Scriptures talk about the heart, it’s actually much more inclusive than the emotions. It’s wisdom, it’s the emotions, it’s the mind, it’s the whole of who you are. And it’s a much better framework for thinking about loving the Lord with your mind.
Jen Pollock Michel: Our pastor was just preaching on 1 Corinthians 13 and just said, “You can have all the knowledge in the world, you can understand all the mysteries of creation, but if you have not love, what are we?” I think we’re in a culture and there are certain contexts that really prize the life of the mind, prize intellectual acuity and drive. But Christians need to be reminded that the most important skill that we could ever develop, and shape, and pursue, is our ability to love. And I think knowledge is a part of that. I think the life of the mind is a part of that, but I don’t think it’s the whole of that.