Love God With All Your Soul
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." --Matthew 22:34-40
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." --John 13:34-35
This is the post I really wanted to write from when I envisioned the series. Initially, I only wanted to write this post, but then thought I really shouldn't leave out the other ways in which we are to love, because then I'd just be picking my favorite and ignoring the rest, and they all really do go together.
Sometimes, people are derisive towards others who tend to lean towards studying and philosophy. I've heard multiple times that seminary isn't really that important (usually from people who already have a seminary degree and wouldn't have their job as a pastor without it), or that the Bible is easy to read and that academics make it more difficult than it is, or that academically-oriented people have only "head knowledge" but no "heart knowledge".
But what about if you have no head knowledge? In "When Bible Study Isn't Bible Study" I wrote that if we are not careful to learn, we can get things wrong. I think there is often a paradox because many Christians insist on the importance of Bible reading and knowing the Bible, but then dismiss the idea that head knowledge can be good. Why is this? It's confusing, because when we listen to a sermon, we expect that the pastor has done her homework and knows what she's talking about (one problem I wonder about though, is how does a congregation expect their pastor to educate them through sermons if the pastor doesn't take studying seriously? Do they think that the knowledge is just imparted to the pastor by God as the sermon is prepared?). We expect when we read a book or use a small group curriculum, that the author has head knowledge and is passing that on to us.
And yet, when I have expressed interest in certain topics or have wanted to explore something further, I have, at times, heard comments such as "not everyone is as interested in that as you are". Or when someone told me about finishing reading through the gospel of Matthew, and I asked what questions came up. The answer was "none." None? No questions? Really? To this person, it was very straightforward, and I just can't really wrap my brain around that, because I always have questions. I wonder when Jesus says he hasn't come to abolish the law or the prophets, "what about the writings? Why did he just say two parts of the Tanakh?" Or I wonder why it's so easy for us to give grace to divorced people in the church, even though Jesus is pretty strict about it (Matthew 5:31-32), but so hard to give grace to GLBT people. I wonder why it's rare for me to learn so much of the Jewish background in church; I have learned it from Jewish friends and books. I wonder why we are insistent that there is nobody righteous, yet Joseph is described as a righteous man (Mt 1:19). I wonder why Jesus warns people to pray that their flight from Judea will not be in winter or on a sabbath (Mt 24:20). I wonder. I question. And usually, I feel alone in doing it.
When I was in seminary, the classes in which I did the best were "Philosophy of Christian Religion", "Method and Praxis of Theology", and "Kingdom, Church, and World" (Remember, I didn't finish, so that's why I'm only listing these classes. Had I finished, I'd have more classes to reflect upon). The classes I didn't do as well in were "Vocation of Ministry" and my "Old Testament Introduction" (that kills me, it really does, because I LOVE the Old Testament!). I'm not going to talk about Greek and Hebrew.
It's telling to me that I did well in the classes that were more academic in nature (except the OT class) than the ones that were more practical or applicable (although, "Kingdom, Church, and World" did encompass both, and it was my favorite one).
I enjoy learning.
I enjoy thinking.
I enjoy using my brain.
And you know what? I suspect that God made me this way.
But it also tends to be a lonely place to be. When it comes to actually studying the Bible and thinking deeply in a theological sense, I haven't really had many friends who enjoy it.
We don't act disdainfully like that with other things, do we? We appreciate listening to a singer who can sing well over one that doesn't. We might enjoy watching the "American Idol" tryouts, but we don't actually want any of the bad singers to win. We want the best singer to win, the one that uses his or her voice in a way in which we can't even imagine possible for ourselves. We appreciate watching an athlete who has talent and who has practiced that talent. We see the value in beautiful art over the stick figure scribblings of a child (though, that can be beautiful itself, for other reasons). We appreciate a well-cooked steak by someone who knows how to cook over a hamburger from McDonald's. Don't we? If we can appreciate these talents, if we can acknowledge that we can use our bodies in these ways, why do we so often stop when it comes to using our minds to the best of our abilities? Why should we place value on practicing a sport or an instrument to get better and not place value on practicing using our minds to make them better also? We encourage people to use their vocal talents by joining the choir or praise band. But do we encourage people to use their minds, too? In many churches, most Sunday School classes and small groups are not led by "teachers" but, rather, by "facilitators". The importance of developing relationships with others and application of the Bible to our own lives is stressed. This is often because people feel intimidated by the Bible and we don't want them to feel as if they are dumb if they don't know the right answer, or we want to assure the facilitator that she doesn't have to know everything. And, yes, relationships are important; a person who has a deep and meaningful relationship with God is probably the best person to teach others about that relationship. But is the deep relationship the qualifier for teaching others how to use their minds, or what the Bible really means in an academic way? If a person loves to sing but can't carry a tune, do we want that person to be in charge of the choir or praise band?
A few weeks ago during church we sang "The Power of Your Love" , and it made me smile when we came to these lyrics:
Lord renew my mind
As Your will unfolds in my life
In living every day
by the power of Your love.
As Your will unfolds in my life
In living every day
by the power of Your love.
I've loved Romans 12:2 for a long time, as is probably obvious to any reader here since that verse was the inspiration for naming my blog: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-- what is good and acceptable and perfect." We need to be able to use our minds in order to be transformed and discern God's will for us. In the song lyrics, what is behind this renewal, is the power of God's love.
And really, isn't that the power that should be behind everything we do?
Let's stop assuming that the academics among us don't have any "heart knowledge". Let's start assuming that, like anyone else, academically-oriented people love God just as anyone else does, and that all of us are works-in-progress. We are all created in God's image, with gifts and talents and abilities and interests and passions given to us by God. We are not all feet, not all hands, not all eyes, not all ears, but are the body, together, made up of our differences. Some of us are not academically inclined, and that's ok. Some of us are academically inclined, and that's ok too. But we all still have minds to use, minds that God gave us, and it is through thankfulness to our Creator that we should use them, renew them, and love Him with them. And in order to love God with our minds, we must use them. We must practice with them. We must stretch them and use them for learning. We must love God with the mind that He gave us.