Greg Cootsona: Do You Mind? Loving God with All Your Mind
I was recently asked to preach on the final phrase of the Greatest Commandment according to Jesus: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with… with all your mind.’” (Matthew 22:37). Afterward, a neuroscientist in the congregation told me he rarely cries in church, but these words hit home. I hope the message will also resonate with you.
Keep Our Minds On Christ
Paul’s prayer for the Philippian church echoes Jesus’s words, “So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of” (Philippians 1:9-11, The Message).
Paul, like Jesus, wants us to love with both our “heads” and our “feelings.” Their admonitions correspond with modern neuroscientific research that indicates different regions of the brain direct emotions and cognition. Yet, as I heard at a recent BioLogos Faith and Science Conference, “the head/heart distinction is hard to sustain.”
Here’s one example: Antonio Damasio says that those who can’t feel emotions also find it hard to make moral decisions, which is an act that seems entirely rational.
The Bible agrees. The Greek word Jesus used for “mind” in Matthew 22:37 is dianoia, which literally means to “think through” or “think over.” It is thus “the mind as a faculty of understanding, feeling, desiring.” In fact, in the Greek version of the Old Testament, dianoia often translates the Hebrew word for “heart.”
As I read the Bible alongside science, I see God’s vision for us to become whole human beings through the integration of our emotions and thoughts.
Notice what Jesus didn’t say above: “Some of you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and some of you shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, and some of you shall love the Lord your God with all your mind.”
No, Jesus commands all of us to use all we are. That includes whatever mind or intellect we’ve been given.
For most of us, responding to Jesus’s command is not primarily an intellectual exercise, but there are some in our pews who are particularly called to serve God with their minds. I sense that God celebrates the way truly brilliant people fulfill their calling—in the world of faith and science, I think of Elaine Howard Ecklund, Francis Collins, and Jennifer Wiseman. I imagine that God says to them, “See, I’ve poured some of my intelligence into you. Isn’t it cool?” And I believe we can learn from them about loving God with our minds.
...Check out more of Antonio Damasio’s work of feeling and knowing.
...Sadly, studies (highlighted in one of our newsletters) show that Christians have internalized an anti-science bias and believe we are in fact less adept at science.
...This may be why Christians are under-represented in elite institutions like Ivy League schools and the National Academies of Science.
...Watch video of this sermon here.
...Leonard Matheson, the neuroscientist whom I mentioned above, has written an accessible book that brings his research and clinical practice to Christian discipleship. Check out Your Faithful Brain.
Can We Be Too Much in Our Heads?
One thing I’ve learned is that we celebrate what we value. When I was at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, well-known Republican leaders Elizabeth and Bob Dole visited us one Sunday. Several elders excitedly told me about their presence. Later, another pastor on staff lamented, “Greg, I wish they were as excited that Jesus is in our worship service every Sunday.”
Likewise, why don’t we celebrate people with great intellects in the church? Who gets excited when scientists attend worship?
Science for the Church seeks to celebrate and learn from scientists in our congregations. One reason is that we know far too many scientists who don’t feel comfortable in church. They tell me—and this breaks my heart: “It’s easier to be a Christian in the scientific world than a scientist in a congregation.”
I sense fear in some of comments I hear about people who are called to the life of the mind and who have sharp intellects. Scientists test things, ask questions, and measure results. I think that can make many of us uneasy. This was particularly poignant over the past two years of the Covid-19 pandemic when some churches rejected the insights of science. Instead of being afraid, let’s affirm that God provides for us through scientists.
Likewise, let’s not resent smart people. Let’s not talk disparagingly about those who are “too much in their head.” Because if we denigrate science or fail to welcome scientists, who is going to represent Christ in the halls of science? If we aren’t nurturing scientists in our pews, who’s going to help us understand CRISPR and AI, or climate change and the Higgs Boson? We need these leaders to guide our churches in a scientifically and technologically saturated world.
In my work with Science for the Church, I’ve learned from neuroscientists and cognitive scientists how we can love God with our minds—that is, what the “renewal of our minds” (Romans 12:2) means.
C. S. Lewis, who clearly loved God with his mind, phrased it perfectly: “It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.”
When we do that—when we seek to keep our minds on Christ throughout the day—we find life at its fullest. When we love God with all we are—when we mind God—we discover that God also loves every part of us. And that’s good news indeed.
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Strengthening the church through engaging with science