In my circles, I hear a lot of talk about living from the heart, not the head. That message is nothing new; it has been around for decades, and I understand where it comes from. There’s certainly an underlying truth to it; unfortunately, though, the way it gets expressed often tends to imply a false polarity instead of a balance. The heart and intellect are not incompatible. Far from it! Living fully and wisely from the heart involves using our head, and problems arise when we emphasize either at the expense of the other. I know because I’ve lived on both ends of the spectrum. Here is what I’ve found:
- The mind is not where life dwells, and to emphasize it at the expense of the heart is to experience less than the abundant life Jesus offers us.
- However, to scorn the mind is to ignore a vital part of our being which God created with the intent that we might love him with it as surely as we do with our heart.
In some of the church cultures I once moved in, the intellect was distrusted to the extent that it was actually maligned. I didn’t fit in well, because I didn’t know how not to think, and to process, and to question, and even to disagree. I didn’t know how not to mentally engage with the Scriptures, and to ponder how they connected with life, and with how people, including me, are put together, and with what God himself is like. I just couldn’t seem to shut off my “thinker”–I didn’t know how.
It finally occurred to me that those who emphasized heart over head didn’t know how either. They just didn’t realize, or perhaps didn’t want to admit, that they thought a certain way about the mind, and had become so set in that way of thinking that they used their minds to reinforce their negative view of the mind without recognizing the irony involved.
Out of that, I came to this understanding: You had darn well better learn to think for yourself, because if you don’t, someone else–a person, a group of people, even a religious culture–is going to think for you. And when that happens, you can run into trouble. Because cloneliness is not next to godliness: the two are a world apart.
That said, if the mind is meant to inform the heart, the heart is meant to guide the mind. I don’t know how better to put it. The intellect is not the source of life, merely a gateway to it, and the mind apart from the heart is lifeless. It is as capable of self-deception and idolatry as it is of getting at truth; it takes the heart to ignite facts and make them explode into life inside us, resulting in a rich life that overflows with the Holy Spirit.
We are complex creatures who are to “love the Lord [our] God with all our heart, mind, and strength”–in other words, with all that we are, to the best that we are granted. The mix of that three-part combination is different for every person, but the point is that we cannot shut off any of those aspects of our being. It’s impossible. In this life, we simply are physical, mental, and spiritual. Even those of us who live their lives from a wheelchair have unique ways of loving God with their their physical nature; they just express that love differently from those who have no physical encumbrance.
As for those of us who are more intellectual by nature versus those of us who are more intuitive and passionate, we’ll do well to recognize that the mind and heart are intended to complement each other in a symbiotic relationship. Neither can be shut off, only stifled in a misguided attempt to be a “better Christian.” But only the grace of Jesus makes us any kind of Christian at all. If we attempt to improve on that grace by emphasizing one aspect of our humanity at the expense of another, we’ll only experience less than the full, free life that our Father intends for us: a life vitally connected to him that causes our thinking to align with his, and that shapes our heart according to his own.