Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Spiritual Intellect

All the duties of the Law, and all the beauties of grace, hang upon two commandments: love thy neighbor as thyself, and love Yahweh Elohim with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Ironically, not only the duties and beauties of the law and grace hang on those commandments but we hang on them as well, or should I say we’re hung on them, hung because we perpetually fail to love as the law and grace demand. The only person who ever loved perfectly, Jesus Christ, proved His love by actually hanging upon a rugged tree, the law and grace hanging with Him there in Love.

Daily we fail ethically and emotionally at the duties and beauties of Love; infamously, we fail even worse when we acknowledge that both the law and grace command us to love Yahweh Elohim with all our minds. From both psychological and theological perspectives, “the mind” refers to volition (will), sanction (conscience), and contemplation (intellect).

Although the concept of “mind” as rational intellect is not immediately obvious to the original instance of “love Yahweh Elohim . . . with all thy heart,” but rather implicit to the word leb, usually translated “heart,” nonetheless, leb does comprehend rational intellect and, therefore, inherent to the commandment is what one might call an implicit duty to love God with one’s mind. The LXX translators either did not choose to emphasize this intellectual dimension of love or perhaps overlooked the intellectual aspect of leb, but all three synoptic writers amended the insufficient LXX rendering to include an intellectual responsibility to love God with one’s mind; for instance, both Matthew and Luke add the term dianoia, and Mark even more emphatically employs the term suneseos, “understanding” or “comprehension.” Hence, despite the LXX oversight, both the Masoretic text and the GNT strongly emphasize the importance of loving God with one’s “mind” or “understanding,” viz., spiritual intellect. That begs the question, “How does one love God with the mind or understanding?”

To answer first, to love God with one’s mind, one should use his/her mind. It sounds like a cliché, “use your mind,” but St. Paul instructs that, whatever we do, should be done passionately, and that includes thinking. We might add that serious thinking usually requires some external stimulus to the brain. A really good book, not necessarily an entertaining one, is perhaps the best external source for intellectual stimulation.

Secondly, to love God with all one’s mind includes a high responsibility to sanctify the mind from the vulgar, mundane, and commonplace, and ennoble the mind through aesthetically transcendent contemplation. Of course, most of us do not live in a monastery so that we can devote 18 hours per day to the study of scripture, but rather we find ourselves thrust out into the cruel streets of secular chaos as cosmic orphans; in that sad estate, we must learn to look past the sewage in the streets, through the polluted atmosphere that surrounds us, and find roses among thorns, lilies in the thickets, and rainbows in the thunder. Art, literature, and music, especially of the classical and secular sort, are like beams of light through the darkness that, although they will not take us to heaven, certainly can make us feel (and think) that we are on the way. This duty to transcendence also demands that we learn to turn every conversation heavenward, not that we should aim to quote a Bible verse every time we engage in conversation, but rather that we should endeavor to make every conversation more meaningful, always leading conversants away from discussion of persons and events to interesting ideas and, hopefully, some affirmation of absolute truth. The ability to converse in a meaningful manner is both a science and art, learned by very few, and one that every thinking individual, Christian or otherwise, should endeavor to cultivate within himself.

Of course, the highest ennoblement of the mind derives from meditation upon Holy Scripture, whereby the will is restrained and redirected to absolute good, the conscience enlightened with righteousness, and the intellect charmed and transfigured by contemplating “things above.” This dimension of loving God with one’s mind necessarily demands intensive study of Holy Scripture, the only completely reliable source of our knowledge of the Divine. The study of Holy Scripture augmented and energized by the didactic ministry of God the Holy Spirit, actually reveals to us the person and nature of the Godhead whom, if we know, we shall adore, that is, love. In addition, if we love God, we shall love those made in his image, even if they, like ourselves, are damaged and scarred by the ravages of sin. Again, Jesus Christ is our example, “a friend for sinners.”


Soda said...

My early days as a Christian were probably the days I done the most studying and reading. I think it’s because once I tasted truth, I settled for nothing less.

Hal Brunson said...

Quite a statement, Soda. As John Reisinger ironically remarked, "Truth ruins a man."

The Militant Pacifist said...


The impartation of the divine nature drives the Christian to divine contemplation. Hence, Christians delight to read their bibles, love to study the Holy Scriptures and rejoice to hear the gospel preached. This is why we should consider those who are not enamored by the Holy Scriptures as candidates for evangelism.

It seems that as a part of conversion, the mind is changed so that it delights in God and the things of God.

The actual “God-shaped vacuum” quotation often attributed to Blaise Pascal is reproduced below:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself" (148/428).