I recently listened to a convocation address given by the president of my undergraduate alma mater. One line of his speech jolted me: “The Bible is actually very clear that we come to know the will of God through our minds and not our emotions.” In other words, in all things spiritual the head has supplanted the heart. I believe that our culture, in many respects, feels the same in the privileging of the cognitive over the emotive in all aspects of life. Being “emotional” is considered a mark of immaturity while those who are more intellectually inclined are seen as more sophisticated and urbane.
My question for us is this: does the dichotomy between thinking and feeling, head and heart, hold up? Neuroscience would say no. Antonio Damasio, author of Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Mind, claims “that certain aspects of the process of emotion and feeling are indispensable for rationality” (xiii). In other words, emotions and feelings ultimately serve the decision-making processes that we engage in every single day of our lives. We can’t make well-informed, wholesome decisions without the ‘heart.’ In fact, Damasio shares a story about Elliot, a professional businessman who lost his brain’s frontal lobe during surgery for a tumor. After the surgery, he retained a high IQ but had not capacity for emotion. This left Elliot incapable of making decisions which resulted in near personal and professional demise.
The separation of heart and head is really a false dichotomy, both neurologically and theologically. No where does Holy Scripture elevate the mind over the heart but rather both co-equally participate in the gift of loving and knowing God. Jesus affirms as much in Matthew 22:37: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…and with all your mind.” Heart and mind are not separated but mutually serve the same greater purpose of loving and enjoying God. What is mature is not a lack of emotion but disciplined emotions. Thus, an indication of disciplined hearts and minds are those with their total focus on God’s will discerned in and through worship, service, and discipleship.
Rev. Will Wilson is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Kilgore. Contact him at email@example.com .