The Heart and the Mind

If there is anything today’s culture has done for Christianity, it has made us skeptical that what we see is genuine. Remember American Idol? In season 7, finalists David Archuleta and David Cook were unknowingly taken to their hometown, where they were greeted by an enormous crowd of local fans. Each were taken upon a large stage, where the mayor congratulated them and named “David Archuleta Day” and “David Cook Day” a local yearly holiday. Cook, who was the more emotional of the two, shed tears of overwhelmed gratitude. Archuleta, who had kept dry eyes that whole season, also managed to cry a little that day. However, the teary-eyed shots seemed forced, and were cut in at the very end of the segment; it was clear that Archuleta was not the emotional type, and the network put in these shots to keep the playing field even. Cook won that season. It’s not a big secret that Idol is a popularity contest, not a vocal competition. Tears shed at the crucial moment will prove to be far more critical than any vocal feat on stage. This is why Idol pours air-time and money into these extra-musical segments. They know how greatly it affects their audience.

And that’s wrong, right? Because emotion should be genuine. Tears are such an evocative show of feeling. To use them superficially would defile their poignancy.

I often have these feelings when I go to church, read Christian articles, and hear Christian speakers. I can’t help but cross examine the “tears” of these places, the powerful emotional components that often give a striking emphasis to whatever point that is being preached. I love the gospel of Jesus Christ, but does the preacher really need melancholic music playing in the background of his sermon? Does he/she really need to exhort me to lift my hands as the worship band plays a final, anthem-esque, chorus?

In the book of John, there was a man named Lazarus. He died, and famously, Jesus wept for him. I find this to be one of the sweetest passages in the Bible. However, for the longest time I had a hard time accepting it. The “tears” of the story are touching, but I can’t help question their genuineness. Jesus’ reaction to Lazarus’ death is not what you’d expect, “Jesus plainly told them, ‘Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe” (John 11:14). One key word here is “plainly.” He plainly told the disciples this? Perhaps similar to how one would plainly note the weather, or describe what they ate for lunch. Even more than that, How was Jesus “glad” to hear that Lazarus died? It’s almost like the first thing on Jesus’ mind was “Oh, good! I can bring this guy back to life. This is a really prime opportunity to make my ministry look good.” I even dare to wonder if, when he gladly and plainly made his way over to Lazarus, Jesus simply just worked himself up to shed a few tears, not actually feeling a true loss over Lazarus, but knowing the emotional show would convict the crowds around him.

Now don’t judge me yet. These are wild claims, and to discuss their truth is not my point. I admit that it is sensationalist. I would not actually claim that those were Jesus’ intentions. But while we dismiss these wild claims, in light of knowing it’s Jesus we’re talking about, I would venture to guess that many of us do have these thoughts when we hear similar, more present-day anecdotes.

Perhaps in Sunday church you heard an emotionally turbulent sermon where, at the end, you re-committed yourself to pursuing God. Yet, on Tuesday, two days later, you look back and question if that sermon was even legitimate in the first place. After all, the music was loud, and everyone else around was crying. It might have just been a spur of the moment. Next Sunday, the sermon is once again emotionally powerful, but this time, your guard is up, and you remind yourself of the loud music, and the tears around you, and you make a conscious decision to not get swept away.

I want to be clear, it is not bad to have doubts about the Christian faith. Rather, we should always question our beliefs. It is a positive sign, as it reflects how much we care. However, in our questioning, we should not dismiss the importance of our heart, even prioritizing it above intellect.

I think a lot with my mind. My intellect is a gift from God, but I have also made it my biggest obstacle. I give my mind to pursuing God, but ultimately I must realize that my base of knowledge is very small. Not only can I learn relatively very little about this life, our knowledge is also exclusive. There are children in West Africa who will never learn the concepts I discuss in a Bible study every week. Are they excluded from the kingdom of heaven? No. Rather, we may not all have access to knowledge, but God has created in every one of us a heart, specially made to feel His presence deeply and powerfully. Jesus did not give a discourse on the mechanics of death and miracles; He wept.

Last month, my best friend (let’s call him Jake) was in a really bad mood. Some tough stuff happened to him that made him unhappy, frustrated, sad, and angry. I spent the day with him, and told him all the things I knew he was doing wrong. I patiently sat through his rants, and casually thought: “This is clearly tough for Jake. If only he chose to improve “x”, “y”, and “z” in his life, this would not be happening to him.” Suddenly, while we were in his room, Jake punched the wall, picked up a chair, and threw it across the room. The moment shocked my heart into action. All day, my intellect had been the driving force behind my relationship with him. To see him then, though, at a breaking point, hurling a chair across the room, broke my heart. My heart had not felt his pain; I had only known it with my mind. I remembered all the times I was pushed to the point of hurling a chair, and realized that all day I had been way off the mark in being there for my friend. I thought I knew where he was. I could spot all his flaws. I was an unbiased outsider, but I had missed the point completely. Intellect could get me facts and data, but it could never know another person’s heart.

From Luke 10:27, I am called to “love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my strength and with all my mind.” I will be studying the Bible more than ever before. I will integrate time with Him into my daily schedule like never before. I will strive to reflect God in my lifestyle like never before. But firstly, and ultimately, I will set my heart to know God. I want to feel God and His emotions for those around me. If the Lord’s love and passion for us is as deep as He claims it to be, how dare I try to limit that with the smallness of my own intellect?

Brandon Lincoln Snyder ’18 is a music concentrator in Adams House. Currently, his favorite band is “Fall Out Boy” and his favorite HUDS food is red-spiced chicken. He hopes to go kayaking in the Charles at least once before it gets too cold.