“Never accept and be content with unanalyzed assumptions, assumptions about the work, about the people, about the church or Christianity. Never be afraid to ask questions about the work we have inherited or the work we are doing. There is no question that should not be asked or that is outlawed. The day we are completely satisfied with what we have been doing; the day we have found the perfect, unchangeable system of work, the perfect answer, never in need of being corrected again, on that day we will know that we are wrong, that we have made the greatest mistake of all.” – Vincent Donovan
When asked to identify the greatest command in all the Torah, Jesus said that loving God with all of one’s mind—among other faculties—was paramount. Having been a pastor and professor for the majority of my adult life, that particular part of one’s self—the mind—stands out to me. What does it mean to love God with all of your mind?
I have often referred people to the words of Vincent J. Donovan above to answer that question. He is encouraging us to cultivate a ravenous appetite for understanding. Get curious about the world in which you live. Ask questions—keep asking them. Become a lifelong learner.
Sounds easy enough, but those who would love God with all of their mind should be aware: This journey is not for the faint of heart. For all of its blessing, learning can be disorienting, confusing, exhausting, frustrating and scary. So if you want to love God with all of your intellect, you’ll need to cultivate humility, courage and trust along the way. Let’s use Vincent Donovan’s quote to examine these three qualities.
“The day we are completely satisfied with what we have been doing; the day we have found the perfect, unchangeable system of work, the perfect answer, never in need of being corrected again, on that day we will know that we are wrong, that we have made the greatest mistake of all.”
When we endeavor to love God with our intellects we must understand that God is far beyond anything we could ever possibly conceive of or master. The wise theologians, those men and women whose work requires them to speak of God do so warily. Take for example Martin Buber. For Martin Buber, to say that we have perfectly conceived God is to abolish His divinity. We can say only that God is that undefinable X, the essential mystery, the unknowable, the paradox of paradoxes.
This is not to discourage us from seeking to understand God or speaking of God. We simply must if we are God’s people. It is, however, an encouragement that when we do speak of God that, we do so with a playful seriousness. Playful in the sense that we recognize that, when it comes to God, we speak as children with inadequate minds and vocabularies. Serious in that God is the essence of life—the Heart of all things.
So we resist trite cliches and formulaic expressions of faith. God is bigger than our conceptual boxes. God is more. We do our best to understand and communicate this story that we find ourselves in. When we fail at doing this, when we talk as though we have God all figured out, we repent and ask for the courage and imagination to speak it more faithfully and clearly: that there is so much that we do not know.
And we are encouraged that our salvation, healing and hope rests not in our ability to accurately conceive of or articulate God, but in the simple fact that God desires to have relationship with us and is pleased with our fumbling attempts of praise and worship—as long as they are genuine.
“Never be afraid to ask questions about the work we have inherited or the work we are doing. There is no question that should not be asked or that is outlawed.”
It is a shame that so many of our faith communities have failed to grasp the importance of genuine questioning when it comes to seeking to honor God with our minds. We do our daughters and sons in the faith a great disservice when we do not allow them to voice the very real questions and conundrums that come with following Christ. Questions are what propel relationships forward into intimacy.
Think back to the beginnings of your relationship with your spouse or your best friend. Questions are what kept the conversation moving. Questions and the answers that followed are what allowed you both to explore your similarities and differences. Questions opened the door to reveal the real you that lies just under the surface of all the banal pleasantries and politeness that so plague our Christian communities.
Therefore, in order to truly allow ourselves a genuine faith, we must cultivate an environment that allows for the sacred art of questioning. God gave us minds and doesn’t mind us using them! We do this by being genuine and open with our own questions regarding the faith and by modeling what it means to live into the questions.
In order for us to love God with our minds, we must do so by realizing that we are not alone. Instead, we are members of the greater community of learners. The promptings of the Holy Spirit and the community of believers are like guard rails on both sides of us. It also allows us to risk deeper and more daring thoughts concerning God, because we know those thoughts will be vetted by a loving a Christ-centered community.
God delights in unity, not uniformity. Therefore, grace must become our chief dialect as Christ followers. We must allow for diversity of thought and expression as it pertains to following Jesus. Your brother or sister in Christ will not use the same metaphors and analogies to express Christ that you will. This variety is what allows the Gospel to be all things to all people.
We must embrace a humility that declares to all that God is God and we are not. We must delight in the fact that we have not arrived in the quest to become “little Christs,” but instead that we are becoming more like Christ each new day.
If we can cultivate communities where humility is exalted, questioning is not feared and we trust each other to walk the path in our own unique way, we will be well onto the way the creating spaces where we can love God with all of our minds.
The 10th-century theologian St. Anslem offered the Prayer for Those Searching for God, and it seems appropriate for those seeking to love God with all their mind:
O Lord my God,
Teach my heart this day where and how to see you,
Where and how to find you.
You have made me and remade me,
And you have bestowed on me
All the good things I possess,
And still I do not know you.
I have not yet done that
For which I was made.
Teach me to seek you,
For I cannot seek you
Unless you teach me,
Or find you
Unless you show yourself to me.
Let me seek you in my desire,
Let me desire you in my seeking.
Let me find you by loving you,
Let me love you when I find you.
With a background in the pastorate and an advanced degree in Leadership and doctoral work in the study of Spiritual Formation from Portland Theological Seminary, Matt has an expansive track record as a sounding board and confidant for Millennials in search of the right questions to ask as they pertain to life and the complexities therein. He is currently a staff pastor at The Grove Church in Bryson City, NC and serves as a Commons Life Curator at Habitat Brewing: Tavern and Commons in Asheville, NC. He is married to Nicole Phifer,-Huett, his best friend.