(Neuroscience of Sanctification Series)
Romans 6:17 “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. “
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;”
In these verses and many others there is a preeminence given to the heart. The heart actually reigns above understanding or intellect. Just as with our “bowels,” I think that the word “heart” goes beyond metaphor. The reason these terms and “metaphors” exist is because they capture an experience- we feel things in our chest and gut. But I want to spend some time on the notion of heart because there is so much truth to be mined here. So much of our lives and relationships become rote exercises, autopilot experiences, and right or wrong checklists that we miss the true abundance of life that comes from engaging all that we are.
This blog was first inspired by my interaction with others on a Christian discussion board following my reaction to a blog I had read. The blogger was criticizing the lyrics of a Christian song because it spoke about believing in God because he felt God’s love. The emphasis of the disagreement was on the word “felt.” I attempted to wade in a bit in defense of the song, but gave up quickly because I didn’t not want to make too big an issue of it. It really got me thinking about what we base our faith on. I tried to start a discussion about it on that discussion board but I got rather simple answers despite my many promptings. I think the problem was largely that this type of discussion cannot be had over a keyboard.
Yes, the very heart of Christianity is belief in and relationship with Jesus, but what does that mean. When people argue that our faith isn’t about feelings what are they getting at? I think many would point toward the bible or apologetics, but I really doubt that either was the crux of the experience that brought them into relationship with God.
So, when I ask the question, “what do you base your faith on?” and you tell me the bible or Jesus, my follow up response is- “why?” Why do you believe? Because that is the real answer to my question.
In my mind, the bible is a pretty weak answer. It is an amazing book, but there is nothing magical about it and Christians have been arguing over the content’s meaning for a couple thousand years. If evidence came out that Jesus never walked the earth, Christians would dismiss that evidence no matter how compelling. So why do you believe in God, Jesus, and the bible? What is the bedrock of your faith? If every bible was burned up could you still have faith? The early believers didn’t have a New Testament.
What is the difference between reading about Einstein and having known him? Can I really say that I know him if I’ve only read about him? The answer is experience. If I know Einstein I’ve had experiences with him that have helped me to know him. Meeting someone in person gives us information that can never be gleaned from a book, television, radio interview, second hand story, or audio recording. There is a very visceral, brain to brain connection that happens when we are in the physical presence of someone else. We may not realize this, but it is that physiological and neurological connection that makes all the difference between knowing someone and knowing about them.
Where does our faith rest? An experiential encounter with God. The only way to know Him is to experience him. So I would argue that our faith rests upon experience, a large part of which actually is our emotions and sensations found in our hearts and guts. We believe because we have felt God. That is why contradictory evidence, philosophy and argument do not do much to shake our faith. You can tell me over and over that my friend doesn’t exist, but I’ve met him.
I’m not saying that our faith walk resides in and is informed by feelings, but ultimate faith in a relationship with Jesus comes from the experience of and memory of encounters with Him. I don’t need to feel His presence everyday to know he’s there, but I know he’s there because I have felt Him.
I’m making this argument to highlight how important “feelings” are in our faith. Somehow we have lost touch with what it really means to be in relationship with God, rather than studying God. We have created a rather robotic view of faith that is far too antiseptic. What I hope to demonstrate is that not only can we work to intentionally engage our feelings in our faith, but if we fail to do so we rob ourselves of much of our ability to grow and connect with God.
Next Week: A deeper look into a heart Relationship with God