I’ve spent the last few months preparing to start a PhD program. Growing up I never imagined this was something that would be a part of my life. In reality my decision to go down this path was in response to a challenge by one of my brothers. We’re quite competitive in my family and so when the suggestion was made that a PhD was something attainable, I silently accepted the challenge to myself and decided to work in that direction, desiring to be the first in my family to accomplish such a goal. Probably not the best of reasons to embark upon a journey, but God can use anything to move us where He desires us to be. That’s exactly what He’s done.
In the years since I made that silent commitment God has used the path He has put me on to mold and shape my faith. I never imagined the journey I would be going on would be as incredible as the one I’ve been traveling. I’m a simple girl. Nothing special. I’ve always struggled to find confidence and I’ve made more mistakes than I’d care to admit in my attempt to quite the voice that whispers “you can’t do it, you’re not enough.” But through it all God has revealed more and more of Himself to me so that I am hopelessly in love with Him and can’t imagine life without Him.
He’s used an interesting path to reveal Himself to me. Most people don’t require years and years of academic study in order to find intimacy with God but books and papers, research and study have been the tools He has used to draw me to himself. Just this spring I was reminded of this draw.
I have now been out of my master’s program for two years. In this time I have learned so much about God and He has taken me on some incredible adventures. He’s grown the ministry with which He entrusted me. We’ve put together conferences. I’ve been invited to speak at other people’s conferences. He’s opened doors for me to be published in magazines and teach at universities. He even opened the door for me to be spotlighted alongside some of the most talented female apologists in the world in an article in Christianity Today this spring. All of this has been absolutely incredible, but something was missing.
It wasn’t until this spring that I realized what that was. I spent the spring taking prerequisites for my PhD application, classes like Metaphysics, Theology Proper & Creation, and Moral Philosophy. I was excited to start them, but unaware at how much I had missed such an intimate dive into God’s character. As I studied Aquinas and Aristotle, Augustine and Avicenna, I fell into a world where God challenges not only my heart but my mind. I hungered for more and thirsted to drink deep from God’s truth. It awakened a desire that I was only marginally aware was sleeping restlessly within me.
I want to know more of God. I want to know as much as I possibly can about Him. I don’t just want to have a marginal belief that God is real or that He is interacting in my life but I want to know Him. That kind of deep, intimate, personal, all-encompassing knowledge that comes from relationship and intimacy.
When my pastor speaks of marriage, he speaks of scripture’s references to Adam knowing Eve which produce life between them. Sure there is the physical implied in this passage, but there is also so much more. There is a depth of intimacy, far beyond a truth value statement. There is an implication of a joining of souls through the study and personal interaction between two people. It’s this deep intimate connection created by the study of one another that brings life to the relationship. It’s this kind of depth of knowledge resulting in intimacy that is why God uses the analogy of marriage to represent His relationship with the church. It is this kind of knowledge that inspires verses that say “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”
Humanity seeks the equation to solve the puzzle. We always want to know exactly what steps we need to take in order to accomplish our goal. Usually this results in a polar decision, in other words, we end up focusing on one set of requirements to the exclusion of the others. At some points in history Christians have focused on behavior modification to the exclusion of relationship with God. At other points Christians have focused on head knowledge of God to the exclusion of a relationship and personal investment. The current focus of choice in our culture seems to be a focus on the heart part of the equation to the exclusion of the mind.
Yet how can you love something or someone you know little or nothing about? I love coffee ice cream (bear with me…I’m not comparing ice cream to God). Why? Because I’ve had it. I know what it is, what it’s got in it, what it tastes like, what it smells like…This is starting to sound like a scientific experiment of the senses….which is precisely the point. If I said I loved coffee ice cream but had never experienced it and knew nothing about it you’d think I was either crazy or lying.
The same is true of God. Sure we cannot know everything about God. I’m not really sure I’d want a god small enough that a finite mind like mine could fully conceptualize and understand. But we can know quite a bit about God. There is enough of Him to be known that some of the greatest minds in all of history have spent their entire lives studying God and never run out of things to learn. That’s what people do with things or people they love. When you actually love someone or something you put all your effort and energy into getting to know that person or learning about that thing. How do I know this? Monday nights’ and fantasy football. Millions of people spend an innumerable amount of time researching players, statistics and scores, because they love the game. They could tell you more than you would ever want to hear and they never run out of things to learn regarding the subject. How do I know this? Because they go back and do it all again next year!
But we’re not just talking about head knowledge, like what is required for football, we’re also talking about an interpersonal, intimate relational knowledge that comes through spending time with that person. Loving with the heart.
If we focus on loving God with our heart and ignore our mind we end up not really loving God, but rather whatever version of god our heart has created. That’s like saying you love someone without actually knowing anything about them. The reality is you don’t love them, because you don’t know them. Without knowing them you’re only loving your idea of them, not who they actually are. This is why people fall in and out of love all the time, because they “love” someone they don’t actually know.
On the other hand if we focus on loving God with our minds and ignore our hearts then we end up with a pharisaic, legalistic, and cold “love” that has not penetrated us in a way that is transformational. This is like saying you love someone like a movie star, professional athlete, or some other famous person. Some people know more than they probably should about people in the limelight. They could tell you more than you could ever want to know about some celebrity. They have every piece of available knowledge about this person. But no amount of knowledge actually gives them a personal relationship with that person. They know about that person, but their knowledge of that person is limited to the impersonal. There is a depth of knowledge that they cannot possess because there is no interpersonal relationship.
Loving God with our minds cannot be separated from loving Him with our hearts, souls and strength. When some part of that is removed it’s not love. It’s either infatuation based on an idea (lack of mind) or infatuation based on information (lacking heart and soul). If we say we love God but don’t care to learn about Him and grow in our depth of knowledge both informational and interpersonal then how can we really say we love God? I realized that this spring. My relationship with God is so much more colorful and real in the periods when I seek to know Him more than it is in the times when I’m content with the knowledge I already have. It doesn’t require a master’s program or even a formal class. Pick up your Bible, join a Sunday school group or visit a new church. Find a way to learn more about God and He will surprise you beyond your wildest dreams.