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The Emotional Aspect of Doctrinal Truth

We usually think of doctrinal truth as a concept or proposition arrived at by means of intellectual or cognitive processes. Wikipedia defines cognition as “the scientific term for “the process of thought”. Its usage varies in different ways in accord with different disciplines: For example, in psychology and cognitive science it refers to an information processing view of an individual’s psychological functions. Other interpretations of the meaning of cognition link it to the development of concepts; individual minds, groups, organizations, and even larger coalitions of entities, can be modeled as “societies” (Society of Mind), which cooperate to form concepts.”

Whether or not we have thought of this in a specific way, we believe this. It stands as a primary reason why Urshan Graduate School of Theology was founded. Our explicit purpose may be found in the use of the word “theology” in the school name. It means the science or study of God. All of us have an understanding—or even a conviction—that we should apply our mental faculties to the pursuit of truth, the acquisition of scriptural knowledge and to cognitively understand God, insofar as our finite minds allow us to do that. We use reason, analysis, investigation and other kinds of mental exercises in this pursuit. Carl Jung identified eight cognitive processes that humans use to perceive themselves, the world around them and their perception of truth: experiencing, reviewing, interpreting, foreseeing, ordering, analyzing, connecting and valuing. The study of the Jungian model is fascinating and one would benefit greatly in looking at it in-depth. Actually, cognitive psychology is the one branch of the field that I personally find the most credible.

God equipped man with the ability to think on a level above that of the animal kingdom. Since we were made in His image, then this property must be a reflection of the nature of God Himself. The mind is not an enemy of God nor is it to be considered insignificant in our relationship to God. In fact, Jesus said that we were to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” (Matthew 22:37).

But beyond the human nature to be inquisitive, the bible itself encourages us to apply our minds to understanding God. Consider the following scriptures:

· Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15

· These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Acts 17:11

· We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: 2 Peter 1:19

· But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; 15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. 2 Timothy 3:14-17.

The mind, however, cannot be completely trusted. It is affected by the fallen nature of man just as every other aspect of our existence bears the curse of sin. That means that we cannot give a blanket endorsement to every thought, every mental process or every conclusion that we reach through human reasoning. We can be misinformed. We can be biased. We can be illogical. We can be devious. We can be stupid. Albert Einstein said, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” While we’re on stupidity quotes, Elbert Hubbard said, “Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped.”

We also have to remember our good Greek friends in Acts 17. My Greek professor at the University of Toledo started his introductory course with a lecture about the Athenians. He said that around 500 B. C. there was a colony of geniuses who lived in Athens the likes of which has never been duplicated. They either began all of the great disciplines of the mind or they significantly advanced their study. Philosophy, politics, medicine, literature, art, drama, mathematics, physics, music, architecture, language, just to name a few, were developed in this culture. Their ideas about religion, however, although entertaining, were bizarre.

Paul went to Athens hundreds of years after Greece’s Golden Age, but the traces of its past lingered on in the minds of its intellectuals. After Paul encountered them on Mars Hill, he wrote the following passage to the Corinthians, who, no doubt, always felt a little inferior to the geniuses of Athens: “For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. 20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” 1 Corinthians 1:19-21. Later, he wrote: And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: 5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. 6 Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought.” 1 Corinthians 2:4-6. Thus, we must never trust solely in human cognition, especially in the spiritual realm. It is inherently inadequate in leading us to ultimate truth about God. While it is not right to say that the knowledge of God is illogical or that the understanding of God is non-rational, it is right to say that the contemplation of God goes beyond the limitations of the human mind. Ultimately, God knowledge is revelatory and experiential.

Perhaps the clearest scriptural passage that demonstrates the revelatory knowledge of God comes from the gospel of Matthew when Jesus asked the disciples who men said that he was. After they reported on what they had heard on the street, Jesus put the question to them personally. Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus did not give an initial confirmation to the substance of Peter’s statement. Instead, he commended him for the manner by which he acquired the knowledge. “You are blessed, Simon Barjona. Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you. This was revealed by my Father in Heaven.” Perhaps the reason for the greatest theological error over the centuries, the doctrine of the trinity, is because it was the result of man’s attempt to rationalize the state of the Godhead, making it conform to human wisdom instead of divine revelation. As such, it not only fails the revelation test, it fails the logic test as well.

But man continues to try. This thought of God is so intriguing that we cannot stop our inquiry. The problem is that our intellectual quest not only falls short of the mark, it leads us astray. A. W. Tozer, in his book, “The Knowledge of the Holy,” says, “Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need Him. We want a God we can in some measure control. We need the feeling of security that comes from knowing what God is like, and what He is like is of course a composite of all the religious pictures we have seen, all the best people we have known or heard about, and all the sublime ideas we have entertained.” And yet, “the world by wisdom knew not God.”

In my view, the only real solution to this dilemma must begin with reality—the state of things as they are. The knowledge of God does not begin with the abstract. It starts with what we know in the tangible and sentient world. Jesus laid the groundwork for this. “And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2-3. A child lives several years before he or she can think in abstract ways. Yet, we understand that learning begins before this later stage development. The relatively new theory of Emotional Intelligence emerged in the mid-nineties which held that any measurement of IQ that did not factor in EQ was flawed. A number of studies have been done which demonstrate the presence of emotions not only in neo-natal children, but also babies still in the womb. Intra-uterine crying, anger, expressions of pleasure and pain have been registered before birth. A baby’s sense of love and security appear much earlier than its intellectual abilities.

Our understanding of God, therefore, cannot be limited or confined to the cognitive processes. We must embrace God on an emotional level as well as on an intellectual level. Personally, I do not believe that it is even possible to come to God on the basis of an intellectual pursuit. If it were, the giant brains among us would be the loudest proclaimers of the gospel. Instead, they are usually known for their skepticism, if not atheism. Our relationship with God may be confirmed, broadened, deepened and understood by our intellect, but it will never be the primary reason for the relationship. Moreover, anyone who does not develop an emotional tie to God will not survive the turmoil and deceitfulness of the flesh in living for God.

This leads us to my conclusion. Ultimately, the truths of God are not held in the head but in the heart. God has designed our relationship with him to touch all areas of our lives, body, soul (mind) and spirit. His truth is not meant to be intellectual only, but also an emotional experience. Hence, we have the phrase “the love of the truth.” Paul writes this in 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12. “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: 9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, 10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

What, then, is our challenge? It transcends the hard facts about God. It goes beyond knowing God intellectually. It is to love God. It is to love the knowledge of God. It is to love every aspect of God: his oneness, his holiness, his might and dominion, his solitude, his justice, mercy, faith, grace and every attribute that we can use to describe God. The bond that we have in this God/man relationship is not in the magnitude of our knowledge, but in the depth of our love.

If you don’t think that God is that interested in something so primitive, so non-intellectual as love, think again. Remember Abraham and Isaac? The whole purpose for that scenario was not to prove Abraham’s intellectual grasp of God, but to find out if his love for God was greater than anything else in Abraham’s life. “And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. 11 And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. 12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.” Genesis 22: 10-12. In the New Testament, God still requires proof of our love for him. “I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love.” 2 Corinthians 8:8.

Recently, I heard a young preacher, Brother Joel Urshan, preach about the revelation of John. He wasn’t talking about the Book of Revelation, but about the revelation of Christ’s love toward him. John referred to himself as “that disciple whom Jesus loved.” He seemed to be must more secure in this understanding that was Peter, who failed his Master.

The emotional aspect of doctrinal truth finds expression in our love for God. This lies at the heart of true theology. It could not be stated in a more beautiful way than John did in 1 John 4:6-13. “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. 7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. 12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13 Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.”

Our greatest duty may not be to fully understand God.

It must be to simply and completely love God. On that basis, God can reveal more to us than we could ever know using our intellect. Moreover, to love God means to love His revealed truth. Any doctrinal truth that we possess will be lost if it is held in the hands of those who do not love God. Anyone who proclaims a love for God and simultaneously disparages the truth of God proves himself untruthful.

I love this Apostolic truth. I celebrate it. I have bought it. I will not sell it. I commit myself to its defense, whenever it becomes necessary. When given the opportunity, I will preach it, teach it and write about it without compromise. If that is an emotional response, so be it. I am convinced that God wants an emotional relationship with His people because He created us as emotional beings. I have no higher calling.

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Reader Comments (2)

I do find it interesting that important numbers in math and physics, such as pi and e are irrational, that have no finite representation and no apparent pattern, but just go and go and go...

It seems like a small hint of what it is like to describe God. =]

October 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTim Garcia

The absolute LOVE of God - for us. I love how you brought out the emotional aspect. Yes, we need His intellect to understand His written word to us, but thereafter - it should transpire into - LOVE. And that's what's missing in the people I talk to; they're all ignorant intellectuals; just words, no love - and it hurts your heart for their souls. They need the Holy Ghost; that's all can be said about their condition.

May 22, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSydney Heimericks

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