This is the second installment of a three-part series on the “mind” according to Hebrew, and what it means for you as a believer. If you haven’t read part 1 yet, check it out!
Part 2: The “Mind” in Hebrew: You mean they were brain-dead?
As we talked about in part 1, the ancient Hebrews were part of an oriental culture that experienced life very differently than we do today. In our Western culture, we talk about two parts of life: the “mental” stuff and the “non-mental” stuff. You know what I mean: the non-mental stuff is music, fun, love – all the things that we all really want deep down within. Yet spend a day in corporate America and you’ll see that the money goes to those with the – you guessed it – brains.
It’s not all bad, you know. I wouldn’t want Britney Spears designing the space shuttle or the latest skyscraper in NYC (no offense intended, she’s just not the most qualified for that kind of brain-intensive work). Yet, spend an hour talking to a Theology student and you’ll realize that the mental ones have somehow made it into the realm of God (okay, I have to admit that’s a good pun). Today we teach up-and-coming preachers 35 different theories on the atonement, 6 different approaches to parsing the qualitative indicative form of the predicate in the Greek New Testament, and if that’s not enough, just start up a conversation about Calvinism and eternal security, and you might as well forget lunch and dinner because the conversation will last 10 hours. Yes, the study of God has become one of the mind’s favorite topics. I call it “Intellectual Wars: God meets the super-brains”.
Hello?!! Does anyone see something wrong here? Is it just me, or have we made this way way too complicated? The answer might lie in the fact that we steadily moved away from the Hebrew roots of our faith, and especially in the fact that the Hebrew language doesn’t even have the word “mind” in it.
You see, in Hebrew thought, life is something to live and experience. There are plenty of Hebrew words for thoughts, understanding, and wisdom – but in place of the word “mind” as the center for all this activity, the Hebrew has the word “heart”. In Hebrew thinking, our “thinking” comes out of the same place as our “feeling”: the heart. There’s no separation between what we know (facts, ideas, etc.) and what we feel deep down on the inside. They are one because we are one, and we are one because God is one, since we are made in His image (Gen. 1:27).
The whole idea of separating thinking from feeling is part of an overall Greek philosophy called “dualism”. The idea is that the “mind” is “good” – thoughts are safe, easily controlled. But my emotions are “bad” – they grab ahold of me and whirl me around, taking me to places I don’t want to go. This is the reason I can jump up and down, screaming my head off like a mad idiot at a football game, but I sit like a bump on a log in church. Why? Because deep down inside, I believe the lie that when it comes to God, emotions are bad – and if not bad, at least dangerous, needing to be controlled at all costs.
Hebrew thought is just the opposite. Of course, the Scriptures talk about the flesh (Rom. 7), which is warring against God. Many times the flesh is experienced through emotions – we WANT that money, that house, that girl or guy. Yet sometimes, the very lack of emotion can be the flesh as well. When we sit in church daydreaming about what we are going to eat after the service, we’re just as much in the flesh as when we are coveting our neighbor’s iPod. So we see that the emotions themselves aren’t bad – the question is, what is fueling those emotions? The source can either be God or the flesh – but the emotions themselves are not the problem.
You see, in Hebrew thought, life is meant to be lived and experienced passionately. When the ark of the covenant was returned to Jerusalem (2 Sa. 6:12-22), it says that David – the king of Israel – went whirling and spinning before the Ark of the Lord. That was something completely normal! Check out Ps. 149:3: “Let them praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre.” I like the Message Bible’s translation: “Let them praise his name in dance; strike up the band and make great music!”
That is the truth. In Hebrew culture, life – and worship – was something that you lived passionately, flowing out of your heart. God wasn’t something to be analyzed, understood by human reasoning – He was someone to be experienced, to be tasted and seen (Ps. 34:8). He was something to be lived – with your whole heart. In the course of that experience, you would understand facts and knowledge – but it would always flow out of the love relationship with your heavenly Father that you were experiencing in your heart, day by day.
Coming up next: Part 3 – what it all means for you as a believer today: moving from a head knowing into a heart experience.
Until next time!