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The Life of the Mind

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The Mind Gone Astray

Many people in America and indeed around the world are very familiar with TV personality, radio talk show host, and author Paul Harvey. He's famous for "telling the story behind the story," for taking his readers behind the scenes with interesting, yet true insights, anecdotes, and tidbits. He often takes well known events and researches them, serving up the bizarre twists and turns hitherto unreported and relatively unknown. Perhaps you recall his TV or radio show simply by the way he brought each tale to an end, i.e., by his oft repeated line: "And now you know the rest of the story."

In Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story, Harvey tells this most interesting story about the making of the massive Oxford English dictionary. It took over 50 years to complete (1933) and contains more than 15,000 pages. In any event, when the Macmillan company was searching for the best editor for the project they settled rather easily upon the president of England's Philological Society, Dr. James Murray. Apparently he was the best in his field, a true expert.

But the production of this dictionary was a massive undertaking and so Dr. Murray would require assistance. Now a certain Dr. W. C. Minors, when he heard about the project, wrote a letter to Dr. Murray, offering his assistance. Dr. Murray was rather nonplussed about Dr. Minors' offer for he had never heard of this scholar and who did he think he was to imagine that he could offer any real help. It took a keen mind and total dedication to pull off something so grand. So Dr. Murray wrote back, feigning a positive response, knowing that he was not the least interested.

After receiving the letter, Dr. Minors wrote an amazing letter back to Dr. Murray. In the letter he included "dozens of items, definitions, references...each expertly arranged and constructed in every detail...and more than that." At once Dr. Murray realized that he had been corresponding with a genius. So he quickly dispatched another letter to Dr. Minors expressing his gratitude and soliciting any further guidance, criticism, or help Dr. Minors might want to offer. Immediately the letters began pouring in from Dr. Minors with thousands of valuable insights, many of which eventually made their way into the Oxford dictionary.

But up to this time, Dr. Murray and Dr. Minors had never met. All that Dr. Murray knew of this "mystery scholar" was his address: Dr. W. C. Minors, Crowthorne, England. Dr. Murray determined the two must meet and so he invited Dr. Minors to Oxford. The latter was not able to come, for physical reasons, but would be glad to have Dr. Murray come to visit him. Dr. Murray agreed.

A few days later Dr. Murray traveled to Wellington College Station where he was greeted by a uniformed gentleman who escorted the scholar to Dr. Minors' residence and to the shock of his life. Harvey's words are priceless:

...the great mind of Dr. Minors...the brilliant brain behind a major contribution to the great Oxford dictionary...was only partly there...

For you see, though this extraordinary man's love of learning could not be constrained, he had to be. Dr. Minors was a convicted mad-dog murderer.

Dr. Murray's pen pal...was in the inmate at the Broadmoore Asylum for the Criminally Insane!1

It would be difficult to list all the factors that went into the development of Dr. Minors' problems, but suffice it to say that we have here a man whose knowledge outstripped his life...whose dazzling demonstration of dialects was only outdone by his dumbfounding display of depravity. He knew facts, but understanding, like the proverbial four-leaf clover, apparently eluded him. In short, there was a Grand Canyon size gulf between his knowledge and his life. He walked outside God's plan in creation/redemption.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to desire knowledge for its own reward? Hopefully you've never done anything as heinous as Dr. Minors, but have you ever become aware that the more you focus on gaining knowledge for its own sake, the more meaningless life becomes. The problem is two fold. First, like a world rooted in evolution, knowledge by itself has no raison d'etre and functions like the blackest of black holes; it has sucked many unsuspecting victims into its nothingness. Second, like candy, it cannot satisfy in the long haul because it only addresses a small, however important, dimension of who we are. Knowledge or facts are not personal, in themselves, and therefore, those who worship their accumulation will become something other than, dare I say, less than, fully human.

The Mind Is Not To Be Disparaged

Now some of you are thinking that I'm disparaging the life of the mind. On the contrary! God created the mind. But that's the rub...God created it; it is designed for life in relationship with God, people, and the world, not just to fix itself upon inanimate objects, events, things, etc. Nor was it meant to objectify and depersonalize God and other people. It was not designed as a CD ROM or hard drive, that is, to simply store information to be spit out at a later time. It was designed for so much more! As Woodrow Wilson is reported to have said, "I use all the brains I have and all I can borrow." It is probably safe to say that we've never seen what the human mind can do.

Neither is the problem, as is so often offered up as "insight" among evangelicals, a problem of thinking too much and acting too little. I am convinced that those who repeatedly say this are either threatened by those who are knowledgeable about this or that topic or they want to keep the less knowledgeable in the dark so that they might exert influence over them. Postmodernism, with all its variegated strands, has taught the modern world the truth (though it's not the whole truth) about knowledge as power and its possessors as power brokers.

So then, don't believe people and leaders who claim that what is required is less thinking and more acting. Abandon this idea; it is sub-Christian. It still misses the proper place God gives the mind in his plan of creating and redeeming. As I recall, Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mark 12:3). So what is the proper place of the mind in God's overall plan?

The Beginnings of the Proper Understanding of the Life of the Mind

The first thing we need to realize about the mind is that it is ultimately designed by God to enable a person created in God's image2 to receive knowledge from Him and to humbly enter into relationship with him. It enables us to recognize something of God's unfathomable, yet revealed greatness and majesty, and then to intelligently and wisely love, serve, honor, and obey the living and all knowing Creator-Redeemer. Thus we cannot talk properly about the life of the mind apart from its ultimate object, i.e., God, and its ultimate purpose, i.e., worship.

Like a wise orchestra conductor, who himself seeks to please the audience of heaven, the renewed mind in Christ continuously leads the woodwind, stringed, brass, and percussion faculties of the soul in the harmonious, sweet sounding worship of the One and Only true God. Every day our lives spring forth with new songs of love for the Lord; the humble mind leading its close friends, conscience, will, emotions, memory, and the five senses in the playing of various melodies for the Lord. Whether in the study of culture or creation, sociology or science, the mind informed by Scripture, listening to the Spirit of God, and committed to truth, is a mind pleasing to the Lord. Any other mind is living out its former connections with depravity and ushers forth nothing but a cacophony of disparate sounds, a disjointed and dishonoring representation of reality. It is sub-Christian.

Thus the mind was given to identify God's presence and to grasp the weightiness of truth over error so that the affections could love the one and hate the other, and the will choose the one over the other. The mind was never designed to function as an automaton with "things" as its chief focus. Such an orientation, as we might find in many areas of modern science-enamored as it is with creation over Creator-is the mind having skidded off the well marked highway and over the embankment. In reality, it is idolatry.

Further, while the mind as God's creation is extremely powerful, it is not designed to totally grasp or tame God. Rather, it was given to make communion with the Lord a reality, not to stand in judgment over God. God wanted to be known so he created sentient beings-beings that possess the faculty we call mind, i.e., the knowing abilities. The mind is designed and redeemed by him so that a person might grasp intelligent service to God and pursue it while rejecting dishonorable service. In other words, we must not talk about the life of the mind apart from its design, calling, and therefore duties.

Do you see, then, how utterly beneath the mind God created exists a life given to the mere study of creation or some facet thereof? Such a pursuit for its own sake is demeaning to the mind and therefore demeaning to the One who created it. Yet the mind in submission to and in agreement with God (i.e., about its place in God's world) studies all these things with joy, enjoyment, and relentless commitment to finding and embracing truth. Sciences, hard and soft, can prosper in this scriptural framework-a framework in which God's honor is the highest ideal and, therefore, the sanctity of life and liberty is truly protected and human beings creatively flourish and discover. Recognizing that God created the human mind, then, for certain functions under His Lordship and within His plan of creation/redemption, is crucial not only to the proper functioning of the mind, but also to its future as well!

1 Paul Harvey, Jr. Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story (New York: Bantam, 1997), 31-33.

2 The imago dei includes the faculty of mind, but also much more; it includes all that it means to be human and "godlike." This, of course, does not mean or imply that each of us is a God/god. We are creatures endowed with powerful faculties.

Related Topics: Devotionals, Apologetics

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