As a college teacher, I often have to reflect on what a college education really aims at. What should we be doing?
Jesus was asked a similar question once: “What is the greatest of the commandments?” The question was very broad, of course: it meant something like, “What should we be doing with the whole of our lives?” But the answer he gave, because it applies to every part of life, applies to a college as well. He cited Deuteronomy 6:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord and you shall love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
One could spend a life unpacking that one sentence. But what I want to focus on now is the fact that Jesus didn’t quote it the way it is found in Deuteronomy—the way I just wrote it out. What he said was this:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
He has added an element to the commandment, namely that you shall love the Lord your God “with all your mind.” What could that mean? A commandment about the mind. So often we have presented to us this picture of the life of the mind as at least different from and maybe even opposed to a life of devotion: the proud intellectuals over there and the simple saints over here. But Jesus puts it all together and says you need to love the Lord your God with all your mind.
What could it mean? What kind of love would the mind have?
I can think of a couple of things. First, the movement of the mind is obviously directed by what you love. A lover is someone who, when he has nothing else claiming his attention, when his mind is free from other occupations, tends to drift back to the object of his love. What you really love will tend to surface when you have a free moment. You get away from the pressures of the day and the mind goes back to where your heart really is. And that is one sense in which you should love the Lord your God with your mind. Your mind should be turning back to him when you have that freedom, and subordinating other thoughts to him.
But there is another, more subtle sense in which you can love the Lord the God with your mind. This is harder to explain, but the mind in a way has its own hunger. The mind itself has a proper object and an impulse toward it. Just as the eye in way wants to see, and the ear in a way wants to hear things, so each power that we have has its own impulse towards the object for which it was made. The mind has an impulse of its own towards the true and the beautiful.
We can refine and bring out this natural impulse, or we can dullen and misdirect and twist that impulse until it goes towards whatever is easy and sensational. Just as the eye of a painter is formed more and more to enjoy seeing subtleties of hue and shape, so the eye of the late night television viewer is formed to see whatever is flashy, in bright colors. The same is true of the mind: we can form the impulse and the hunger, if you will, of the mind itself. I am not talking about the will here, but the mind’s own hunger.
So in each of these two ways, the attention of the lover and the hunger of the mind, we should love the Lord our God with all our mind. If in the former, its going to be by subordinating our thoughts to something about God. For example, you might think about geometry, so that you could build a bridge, so that you could cross the valley, so that you could get to church, so that you could worship God. And in that case, you’re thinking about geometry finally for God. All your thoughts our somehow scheming back to the one thing that you want. If in the second way, in the way of the hunger of the mind, you will tend more and more to see the true and the beautiful in every object that you perceive, and in that, you will see the One who is truth and beauty. You will begin to see God in each object that you contemplate.
Finally, notice that Jesus says we are to love the Lord our God with all of our mind. What does he mean? Are we not supposed to think about anything but God? Is this a command to “do theology” all the time?
It doesn’t seem so. The God who commands us to love him with all our mind also commanded us to love our neighbor. And God knows that we have to think about all kinds of things. So what does it mean to have all your mind dedicated to God?
At a minimum level it must mean that your mind is submitted to God, docile. Each and every one of your thoughts is ready to change at his command; you wouldn’t hold something as true contrary to what God wanted you to hold. The minimum is kind of readiness to serve: all of your thoughts stand ready for command, like soldiers in the army ready to respond to the general.
But it seems to me that if you’re really going to love the Lord your God with all your mind, then as this command seeps down into you and really takes hold of you, it will be more and more like an army standing in ranks and rows, organized, a flank over here, a wing over there. No army can function well if each individual soldier is ready to respond to the general but they are not organized into divisions; the army only functions well when the parts of the army have a right relation to each other.
So as you love the Lord your God more truly with all your mind, what happens is this: all those individual thoughts that were ready to change if he so desired, begin to come into relation with each other, and all your various thoughts coherent whole, one vision. One standing army that can march forth more effectively.
So, what does all that have to do with going to college? What do we do in a college to love the Lord our God with all our mind? We seek to form a mind that is patience and deep, one that has the savor of the true and the beautiful. All the thoughts of this mind that we try to form will be pulled together into one vision, one integrated vision standing under one banner, the banner of the One who is truth and beauty. That is what we do when we pick up a book, when we run to the class, when we complete homework—at at least, that’s our mission.