What God Joins Together

by Travis Lowe on September 11, 2019

"Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little."

So says Charlie Chaplin in his famous monologue from, "The Great Dictator." It's a classic line and one that seems to resonate with people in a wide variety of circumstances and cultures. But when it comes to the Christian church, I think we're better off admitting that we aren't doing a great job of either anymore. Any believer who spends some time reflecting on the nature of their faith will likely find themselves leaning more heavily in one category or another. There are those of us who feel the impact of the gospel deeply, even if we can't always articulate its theological contours with specificity. On the other hand, there are those of us who are seriously interested in a thoughtful discussion around technical issues of divine simplicity, the doctrine of the Trinity, and a whole host of other dizzying topics. But, the minute someone starts to talk about how these truths affect their hearts we begin to grow suspicious. For what it's worth, I think I've been in both tribes at some point or another in my Christian life. But I'm convinced our goal ought to be to set up camp somewhere else entirely. In fact, I'm beginning to think that landing too firmly in either location comes from a malformed understanding of the Christian faith.

Those of us given to strong emotional responses can often allow our hearts to be stirred by things that are utterly false. A well-placed chorus and a song in the right key with a vaguely spiritual set of phrases about fire and mercy can trigger in us a sense of awe and reverence for God even if the words we are singing about him are glaringly false or entirely nonsensical. For those of us in this camp, we need desperately to have our affections restrained by the truth. Our emotions, no matter their strength, cannot be the sole indicator of God's presence and action in our lives or our world. Nor are they alone adequate to the task of discerning truth from error. No matter how much we feel that we love God with our affections, those of us in this camp are withholding from him what he has also asked of us, our minds. This is an insufficient posture of worship towards the one in whom all treasures of wisdom and knowledge reside.

But so often we find ourselves falling off the other side of the horse (to borrow an analogy of Luther). Any emotional response to doctrine, theology, or worship is a thing to be distrusted and maybe even overcome. After all, the heart is deceitful above all else, so we're better off never letting it get a word in edgewise. This approach is more at home in the heresy of Gnosticism than it is in the world of the Bible. In case you need a quick refresher, Gnostics were an early heretical movement that saw secret wisdom as the source of salvation, and everything that comes with the physical world as what we needed to be delivered from, this included our bodies and all of the problematic emotions that they produce. But this misses the whole point of the incarnation: God the Son assumed and sanctified all of our humanity: including our affections. Jesus in his perfection was not devoid of emotion; he is human emotion rightly expressed. For those of us in this camp (and I'm talking to myself here) we have to get over our inherit gnostic tendencies. Emotion is not a thing to be overcome but rightly ordered by the wisdom of the gospel of Christ. If what we are saying about God in worship is sound, and it is this true God for which our hearts are made, then we ought not to reject the emotional weight of these moments.

With two pits on either side, we're better off walking the middle of the road. We would all do well to embrace the insights of TF Torrence, one of Scotlands most influential 21st century theologians. Torrence was no academic slouch, a quick glance at his massive volumes on the Atonement and Incarnation will confirm his intellectual brilliance. But even with all this academic firepower, his editor Robert T Walker mentions that Torrence was sincerely committed to the idea that "Theology is personal knowledge of God in which mind and heart together are equally involved...(theology) can never simply be an academic exercise. Theology involves faith and worship and can only properly be done on ones knees." God has bound our hearts and minds together, that we might both discern truth and learn to love and rejoice in it. Given that this is the state, it seems right to conclude with the words of another blessed union, "What God has joined together, let no man separate."

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