“Blessed are the Very Smart for They Will See God.”
There’s a reason this beatitude strikes us poorly. It doesn’t seem to be how things work.
It’s not simply that those who are mentally slower or even wise in non-analytic spheres are some how lesser in God’s eyes. We reject this beatitude because God clearly doesn’t work this way.
Yet notice what this says about how we reason for Christianity. Do people need reasons for God belief? Yes, I think most do. Should we use every bit of good thinking we have for the sake of our world and the glory of Christ? Yes, of course. But when our apologetic becomes exclusively about the mind we cut up our audience and set to the side their passions, their will and their hearts (which I have argued here, here, and here).
This is a poor choice, and it is one Jesus did not make.
Jesus apologetic targeted the heart first. Notice just a sample from Matthew’s gospel of the ways Jesus spoke to the crowds who had not yet chosen to follow him.
Some historians argue the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) is the content of Jesus’ stump speech—a routinely delivered address (see Luke 6) painting the Kingdom of God and the invitation to come be a part of God’s fresh work. Notice how Jesus did not begin the address with an argument. He doesn’t start with Aquinas’s five ways or even a Pascalian Wager. Jesus began his most important teaching with an appeal to his audience’s passions.
The sermon starts with a pitch to two sets of people: those who look as though God has abandoned them (those empty of the Spirit, those easily abused, those mourning, and those hungering for their lives to be put right) and those who have done the hard work of God but seem to gain nothing from it (the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemaker, and the persecuted). This was Jesus’ target audience. These are the two types of people Jesus wanted to make up his movement—and to them he says: “heaven is here and its come for you, you will inherit the earth, you will be comforted, you will be filled, you will be shown mercy, you will see God, you will be called children of God, the kingdom of heaven is yours” (see more here).
This is not an argument in the common apologetic fashion. These are words targeted at longing. The Sermon on the Mount invited Jesus’ listeners to see reality as God does—and to want it. The move is perspectival. Jesus offered this audience a new way of seeing themselves and their world—to convert their thinking—but he gave them no argument for conversion. He simply put forward an appeal to their passions.
Jesus then blessed those who would take on this new perspective with a new identity: You are the light of the world, you are the salt of the earth, you are—a new Jerusalem—a city on hill that cannot be hidden where the Lord God is pleased to dwell. The beginning of the Sermon on the Mount is all about the desires of his early audience. Jesus showcased God’s work and priorities and in essence asked, “Don’t you want to be part of that?!”
The sermon ends in a similar fashion: there were two roads one that led to life, one to destruction; two trees, one that bore good fruit and one bad; two disciples, one invited in and one asked to leave; two homes (another temple image?) one that stood strong on the rock and one that fell with a great crash.
The implicit question was, “Which life do you want?” There is no argument here. Jesus offered two realities—and the choice was aimed at hearts.
When Jesus said, “Come, follow me” to the man at the tax collector booth (Mt 9:9-13, Mk 2:13-17) there is no rational argument. There is simply an invitation: an invitation to rebel against Rome and forsake his duties, an invitation to cut off his stream of income, an invitation to start a new life. Why does Levi rise? Jesus had been living in Levi’s town. Levi—I assume—was a Levite who had left the priestly lineage of his family and had sold out to Rome. Now, sitting at his booth he is thinking about the life he truly desires. He had seen Jesus activities in Capernaum, and when Jesus offered a new beginning, Levi rose.
Evidence is given to John’s disciples (Mt 11): “Go report what you have seen…” Turning to the crowd Jesus said that “wisdom is proved right be her actions.” These are each appeals to empirical evidence. However, Jesus does not stop with the head. He spoke to the heart concluding his message to the crowds at this time: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.”
Notice too, in the following chapter of Matthew, Jesus rejected the longings of the crowd for more empirical evidence (12:38-39, see also 16:1-4). Evidence was neither bad nor good, but apparently it was not primary in Jesus’ mind—the heart was.
The Parables of the Kingdom
Jesus’ parables in Matthew 13 again target longing. He began with the parable of the sower, showing a set of hearts: hard, shallow, surrounded by thorns, and then a “good” heart which bore fruit. Again, this is a pitch to the longings of the “large crowds” to become like the good soil.
Jesus then spoke of wheat and weeds being harvested at the eschaton, and the weeds being separated out and burned while the wheat was invited in. So too Jesus described the end like a large catch of fish, the good fish being received, the bad thrown away. Just as Moses had concluded his great sermon with an encouragement to “choose life,” so to Jesus. But the preference of life over death is not made by rationality; its made by the heart.
Of course longing is most clear at the very center of Matthew 13—the very center of the Gospel itself—when Jesus says, “The Kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold everything he had and bought the field.” The field (as so often in Jesus’ parables) is the earth, the man who has entered is Jesus himself, the treasure is you and I, and Jesus—not because of rational deductions but because of longing—has given everything he had to purchase that field, so he might return and enjoy the treasure within.
When Jesus presented the Kingdom, his appeal was to one’s heart and longings—even his own (for more see this book).
We could go on and on with examples, but perhaps what Jesus’ criticized showcases Jesus’ targeting of the heart over the mind most clearly. Speaking to the teachers of the law and Pharisees, Jesus’ inverted the blessings of the Beatitudes by pronouncing seven woes unveiling how God saw the “children of hell”. The closing woes focus on the heart, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence … You are like whitewashed tombs … full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Mt 23:25-28).
The very word “hypocrite”—which Jesus used as a condemnation seven times here—means an actor or one with a mask. One who looks one way, but inside is different. It is clear that Jesus cared most about the insides.
The heart, not reason, was most vital to Jesus and his kingdom message. The entire Sermon on the Mount is arguably about the heart: a heart that is honest, has abandoned lust and rage, that is refined through fasting, prayer, giving in secret, and that is free from greed, worry, and judgment. The good heart walks through the gate leading to life. It is like a tree that bears good fruit. It rests on a rock and stands in the middle of hurricanes.
As such Jesus pronounced blessing—not on the smart—but on the Pure in Heart for they would see God.
The intellect is important. Its part of the whole human person, but it is not everything. In fact, we should note a truth that seems to stand behind all Jesus said and did: faith begins in the heart not in the head.
So, what should we say to the one who’s “defense of the faith” elevates the mind over the heart, or worse yet steps on the heart while reaching for the mind as thought the heart was secondary?
They may not only fail to see a person come to Christ; they may help build a wall which makes that soul irretrievable.
Jeff Cook lectures on philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado. He pastors Atlas Church and is the author of Everything New: One Philosopher’s Search for a God Worth Believing in (Subversive 2012). You can see his work at: www.everythingnew.org