The Head and the Heart—Integrating Affections and Reason

“I can’t stand that girl…”
“Why?”
“She trusts her feelings too much; it’s like she never actually thinks things through.”

Have you ever heard a conversation like this?
I have.
Conversations where people bash feelings and exalt thinking.

Well, I have personally come to think that feelings aren’t the bad guy. However, thinking doesn’t have to be villainized to arrive to that conclusion either. The head and the heart aren’t enemies—they’re friends.

People always seem to present this false dichotomy. It’s either thinking or feeling, reason or affections, logic or passion. Even one of my favorite personality indicators, Myers-Briggs, splits people into two groups. There’s the people that make decisions based off of cold hard data (thinking) and then the people who decide what to do based on how they feel that they themselves and others may respond to the decision (feeling). It seems that human beings seem to be hardwired to be this way. Like the example at the beginning, there’s people like the girl who “trusts her feelings” and people like the one who believes people should “think things through.”

But, what if it’s not either/or, but both/and?

I think that thinking and feeling are a lot more interconnected than we may believe.

Now, I’m not denying that people may be more naturally oriented to emphasize one over the other. However, I think that our goal shouldn’t be to “own” our natural inclination to emphasize one over the other, or work to readjust our inclination to emphasize the other. I think that we should work to interweave the two together. Ultimately, I believe that reason should inform our affection.

When we emphasize logic too much, we are left with the cold hard facts with no trace of empathy or consideration of others in the mix. However, when we flip the table and emphasize our passion too much, we might be more prone to have an irrational ethic and behave in ways that don’t accord with either common sense or a more robust logic. Both are dangerous places to be. However, the answer isn’t to choose one or the other. In fact, the answer isn’t even “balance”. That implies that they’re still meant to be separately functioning mechanisms. Rather, our goal should be integration. 

Due the false dichotomy of thinking and feeling that we’re given. the problem a lot of times is that people think that taking the more logical route is the more “moral” or “noble” route to take. After all, our feelings can’t be trusted! I’m always quoted, “The heart is deceitful above all things. Who can know it?” Therefore, people say, we shouldn’t trust our feelings, but only our thinking. However, my question is always, “Who says that my reasoning is less fallen than my affections?” In other words, if our heart is deceitful, what makes my mind any less deceitful?

Unfortunately, I think that favoring logic over passion comes from the Enlightenment. It was in this time that people began to eschew the notion of feelings and the elite become the ones who used their “advanced and modern” thinking. Those who based their decisions and worldview off of “feelings” were looked at premodern, anti-scientific, and uninformed. Thus, “reason” was exalted and “affections” were seen as animalistic, a tool only useful for less evolved members of society.

I’m not sure that God sees things that way though.

What if, since is God is sanctifying and restoring our entire being, he’s working both in our minds and hearts? After all, we’re called to love the Lord with both. Both were stained by the Fall, but both are being renewed through the power of the Spirit. Until then, it isn’t as if we can trust our mind more than our heart. We simply trust that God is working in both. Additionally, it is so important that we recognize that both are extremely significant in our personal lives. Our passion and our logic must be integrated, in order to truly function as holistic beings.

As I said earlier, our reasoning must inform our affections. Otherwise, we’d either have illogical passions or compassionless reasoning. God doesn’t call us to just know things. He also doesn’t call us to feel things for the sake of feelings things. He hates both cold rationalism and ignorant emotionalism. Rather, he expects that knowledge of certain things affect us—the word “affect” in and of itself implies that it touches our affections. Without knowledge genuinely affecting us, how can we act on it?

How can we act in opposition injustice unless the concept of injustice first actually drives us to a righteous anger?  How can respond to the goodness and beauty of Jesus and his Kingdom unless that good news first moves us to a deep and profound joy? How can we serve and care for our fellow humans that are created in God’s image unless the knowledge of their infinite value and worth first moves us to an intimate and intense love for them?

Thinking and feeling are not at odds. One is not better than the other. They work together to move our entire being to live as God created us to be—an integrated vessel of informed passion. The knowledge we attain should stir our affections in such a profound way that it paints an entire, harmonized spirituality in reaction to the beauty of the gospel of Jesus. We are called to love God and love others with all of our heart, souls, mind, and strength. It’s about time we took that to heart—well, both to heart and mind.

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