While Reading the Bible, Discard the Brain (But Keep the Heart)

Most cultures in antiquity designated the heart not only as the seat of emotion, but also the seat of thought.[i] That’s why the Egyptians, for example, extracted and discarded the “useless” gray matter (i.e. brain) prior to the mummification of the dead (“Who cares what this mushy stuff is?It’s just gross… Hurry up and get it out”).

The heart, however, was jealously and carefully stored, because it was responsible for life, desires, and thoughts.

This same attribution occurred in the Jewish culture, which is why in the Bible the meaning of so many passages in which the heart is mentioned should be re-considered—there is additional depth to the heart than we can suppose upon a cursory reading. It is, therefore, convenient to re-define the meaning of heart as used in the Bible. Better yet, discard the notion/function of the brain as the seat of thought and keep the heart instead.

According to some sources, the heart was the “seat of all morality and of all moral and spiritual functions.”[1] This encompassed the conscience, and the thinking self.

In short, what came from the heart was much more than emotion. It was thought of as “the authority within.”[2] In other words, the will.

* * *

 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5)

By the fact that “heart” is mentioned in this passage, it describes this love as being much more than a love based on emotions; it is based on a total surrender of the will and the self. A love coming from what makes you you—a conscious love, not a heedless, reckless thing.

This begs the question—how does one love God like that?  How can we, people who have so distorted the definition of love to include everything from affection, to fleeting infatuation (even erotic passion), properly respond? Is God simply asking for the impossible?

* * *

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20)

God’s promise is to give you a new heart—and with it a new way of thinking, a new way of making decisions, a new way of being your own self. That is what makes the promise in Ezekiel so much more meaningful than before. God wants to give you a new set of values by which you are able to live by. Obedience of his law comes natural to the new heart he gives you, because it has transformed the “authority within” you. It is no longer you, but Christ who lives, thinks, and is in you.


[i] It wasn’t until Herophilos in Alexandria (Egypt) did many studies in human anatomy by means of dissections, that the center of thought was relocated from the heart to the brain, and the mechanical connection between the heart, the pulse, and the flowing of blood in the veins was first grasped.

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The Ruling Principle

What is the ruling principle of God’s Universe?

Love.

Love in action. Service.

From the smallest atom to the flaming sun, stars, and the angels in the heavenly court, the main principle of God’s creation is service. Nothing lives or exists for itself only. Everything has a purpose and a place. Think of plants–even the lowly wildflowers in the mountains have a function, if only to gladden the heart. We are the only ones that may choose to follow this principle or not, and often we don’t. We live for ourselves and ignore others. That is why we are wretched, drifting listelessly in search for purpose, seeking to be on the receiving end of things when we are made to be givers–just like anything else in creation.

Worse, humankind has invented a warped way of looking at the universe. It is based on a wholly selfish principle, in which the survival of each creature depends on it seizing the most advantage possible in order to come out better than others.

In this view, there is no further purpose to the things around us except as things to be consumed or used. This appies to the animals and plants, and how we look at each other too. God’s image imprinted in our fellow brothers and sisters is forgotten. There is no service in this warped view. There is no purpose.

If this were the true principle that defines/rules our world and universe, then we should all live in chaos. Worse. We could not even exist for one second on this earth. It would all implode.

No, the universe would be a black hole.

When it Rains

If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit…and I will walk among you and be your God, and ye shall be my people. (Leviticus 26: 3-4,12)

My mother grew up in a small Mexican pueblo out in the middle of nowhere at a time when there was nothing much to be found there but poverty and dust. There was a long drought at that time, and when she was growing up there the crops often failed; there was hardly any money or work to go around. It was a difficult time.

But much later when I got to visit, the drought had long gone, and the rains would come on time, bringing joy to all. I liked it when it rained there. It got very cold, then you would suddenly breathe in that loamy, dark, scent of damp earth. Soon, there would be thunder and lighting creating such a marvelous show with the rain and the sun that you would not know whether to run for cover inside one of the window-less houses or stay out under the rain.

We stayed out because nothing could beat seeing that display.  My sister and I, being city girls, would marvel at double rainbows or even triple rainbows as we huddled like two little sparrows under the eave of some abandoned house. The rain would go on its way to water the crops up the mountain, leaving behind a green and vibrant landscape, lush with tender vegetation which sparkled by the slanting light of the afternoon sun.

* * *

Today it rained. It made me very happy. It reminded me of how rain is a great blessing that we take for granted. If we need to drink or to make tea or coffee we simply open the tap. If we need to water our vegetable gardens, or keep our lawns looking their best we simply get the hose out or turn on the sprinklers. There’s plenty of water, plenty of food, plenty of everything good. Thank you, God.

Now, if we were living in a third-world country, the blessing of rain in its due time, abundant–or even dependable–harvests, would seem to us a rich blessing indeed. More so than it would be to someone living–say–in Southern California. Still, the promises of God to those who follow him and obey him are far from being irrelevant to us. Because it is by his grace that everyone who has in abundance can enjoy it, for he allows the rain to fall on both good and bad. We receive myriad blessings from his hand, sometimes we don’t even recognize it.

But the greatest blessing is that of belonging. The promise of Him belonging to us and us belonging to Him is absolutely wonderful and peace-filling. Because His presence itself is the rich rain that allows you to grow in him, be prosperous, and produce much fruit. With him there is no despondency that comes from spiritual or material poverty. There is no hunger, or thirst, or need apart from him.

Palm Tree

The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree: He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. (Psalm 92:12)

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the wicked, Nor standeth in the way of sinners, Nor sitteth in the seat of scoffers: But his delight is in the law of Jehovah; And on his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the streams of water, That bringeth forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also doth not wither; And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. (Psalm 1:1-3)

One summer when my cash-strapped friend Felix was in High School, a lady paid him $50 to remove a small palm tree squatting smack in the center of her lawn. The palm was quite small; still, at the end of the day, Felix had had to do more work than he ever thought was necessary because the little palm tree was insanely difficult to get rid of. He had dug a ditch around the tree. Then with an axe hacked away at the roots, only to find with great dismay that the palm tree has a very very very extensive network of fibrous roots. He got through most of them (except a few tiny ones that seemed too insignificant). Still, even when he pushed and pulled with all his might he found that just those few remaining strands of that root system were enough to resist him.

Researching around the net on tree roots, I learned that the root system of a palm tree is unique. Most trees have branching roots that grow smaller and smaller the further they are from the taproot, whereas the palm roots are the same size at the stem or base. This makes the tree difficult to pull up. It also means the roots will grow deep into the ground, getting nourishment that is not available on the surface.

The text above likens the the righteous to a flourishing palm tree. Notice that what is so essential to a palm tree are its roots which help it get nutrients and water in arid climates, or keep it safely anchored when it is bound to be whipped about by a furious hurricane in tropical climates.

How are you doing? Are you anchored safely and securely on Christ just the palm tree is? Will the enemy of souls find you insanely difficult to uproot?

May you thrive and flourish in all areas of your life this week and may you find your delight to be in Christ and in the meditation of his word.

Quicksand

1 I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. 2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,  out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him . . .  Psalm 40: 1-3

Once when I was doing some light reading, I came across a mystery that involved a diamond and some quicksand. In the story, a woman who is overcome by grief and despair dies when she steps into the quicksand and drowns.

Hm.

I remember that ever since I was a kid and I watched those surreal 80’s movies (i.e. Neverending Story, Princess Bride, etc.), I had a horrible dread of falling into one or losing a beloved pet in one, so for a long time when I read this passage I focused so much on the slimy pit because for me a pit of mud was essentially the same thing as quicksand, and hence extremely scary.

Mentally, Psalm 40 was for me the psalm of the pit of mud. I didn’t really register the rest of the Psalm except vaguely. But as I began reading deeper into it, I learned that Psalm 40 is more than about mud. Yes, the pit of mud is very powerful imagery, but it is not the mud psalm at all. It is about the rescuer and also about one’s attitude when we need to be rescued.

Whoever thought that the Bible was be a handbook for survival? Yes, it is a fact that the only way you can get yourself out of quicksand is to relax and quit struggling. The Mythbusters made and episode about it and even Bear Grylls from Man vs. Wild featured it. Go ahead and lay on it, you’ll make it out safely.

It is so counter intuitive.

So in life you pray and ask for God’s guidance. You seek for hope and rescue from your situation. But it’s STILL hard to wait patiently. Your instincts tell you do something when God is essentially telling you to wait a little longer or to do something that doesn’t make sense. The word of God in Psalm 40 tells you to quit flailing and thrashing about. Trust him. His timing is perfect, and he is the one who will intervene and rescue you, place you in solid ground, and then fill your life in such a way that when you speak about him you will overflow with praises.