Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Breaking Down the "Heart" of Man

I relate very strongly with people who have been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.  I have never sought a formal diagnosis, and I would not attempt to self-diagnose something like that.  But in a lot of ways, speaking with people who have Asperger's feels like being able to use my native tongue after a long stay in a foreign land.  It's not just the introversion or social awkwardness that I relate to.  People with Asperger's have a tendency to "get lost" in a sea of details, unable to see the forest for the trees.  In my own case, I find it difficult to rely on general principles or rules of thumb, because I need everything to be connected in order to make sense of anything.  Loose ends cause me physical stress.

Another thing that I have in common with many that have Asperger's is a difficulty in processing metaphorical language.  I recognize that metaphor makes for good poetry.  But I don't particularly like "good" poetry, either.

This weakness was a barrier to my willingness to take Christianity seriously for a long time.  I felt sure that all of the metaphorical language used in the Bible, and parroted by believers was devoid of any real substance.  "Washed in the blood"?  Blood is what you want washed out, dummy!  And no, the communion elements are not the body and blood of Christ.  I'm pretty sure they were mass produced in a factory somewhere.  This disgusting cracker is more likely to have the blood of some poor factory worker than a zealot who lived 2,000 years ago, if at all.

Granted, I must now confess that at that time, I was merely looking for reasons to find Christianity ridiculous.  But even when I opened my mind to belief, I struggled to find meaning in metaphor.  I envy others' ability to naturally absorb the ideas communicated through metaphor into their understanding.  Although it is harder for me, given time, I usually can break down a metaphor, and get it connected to the network of ideas making up the body of my knowledge.  Some of these connections trigger in me great joy and excitement, and lead me to tearful worship.  Maybe this is a case of God showing His strength through my weakness.  And if anyone else could be led to worship through these things, well, I'd hate to have kept that all to myself.

I may turn this topic into a series, but I wanted to start with something that is still fresh to my mind: the "heart" of man.

"My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings.
Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart."
(Proverbs 4:20-21)

"Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears,
and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed."
(Isaiah 6:10)

"They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes,
that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand."
(Isaiah 44:18)

In these verses, and there are many more like them, the "heart" is supposed to contain the capacity for knowledge and understanding.  Should we presume that the authors of these verses believed that the organ pumping blood through our veins is responsible for our thought processes?  Obviously not.  Even I know that.  But I have had to explain to one dogged atheist that the word "heart" is often used to refer to the innermost part of a thing, as in "the heart of the forest".

But that still doesn't get me to a place where I feel comfortable.  Obviously, these verses were not talking about the cardiovascular pump, but now my aversion to metaphor points out to me that we have simply moved this seat of understanding from one part of my body to another part of my body: the center-most region, or my center of gravity.  And obviously that also is not what the authors meant when they talked about the "heart" of man.

The words "center" and "inner" describe a spatial relationship existing between a whole and a part.  It seems clear that the relationship being described here is not really spatial in nature.  So in what sense is the "heart" of man "central" or "inner" to the whole picture of him?  As I thought about this, I tried to find examples of centrality which did not entail a spatial relationship, or which used spatial relationships to represent some other kind of relationship.

I thought of a brainstorm.  A brainstorm begins with a central idea, and then branches out with related concepts.  And now we're getting somewhere.

What is the central idea of you?  Faith?  Love of family?  Narcissism?  Friendship?  Laziness?  These concepts or qualities would be near the center of the network of ideas that make up Jimmy Weiss.  How about you?  Leave it in the comments!

Even these things are really only near the center of our selves.  Taken together, we might consider these things the "core" of who we are.  But what would we actually find at the very center of a brainstorm about you?

Your name.

Now, the concept of a "name" is another mysterious thing, at least, it is mysterious to me.  In the Gospel of John chapter 17, Jesus says "I have manifested your name unto the men which you gave me out of the world..."  And then later he repeats, "And I have declared unto them your name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."  Jesus claims in his prayer that he had taught the "name" of the Father.  And yet I can find no where in any of the gospels where the subject of God's name even comes up.

So what is a "name"?  We think of a name as a kind of word, whose definition is the person to whom it belongs.  And this is important, because remember John's Gospel begins by referring to Jesus as the Word, who was both with God and was God in the beginning.  And what is the knowledge that this Word brought into the world?  The knowledge of God, which is eternal life (17:3).

Thus we find that Jesus Christ, who was born of a virgin, who lived a perfect life, who taught with authority and fulfilled the law, who bore the penalty of the whole world's sin, died, and was raised bodily from the grave for our reconciliation; even this same Jesus, in all that he was and said and did; he IS the knowledge of God, made into a form which is communicable to men.  Jesus is the name of God!

So a name is a word, and a word is so much more than a string of symbols scrawled on a page; more than an utterance of the lips.  So much more than that, since within this central idea, the heart, of who one is, apparently lies also the capacity for understanding.

Jimmy Weiss is my name, but my identity is so much more than that.  I have narcissistic tendencies, and that means that I want to be known, want to be recognized, want to be praised.  These desires have always been within me.  But I wish I could kill them, because there is something I have come to desire so much more: to be understood.  Because within the deepest pocket of the core of who I am is the knowledge of God.  I have eternal life, and I desperately want to share that with anyone who will listen.

And this is so far from my narcissistic desire to be approved of, because in the rotten core of that desire is to be more known, more liked, more highly praised than you or anyone else.  I bring this ugliness into the light, begging your mercy, because this desire to be understood is attached to a desire to understand you in the same way: to get at your gooey, vulnerable center, where your knowledge of God waits to be discovered.

Within the bonds of brotherly love, giving mercy to each other, we can confess our weaknesses.  Because God is strong where we are weak, this kind of fellowship is a window for revelation of God's power to stream into our lives.

As a socially awkward person, I want to thank you for taking the time to read this blog.  I hate that it is so hard for me just to smile and say "Good morning" to the lovely folks at church.  But I love to write, and I have so much more to share.

As a final thought, let me recall to your mind Revelation 2:17, in which God promises "To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knows saving he that receives it."  We get to look forward to a day when we will at last know who we were always meant to be.  God will finally reveal to each of us our true identity.  On that day, we will, for the first time, introduce ourselves to the brethren.  And I can't wait to know you.

Further reading on the seat of reason:
Christians, the Brain, and Person: Conceptual Confusion, Unintelligibility, and Implications
by Callie Joubert  on June 11, 2014

Materialism subverts itself
by Edward Feser on January 11, 2019

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