While the heart does not reason like the mind, it does convey interesting proofs.
It is seen, for example, that no one is ever absolutely, finally happy. Indeed, we often think that one more possession, one more accomplishment, one more relationship, and then we will be happy. It comes to pass; still we long for more.
Why is this? Do fish seek happiness in this way, perpetually and without final satisfaction? Why should we, if we are only another kind of animal, find ourselves seeking happiness voraciously, even enshrining the search for it into law?
If there is no ultimate answer for us, to satisfy this innate and universal desire, where does the desire come from? Read a book – the characters are permitted to live happily ever after, satisfying their desire. Play a game – there is an object, a way to win, satisfying the desire of the players.
The heart, it is said, has a God-sized hole in it. St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in You.” C.S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the only explanation is that I was made for another world.”
This is the proof of the heart, with which we are to love the Lord our God: That our hearts desire endless satisfaction, that they are parched and thirsting for want of a drink which only “being itself” could quench. Indeed, if we love anything else without loving Him, we will never be finally satisfied.
Say you are stranded, and you do not have enough money for a taxi – not in cash and not in the bank. Someone offers you a ride and brings you to your destination. You cannot repay her, and she wouldn’t accept it anyway.
We do the math, and see that you are in debt to her: You have received more from her than you were able to give her. With the calculation complete, the mind is through. Yet a sense of gratitude remains.
What, then, feels gratitude? The heart.
Considering who God is, we see that He had no need ever to create us, and yet here we are. We owe our creation to Him.
Moreover: He sustains us at every moment. We persist because He is thinking of us, is breathing life into us, even as I write and you read these words. We are indebted to Him at every moment.
What is it, O man, that depends on your every breath, on your mere thinking of it? Who lives and who dies when you cease to think of them? Who is it that inhales when you exhale?
It’s not simply that we are short of funds; we could not, even in principle, repay God. He made us; the converse is impossible. He sustains us in existence; there is not one thing we could do to alter, add to, or threaten His existence.
The cynic fights this, complains perhaps that existence is not always such a blessing. One notices that he is still here, else we would not hear his complaint. To be alive is greater than death, and any appearance to the contrary is a matter of psychology. The opposite of existence is not negative, but no thing.
In other words, if we did not exist, we would be owed nothing, anyway. Somehow, we have something. It is the heart which allows us to feel gratitude for this.
The Fear of the Lord
Not only fidelity, but wonder and awe resonate with the heart.
Consider: Thunder and lightning are phenomena transmitted to the mind through the body. Yet what are they, but light and sound?
Ask your heart, then – why do you tremble? If you have ever had a bolt of lightning pierce the air around you so that it was simultaneous with the thunder; when you heard it roar above you, why then did you tremble?
The cynic says, “Because it is a danger to my life,” and this is true. But he thinks the answer stops there, short and thin. He has answered a multiple choice question when we are looking for an essay.
Why does your life matter to you? What is that primal drive to survive? Why you, and your particular life?
In brief – we will have to be all too brief – when the lightning raises the hair on your arms and the thunder goes off like an explosion above you, you instantaneously recognize a force greater than you. Impossibly greater, and unpredictable besides. What creature does not fear them? They warrant the word “awesome.”
There is no mind behind lightning, though. It is a force driven by and subject to natural laws and forces. Lightning does not strike even one inch askance from where Nature directs it. Thunder is precisely as loud as she commands, no more or less.
The power of God, though, is more terrible still. With a word He could not only strike where He wills, or smite whatever He wishes; it is far worse than that. That is the work of a minor god. We are reckoning with the Almighty.
With a word, He could destroy planets, simply annihilate them as they fly across the night sky. The least utterance and all the Universe would be in flames and extinguished; He could do it without any physical destruction, simply cease to think of us, and all would be lost.
The very memory of it, the notion of your existence or mine, tossed aside like a word that didn’t rhyme.
And yet, as it is, you live. Think soberly, brother: You live.
If we tremble before the thunder and the lightning, what then should we do before God?
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that [Jesus] answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
– Mark 12:28-30
I confess, my friend, that I would rather begin with the mind. As the question – let us say, the doubt – of God’s existence first entered my mind, it afflicted my heart. And it was by way of the mind that my heart was rescued. I want to spring to the mind, and everything else can be a footnote.
Yet this saying of Jesus struck me. To form my treatise on the words of Jesus himself as he gave the greatest commandment – it is all too fitting. First, see: The commandment is to love. To love comes most naturally to the heart – even the unbelievers accept this.
Second, you once expressed disdain for the idea that anyone should love God above all, even above his own children. But I hear these words of the Lord and they are solid as stone, capable of burying a man and of elevating him. Let us see, then, what we can build upon them.
The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. -Blaise Pascal
Indeed, I am too quick to brush past the heart.
Think of your son and your daughters, for instance. Now imagine a superintelligence, who knows reason and not the heart. This mind presses upon you an argument which you cannot answer, which utterly compels you to abandon your children.
It would not only be permissible to do so, for any reason at all; the argument actually demonstrates that it is the best possible action, that you must abandon your children, for their greater good.
The question is not, “Would you?” The question is, “Would your heart object?”
Yes. Yes, and the heart would rather be pulled up by its roots than consent to such an act. Likewise say the martyrs.
A humble aim
I cannot bring a mind to certainty. Even if you wanted to know one certain thing, upon which everything else could be built, which was actually undeniable – well, I would tell you that the fact of your questioning proves your existence, a la Descartes. But doubt would linger – for your existence, to me, is still not certain in this ironclad way.
Therefore, I do not aim to bring your mind to certainty about God. If your mind should be open to it, then you may reckon with the certainty of your beliefs. Perhaps God will come to your aid.
Now, there have been thinkers who, if given a few simple premises, could draw for you ironclad conclusions. Aristotle, and St. Thomas Aquinas after him, concluded that something like God must exist, based on a few such premises and logic.
To understand that, though, requires some study; the very claim is so shocking to modern minds that one would indeed require a kind of acclimation to their thoughts, their assumptions, and the rigor of their thinking. It says something about our age that such rationality would seem novel, even exotic.
Here again, my aim is humbler. Aquinas may come and advise us, but we are children playing at the game he mastered. Where he was careful, we will inevitably be sloppy. Where he was subtle, we will be rather clumsy.
And yet, it is not for nothing. Such ideas really can take shape, and color, and even life in a conversation like ours. The child, laughing, says something a psychologist might explain; but we prefer the laughter.
I aim for the laughter, for the dim glow of a far-off glory.
Now – after years of glancing past the subject, and after a thousand banalities, and after as many or more moments of good humor and respectful discourse, deep resonance, and shaded awe of what virtue the other is capable of – let us finally talk of God.
I have been at this a while, my friend, but I am not an expert. In no time, you can find someone better prepared to speak about God. But we are friends, and so there is a kind of leniency, a courteous respect, for whatever it is I may have to say.
I will work quickly. In some parallel way, I may appreciate time as well as a naturalist, who thinks this time – birth to death – is all he has. I do not, but I do appreciate that it is all the time we have to come to grips with what is real and true. It is further true, and we almost agree, that beyond that time, no one really knows what happens.
What shall I say? I have the floor, like one looking for his seat who is unaware that he has entered the theater from stage right. The subject is only that which, if it is true, is the most important truth in the world. If it is false, then nothing is important, for the Universe, and every single piece and particle within it ends adrift in a vast dead sea. Somehow, though I deny the totality of it, the naturalist mythology has a haunting allure to it. Everything will finish in the pattern from which it started – in almost exact homogeneity. And everything will also be different – where the original homogeneity was in a state of unimaginable potency, bursting forth from infinite density and inconceivable heat, it finishes fully exhausted, and perfectly cold and still. Nothing will move. Not one thing will move.
But we needn’t be held captive by that paralyzing climax. That great winter of the Universe may come to pass, but it will (I believe) ultimately pass. I would not curse God if He let the Universe at least reach that point, then to resurrect it. That pattern has been established.
Let us dance then, or duel, or engage however you like. Let’s be better than ahead of our time – let us transcend time, for a spell. Yes, let there be a kind of magic in our conversation, which lifts it out of the mundane, out of our real and lamentable troubles, out of our frustration at falling short of true liberation, true joy. For one may escape a trouble, only to have another beset him; and one may gain the whole world, but eventually he dies.
Now and here, then, let us enjoy the blaze of the human spirit, as it does what no other animal can. And like a blaze, it is both primordial and everlasting – the fire precedes us and it will outlast us. In that hypnotizing glow, let us see something of the ineffable mysteries which we now consider.