A short meditation first published in the Society of Christian Scholars Addenda Volume 2.6 (June 2019)—whose readership is Christian professors worldwide.
Compartmentalization is a term I use to convey the practise of putting parts of our life into different hermetically sealed compartments, such that they don’t dialogue, intersect, or influence each other. Different parts of our lives are incoherent to each other. Its a lack of integrity or wholeness, really.
In Mark 12:28-34 an educated man—a professor of the law—tests Jesus in a legal matter: What’s the most important commandment? Jesus says there is one command with two parts: the one command is love. Love is the engine that runs the universe, fuelled at its centre by the mutual embrace of three persons within one Trinitarian deity. The chief end of humanity is to enter into that circle of love, and it is directed on two planes: love for God and love for your neighbour as close as your love for yourself.
Significantly, however, Jesus alters the Deuteronomic text (6:4), which called for loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength. To that combination, Jesus adds loving God with all your mind. This would be a bold move in the ancient world.
Addenda is a publication of http://www.societyofchristianscholars.org
A Jewish law professor would have known this passage well, and pious Jews would have recited it twice a day. The change Jesus makes, suggested theologian Neal Plantinga, would most certainly be noticed—it is like changing the familiar bedtime prayer to say: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my brain to keep.” People would certainly have raised their eyebrows in surprise.
Why the change? Jesus is insisting on a complete all-of-life passion for God and his kingdom, which is the original intent of the text. He’s being asked a key question by a smart man, so he intentionally includes the mind in the call to surrender one’s life to God. Surely a professor would relate to mention of the mind, even if its directly connected with the more heart-felt call to love. There are no loopholes around the pervasiveness of the love command–love as desire bent on self-giving must enlist the allegiance of the mind along with every other facet of one’s being.
And for professors, loving with your “strength” includes your body, not just your intellectual strength. Where your body goes, what postures it takes, who it touches, defends, challenges–these are all directed by that same love. We are not just passionate brains-on-a-stick in God’s service, as philosopher Jamie Smith says.
I once asked a Christian economics student what a kingdom-of-God perspective would imply regarding risk and fair wages, and he replied with the phrase, “Hey, I don’t make the rules, I just follow them.” This student assumed that the Christian mind relates to prayer, worship, and churches, but for the rest of life—economics, politics, and so on—he could just follow the dominant culture of the day.
We often do the same–in terms of our consumption habits, electronic media use, and other cultural norms. We are creatures of context, and living in the Spirit of the love of God means approaching every aspect of our life with a fresh appraisal of its value and direction. There is no laissez-faire or neutral approach to anything, as philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff has made plain. Everything we think and do carries a history, a trajectory, a tradition with it.
G. K. Chesterton famously said, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” Love here is a passion that is not blind with sleep, but awake. It is a love that is not a passive “falling in love” but an intentional, purposeful, movement towards others without expecting a payback.
There is a rigid coherence that becomes cumbersome, and all our lives reveal contradictions to some degree. But integrity of heart–letting this love organize all the parts of who you are towards a singular purpose–the kingdom of love in Jesus Christ—gives it a beauty and focus and limits that make your life and community flourish.
We must continually pray that we may not compartmentalize any arena of our life away from our love for God and his creatures. There is not one sentence of any university curriculum, no theory or method, and no discipline or profession to which the call to love God with all our mind does not apply. We cannot love God with all our soul and live with a secular mind. This love, especially seen in the light of the “wondrous cross,” demands our soul, our life, our all. Our calling is as comprehensive and overwhelming as the gospel itself–which extends not only to all our life, but to all creation.