Spirit vs. Intellect

This week at my church we discussed the desire of many folks to be more "spiritual". It was invigorating.

Whenever the subject comes up, it's always in a dualistic fashion. In metaphysics, a dualism is a viewpoint that sees two opposing forces, or two opposite realities. I would describe the modern Christian view of "being spiritual" as fundamentally dualistic.

That is, the assumption in modern Christianity is that "spirituality" is honorable and respectable. Spirituality is something to be striven for, something to be greatly desired.

But intellectuality is, in many Christian circles, to be despised. It is something to be minimized, and perhaps something that we'll eventually be delivered from.

So, since that's the viewpoint people hold - it's no surprise that they have this gnawing drive to be more spiritual. I mean, if spirituality is better than intellectuality, who wouldn't want to be more spiritual, right?

And the way I have always found people expressing spirituality is by expressing emotionality. Frankly, especially in my current surroundings - spiritual equals emotional.

Now I am not saying that emotions are necessarily bad, or that God's presence in our lives does not mess with our emotions. Far from it.

There are those occasions when I believe that God has truly impressed something on my consciousness in a deep, visceral way. On those occasions, I find myself emotionally "un-made". My favorite scriptural example of this is from Isaiah. Note his reaction in bold.
" In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.

Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: 'Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.' At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

'Woe to me!' I cried. 'I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.'

Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, 'See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.' "

- Isaiah 6:1-7

I have a hard time reading that passage without getting misty. The thought of that angel touching Isaiah's unclean lips (unclean like my own!) with that coal from the altar, and Isaiah's sin being taken away... Man, that's almost too much for me.

But I have to ask - "What does being spiritual look like? How will I know when I'm being spiritual, and when I'm being spiritual enough? Is it crying? Is it hopping around yelling 'hallelujah'? And after all's said and done, what does being spiritual accomplish?"

I know, I know. Here I go trying to be logical about spirituality.

Hmmm - logical. The word "logic" is a derivative of logos in Greek. Now most of you Bible students will know the typical translation of logos is "word". But the truth is, logos may be equally translated "reason" or "reasoning". That is, our ability to think, to understand and to know.

So with that in mind, check out one more passage from Isaiah.
" 'Come now, let us reason together,' says the LORD. 'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient,you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.' For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. "

- Isaiah 1:18-20
Here in the beginning of Isaiah's grand prophetic writing - God calls Israel to come and reason with him. And the specific issue at hand is huge. He is restating the covenant promise that was always the foundation of Jewish monotheism. Specifically, God says "If you obey me, you'll do well. Otherwise, you're gonna be in a world of hurt."

Notice that God did not say, "Come now, let us feel better together" or "Come now, let us emote all over one another" or "Come now, let us ignore reality for awhile".

My proposal: Reason is the proper basis for faith - not emotion. But emotion is also a natural part of our being, and thus, a natural part of our faith. There is no dualism in true Christian spirituality. There is no "either/or". It is "both/and" - with reason (intellect) leading the emotions.

So when the logos became flesh, and dwelt among us (John 1:14) - was it the feelings of God that became incarnate in Jesus?

And then I wonder - should I ask "How do you feel about that?", or "What do you think about it?".



Dustin said...

We have been friends for a little while. Before we met, I was all about this emotional thing; I was emotionally needy! I felt that I had to go to the alter, be prayed for by the pastor, and listen to Christian Music to stay inspired, ect.

To be honest, I hated that life and would rather be dead than go back to it. Now, I am condemed by my friends for being too logical or not having enough spirituality (all because I worship differently than they do).

It is only in the logic that I find reason :) A reason for living, for helping others, for living to God, and for truly being happy. It is also in logic that I have ever felth the "spirituality" in its fullness. To me God has never been so alive than he has when he makes sense.

I do struggle a little in being emotional. I work as a salesman; there are some people that buy a product because it makes sense, and there are others that only purchase a product because of the emotional boost that it gives them. I think that spirituality is much like a product some times; it needs to appeal to people and be logical. Where any product failes to be worth it, is when the logic of the product is taken away and there is no reason for buying it. Who wants a gadget that doesnt really do anything but get us emotional? Thats what Christianity has become in many churches.

Mike Aleckson said...


I like how you say, "truly being happy".

The only way I can be happy is to understand and then believe in the long term solution for me and for the world. An emotional quick-fix just doesn't do it.

Thanks Dustin!

Stacey Juengst said...

To be more spiritual means to be more Christ like. I believe it lies neither in reason or emotion for both can be carnal, but in the decision to obey the Holy Spirit in spite of our emotions or reasonsing.

Mike Aleckson said...

Excellent, Stacey - thank you! Yep, anything related to a human being can certainly be detached from the Spirit, and that includes both our capacity for reasoning as well as our emotions.

Of course, we must come somehow to "know" what the Spirit is directing us to do - in order to do it. My proposal is that we allow the Spirit to speak definitively to the "reasoning side" of us, and then that we subject our emotions to that "reason".

Otherwise, if we go about it the other way round - we'll be led primarily by feelings, which are notorious for being carnal - for changing on a whim, and for being generally untrustworthy.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Emotions are a good thing. They are certainly necessary for empathizing with others. For spirituality they serve as a symptom. If you feel sad about something you use your feeling and logic to think backwards to pinpoint why your sad, same goes for the other emotions.

There is such a thing as too emotional for sure. There is such a thing as too intellectual as well. Being hyper-emotional puts a gap between you and others. Being too intellectual leads one to become too arrogant. One needs to be in the middle. Obtain balance between the two.

In pentecostal circles its cultural to become overwhelmed with emotions. Often times in genuine experiences, the crying and groaning is authentic. In other circles spirituallity does exist but not what pentecostal or charasmatics are used to. Emotions are there to serve us to help us better percieve the world around us.

There is nothing wrong with cryig at the alters. Just as much as there is nothing wrong with sitting in the back arms crossed in quiet conversation with God. Its best to be careful in judging others in these different sceneraios.

Paul does say though that our Christian service is mute without love. I never took greek I took two semesters of spanish. Although I'm positive its agape. Going beyond intellect and spirituality. In search of that Love Paul speaks of I think we can find our balance and answers to our questions concerning spirituality, emotions, and intellect.

Mike Aleckson said...

Going beyond intellect and spirituality... Now that's deep indeed!


Thanks Lowell! I hope things are well out there...