My Brain Says “No” But My Heart Says “Thump Thump”

“Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”
~Albert “the man” Einstein

I’ve been thinking about hearts a lot recently. My cardiologist is not happy with my ticker nor with the content of my blood. Basically, there is too much junk and not enough good stuff. Also, my heart itself is not behaving itself. It’s somewhat of a lazy free-spirit. So as I was being sucked into a rather impressive looking MRI machine yesterday, I couldn’t help but think about that hyperactive muscle hiding behind my ribs. I was trying to distract myself from the fact that I was in a tiny, enclosed tube with no room at all to move. As much as I would LOVE to go into space, I’m just too freaked out by enclosed spaces to ever actually become an astronaut. I’m holding out for space-SUV’s. Anyway, as I was laying in the tube, this old Christian worship song popped into my head,

Change my heart oh God
Make it ever true
Change my heart oh God
May I be like you

I chuckled to myself because I really meant the words to the song, but not in the way that the author had originally intended. I would literally like God to change my heart into a better heart. It would be great if it would be “ever true” instead of “always messing up”. In between bouts of ridiculously loud jackhammer-esque imaging sessions, I was thinking about how we abuse the word “heart” in Christian circles. Actually, we abuse it everywhere. Most of the time I don’t even think we realize what we are saying. Let me explain…

“She broke my heart”
“Let’s get down to the heart of the matter”
“He has a great heart”
“My brain says no but my heart says yes”
“Just follow your heart”

I really doubt that anyone who said those things actually believes that their feelings are coming from their heart. The ancients were convinced that all thoughts and feelings came from the bowels, the stomach, or the heart depending on what people you are talking about. Most of them had little to no concern for the squishy, wrinkled stuffing behind their eyes. It makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. When you are feeling some huge emotional surge, you get “butterflies in your stomach” or your “heart skips a beat”. It’s a very natural, chemical response to external stimuli that your brain initiates and your gut feels. That’s all well and good, but I think that many Christians are stuck there. Here’s an example…

I was in a class recently in which a person said that reason can only get you so far because only God can change a person’s heart. I pressed them further and asked them what they meant. After about 5 minutes of pressing, they basically came to the conclusion that they believed in a deeper consciousness that did not reside within the brain of a person but existed in some kind of metaphysical form within them. It was as if they had a brain that took care of everything that they understood and then a super-brain that took care of all of the deeper stuff. This doesn’t sit well with me. When you feel something “in your heart”, you are feeling that thing in a deeply emotional and chemical way. Love is a crazy potent drug that releases all kinds of good chemicals into your brain. Actually, back it up. The feeling of love is a drug, but love itself is a choice that you make even when the nice chemicals aren’t flowing like they used to.

So when someone says “my heart wasn’t in it anymore” or “i just need a change of heart”, I say, “you just miss the high from the dopamine overload that you used to get”.

But I don’t want to talk about love in this post. However, if my wife is reading this and buys me a chocolate brain instead of one of those hearts (that aren’t even shaped like real hearts) for Valentines Day, I think that would be wonderful. ::hint:: ::hint::

What I want to talk about is the idea of “changing your heart”. I’ve heard it said time and time again that no one can change the heart except for God and no matter how many times you logically present the fact, a person will never change unless God changes their heart. What is this mysterious heart that we keep talking about? It’s obviously not the real heart, so we must be talking about a part of the brain. Do we mean that a person’s preconceptions are so deeply embedded that no amount of reason can convince them otherwise and it would take a miracle for them to see the world differently? I can move with that. In a talk at a skeptic’s convention called TAM, astronomer Phil Plait said, “No one can be logically reasoned out of a belief that they didn’t logically reason their way into”. (check out the whole talk here. i’m a big fan of his). I run into this constantly in seminary. When you are brought up in the church, you are taught certain things so often and with such unwavering conviction, that you never think about doubting them. They become deeply embedded in your belief system and, like a tree that has grown around a street sign, cannot be removed without some serious pain. You would think that I don’t believe in gravity when I tell some people that I don’t believe in a literal, eternal Hell. When a particularly belligerent fellow-student continually asked me how I can believe that there is not an eternal Hell, I asked them how they could be so sure there is. They replied, “I just know it in my heart”. What that says to me is, “I just know it in a deeply embedded part of my brain that I have not questioned and have therefore become too comfortable with to consider any other options”.

So what does it mean for God to “change your heart”?

Here is how I see it. Your conscious mind is really good at dealing with what it has always dealt with, but it is terrible at thinking outside the box. Have you ever had a big argument with a person only to talk to them in a day or two and say, “You know, I thought about it, and you’re right”. That’s because your subconscious brain is REALLY good at thinking new thoughts and not relying on old paradigms and it keeps problem-solving long after you think you’ve finished thinking about it. If you are stuck on a problem, try doing a crossword puzzle for 15 minutes and coming back to the problem after giving your subconscious brain some time to think about the problem without your conscious mind getting in the way. Countless studies have shown that it works wonders. So when God gives people a “change of heart”, I think there is something much more beautiful at work than just a God who flips the switch inside of you so that you are now a different person. God know how the brain works. God has been dealing with the human brain for a LONG time. I’m proposing that when we have those life-altering “changes of hearts”, God has actually been prepping our subconscious mind for a long time. When we finally feel the change is when the subconscious mind is done with it and it hands it over to the conscious mind. Essentially, I believe that even before we ask, God is working on the deep, meaningful parts of our mind. God is slowly forming us before we even know it. This is the God who called out from the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”. Jesus forgave his killers before they knew to repent. I’m no Calvinist though. I know that there is some free will involved here, but I genuinely believe that God is always shepherding our subconscious mind, helping us to adapt to situations we haven’t faced yet, and preparing us for the times when we cry out, “Change my heart, oh God”. Though it may be more accurate to cry out, “Change my neural networks, oh God. Quiet the embedded prejudices of my conscious mind so that I might be truly changed”. I doubt I’ll ever see that in a worship song though. Oh well…

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