“The Heart Has Its Reasons”

In the 17th century, Blaise Pascal, renowned mathematician, and Christian intellectual, disputed with the rationalistic apologists of his time, such as René Descartes. Pascal wrote, “The heart has its reasons which reason knows not” and “We know the truth not only through our reason but also through our heart.”

Pascal did not claim that belief in God or faith in Jesus Christ is against reason or that it is irrational and anti-intellectual. He was, rather, articulating a more balanced and biblical description about how belief operates. Bill Edgar wrote, “Reason is good and necessary as long as it knows how to submit to the truth. To do that, it needs the heart’s right disposition. The heart, as Pascal puts it, does have its reasons. But a system of rationalization alone will never lead to God” (Reasons of the Heart: Rediscovering Christian Persuasion, 14).

Pascal understood that human beings are indeed complex creatures. We act and believe for both rational and emotional reasons. We disbelieve or embrace faith for often contradictory motives. Phenomenologically, Tim Keller articulates three factors that determine the intellectual plausibility and existential credibility of faith: intellectual reasons, interpreted personal experience, and social conditioning. People tend to believe if they have good intellectual reasons, personal experience that does not psychologically preclude trust in God, and a supportive community open to or tolerant of a worldview that deviates from the accepted “group think.”

Further, Pascal understood, as did Paul before him, that faith is not simply concerned with rationality or emotion, but motive. According to Romans 1:19–23, unbelievers already know God, but they do not demonstrate the proper spiritual and ethical response to the knowledge they have. The question is not whether humans have a relationship with God or whether or not they have knowledge of God, but what manner of relationship and knowledge he/she already has―obedient or disobedient, acknowledgment or suppression of the truth. Sadly, sinners are highly motivated to deny God’s existence or goodness, for “the heart has its reasons.”

As an example, consider someone who claims to be an atheist but whose motive for disbelief is rooted in a negative personal or communal experience. Basically, this objection claims that God has misbehaved. He has been unfair or unjust. He is not good, so he does not merit affection, worship, obedience or faith. Sometimes, the atheist has experienced trauma in his/her life. Something happened which so offended the conscience that, in effect, they cannot forgive God for permitting this or that evil to happen.

In such cases, often the best response is empathy and a willingness to listen. Sometimes, it is wise to share your testimony or experience with suffering. It is useful, also, to probe their religious history and ask questions like: When did you stop believing? Why? What happened? How do you feel about that decision now? How is your atheism working out for you in everyday experience? Why do you hold your atheism so dearly?

Or you might ask the unbeliever to consider God’s witness in their lives through the “riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience” (Acts 14:17), despite their painful experience. Assist them to think about what they should be thankful for. As Paul said, “For he did good by________?” or “He satisfied your hearts with________?” Explore how God’s kindness is designed to lead them to repentance (Rom 2:4). Talk about the implications of the biblical view of God: Does it make sense to use (or presume on) his grace to live in sin and rebellion (Rom 2:4–5)? Or is it wiser to “honor him as God” and “give thanks” (Rom 1:21)?

Finally, it is important to listen much more than we speak. (There is a reason God gave us two ears and only one mouth!) Ask lots of questions and listen carefully. Pray that the Spirit leads  and gives discernment about how to proceed. Look for the dissonances in your neighbor’s soul, between what they really know and what they actually do or say. Many times, intellectual arguments and worldview are simply a mask to protect a soul embittered by suffering―their own sin or damage done to them through the sins of others.

“The heart has its reasons which reason knows not.”


I read an interesting book The Faithful Artist: A Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts by Cameron J. Anderson. In the Introduction, he explained the dissonance he felt between his church and his passion for art. He described the discord as “the awkward convergence of my evangelical and my secular training” (p. 4). Whereas he entered the study of the visual arts “expectant, believing that painting, sculptures, prints, drawing and photographs could cast fresh light on deeper things” (p. 1), his Christian community manifested “serious misgivings about the legitimacy of art as a vocational endeavor” or even viewed his calling as “a capitulation to carnal desire” (p. 4).

In hindsight, Cameron explained that there were “three nearly insurmountable barriers” (p. 2) to a vocation in the visual arts. The first was “the absence of a mentor.” He did not have a mature and empathetic Christian advocate to guide him. As a result, he wrote, “I lacked a ready apologetic . . . for how or what such an enterprise might contribute to the church and its mission” (pp. 2-3, his emphasis). The second obstacle was his “church’s disregard for the visual arts,” which hovered between “ambivalence and hostility” (p. 3), as well as its “palpable distain for modern art” (p. 3). “To underscore their reservations,” he wrote, “they relied on shoddy biblical exegesis, false dichotomies and the anecdote of scandal” (p. 5). And, the third was “the art world’s hostility to religious belief,” due to its secular, modern, and postmodern worldview.

I suspect that the dissonance that Cameron experienced with his calling is parallel to what many Christians experience in their churches today (ages 20–40 especially). Many have told me about their “awkward convergence” of evangelical conviction and secular training or profession. Most cannot easily reconcile what they hear in church with what they experience in the world. Some have encountered the “church’s disregard,” its “palpable distain,” “ambivalence and hostility,” or sometimes even “shoddy biblical exegesis” regarding objections to their profession or aspiration to serve God in the public square. Some pastors express “serious misgivings about the legitimacy of (fill in the blank) as a vocational endeavor.”

Here are some examples (names have been changed): Matias is a university professor who struggles with the hegemony of naturalism in his faculty. Pedro strives to articulate his biblical worldview through painting. Gustavo tries hard to reconcile the Bible and biology. Pablo endeavors to integrate the biblical worldview with marketing and entrepreneurism. Jorge has a vision for Christians in politics and public policy. Silvia wonders how to integrate faith and philosophy. Martin searches for links between Christian spirituality and the materialism of his psychology faculty. Deborah feels threatened by the secular worldview propagated by the faculty of medicine.

A woman who works with young people in her church expressed her concerns after a nine-hour course I taught, “Three nights is not enough instruction. We don’t even know how to process all the information. We need more Biblical and theological study. I work with the young people and I know that they are not prepared for the university and the challenges to their faith that they will face.”

Each of these individuals often feels isolated and unsupported in their churches―spiritually and intellectually. Sometimes, their communities’ stance is even hostile, as if they were “doing the devil’s work” or engaging in “worldly” pursuits unworthy of a serious Christian. But most of the time they encounter indifference. Their religious leaders do not often integrate the biblical worldview with their cultural and intellectual context. Often, the gospel, calling, and spirituality are narrowly conceived. The intellectual aspect of God’s word and faith is overlooked. Sadly, many Christian communities do not even know the questions that many Christians face in their schools and workplaces, let alone the answers so sorely needed. Is there an evangelical spirituality for the public square and the marketplace of ideas?

What can be done about this? Consider the three barriers that Cameron mentioned.

First is the need for a mentor. Church leaders could become better listeners and more empathetic to the university students and young professionals in their midst. Learn about their questions and struggles. Support them in prayer and reflection. Become their advocates.

Second, churches should develop a robust theology of common grace and calling. Endeavor to minimize the influence of the sacred-secular distinction, because Christ is Lord over every day and all professions.

Third, programs for the study of worldview, apologetics, and theology would help prepare Christian ambassadors in the marketplace of ideas to express, explain, and defend their faith.

In these ways perhaps the dissonance between doctrine and the world, piety and profession can be reduced. Perhaps together students, professionals, and church leaders could articulate an apologetic for “how or what such an enterprise might contribute to the church and its mission.” And also in this manner make positive contributions to the common good for the glory of God.



It is well known that a diet of junk food is not healthy for the body. It promotes obesity and disease. It produces listlessness and passivity. There is also, I suggest, junk food for the mind. It produces spiritual and intellectual lethargy.

Let me provide an example. A friend of mine, a pastor of many years, decided to leave the church because of ecclesiological pragmatism that stifled spiritual growth. He saw that “success” in the evangelical church merely required four aspects: a concert-feel worship service, simple practical how-to preaching on popular topics using humor with a non-confrontational challenge, a fun-clean-safe children’s ministry, and a similar teen meeting concurrent with the adult service. I wonder if you have observed a similar kind of pragmatism in your churches.

Indeed, it seems that most preaching today stresses application― ecclesiological pragmatism―and ignores the theology or biblical rationale for the application. The result is often just busyness and rules. But the real motivation for the Christian life is knowing the truth. That reality motivates us, producing transformation, creative thinking, and godly ethics.

Many Christians, I think, want to develop their minds in a distinctly Christian fashion and grow in discernment. They struggle with a sense of intellectual dissonance. They experience conflict between what they hear (or do not hear) in church and what they observe in the world. They express boredom with insipid sermons. They lament teaching that stresses “how-to” knowledge but rarely “why” or “what” thinking. They hear applications but they want more biblical rationale, more worldview.

I believe that our souls are hard-wired, so-to-speak, with something called the indicative-imperative dynamic. There are three parts of this formula: an indicative statement about an essential truth; a literal or grammatically implied “therefore” which points to the expected response; and then an application or demand.

A simple example is 1 John 4:19. “We love because he first loved us.” Most sermons today simply respond to the demand of the congregation―give us an imperative. They say, in effect: “Just tell us how to do it. Tell us how to love. Be practical. Do not bore us with teaching that forces us to think or evaluate ourselves or our culture. Do not explain to us in depth how or why God first loved us as the rationale for how and why we should love others.”

Another example is Deuteronomy 6:4–5. The indicative is expressed in verse 4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The imperative is provided in verse 5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

This passage tells us what is important in verse 4: an absolute, transcendent, sovereign creator, the Lord our God, called Yahweh Elohim, is God alone. It also indicates a relationship between this creator and his creation. God is our sovereign Lord, and we are his human servants. Because of this, he communicates with authority, and we must listen and obey. The imperative in verse 5 tells us what to do. We must devote all our being and resources to his honor and service. The proper response to God is total devotion in thought, desire, and behavior―assuming we understand in depth the indicative in verse 4.

The church needs solid teaching that includes both the imperative and the indicative, not simply intellectual fast food. As disciples, we need to learn in depth. We need mental piety. Or, as Alistair Begg comments, “When the Bible is truly taught, then the voice of God is truly heard.”

Indeed, we must hear God’s voice speaking―educating, reproving, and inspiring us through his word. Then, Lord willing, follows transformation in every area―because the truth (not spiritual junk food) will set us free to love God with our minds, to serve him, and to bless others for the sake of the gospel.



In Genesis 3:1, the serpent said, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”

In the whole history of recorded thought the small phrase uttered by the serpent “did God actually say” is surely the most consequential. Hidden within this seemingly innocent question was a Pandora’s box full of blasphemous errors and destructive evil. “Did God actually say” conveys a host of assumptions motivated by envy, mutiny, and cynicism. The audacity and arrogance implicit in this question are difficult to imagine.

With this inquiry the snake got his proverbial “foot in the door” within Adam and Eve’s mind and heart. He inserted just enough doubt and confusion to suggest the idea that God could and should be questioned. The serpent insinuated that the creator’s perspective was skewed and in dire need of correction. Subtly, he positioned Adam and Eve to judge between himself and Yahweh Elōhîm. He asked them to heed his words instead of God’s.

The snake’s declaration: “You will not surely die” was also a blatant contradiction of God’s words in 2:17. In effect, he accused God of lying. Yahweh Elōhîm was holding back on them, the serpent argued, and withholding his greatest blessing, specifically a kind of knowing that would make them “like God.”

In addition, by utilizing the language from Gen 1:26-28 of image and likeness (“like God”) the snake urged them to re-imagine themselves apart from their creator. The serpent redefined them within his worldview by stripping the concept of the divine image from its setting in Eden. He inspired them to align themselves as the imago Satanas (image of Satan), rather than the imago Dei (image of God).

How true, then, is Paul’s depiction of mankind’s mental state: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4).

A Mind That Fears

Six times in Deuteronomy, God’s intent for Israel focused on acquiring the fear of the Lord (5:29; 6:2, 2x, and “learn to fear the Lord” in 14:23; 17:20; 31:12). In 4:10, God commanded Moses,  “Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.”

In Deuteronomy, God-fearers were typified by an intellectual acknowledgment of God’s voice: “my words” (4:10), “commandments” (5:29), “statutes” (6:2, 24), and “all the words of this law written in this book” (28:58). Behaviorally, those who possessed a heart that fears “serve” and “swear” by the Lord’s name (6:13), “walk in his ways” (8:6), “hold fast to him” (10:20, “obey his voice” (13:4), “read” God’s word (17:19), and “purge evil” from their midst (21:21).

Similarly, throughout the Old Testament, godly fear signified intellectual humility and ethical rectitude typified by Proverbs 3:7: “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.”  So, for example:

Abram did not withhold Isaac from sacrifice, even though it was inconceivable (Gen 22:12).

Joseph rejected Potiphar’s wife’s enticement as a “great wickedness” (39:9).

The Hebrew midwives disobeyed Pharaoh to protect the baby Moses (Exod 1:17).

Yahweh-fearing servants of Pharaoh sheltered their livestock during the plagues (Exod 9:20).

Israelite leaders would not accept bribes (Exod 18:21).

Hebrew kings ruled justly (2 Sam 23:3).

Obadiah feared the Lord and hid the prophets from the wicked king, Ahab (1 Kings 18:4).

And those who still “feared the Lord” after the exile “esteemed his name” (Mal 3:16).

Today, are we also guided by the fear of God? Can you and I point to decisions, actions, or imaginations, we did not embrace because we knew they would dishonor the Lord? Or can you and I point to decisions or actions we did take which did, in fact, dishonor the Lord?

When do not fear the Lord in thought and deed, we should remember the prayer of confession from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer:

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.