Nobody is neutral when it comes to faith. Nobody has a God’s-eye-view on our situation. Nobody is truly impartial, detached, and uninvolved in the complexities that accompany life’s ultimate questions. We are all human beings. And so, we all have minds, hearts, and wills that cooperatively shape us in on our search for what’s most real and true.
What we each choose to believe about ultimate things is not merely a mental matter because we are not merely mental machines. Some certainly suggest that it’s possible to just be a ‘mind’, to just deal with ultimate matters logically and rationally without being influenced by any feelings or desires. But it’s not possible. We cannot detach our minds from our hearts and wills anymore than we could physically remove our heads from our bodies and continue thinking. The only way someone can preserve the pretense of just being a ‘mind’ is by being dishonest about their makeup and humanity—perhaps even to themselves.
Thoughtful reasoning certainly has a crucial role in the process of choosing personal views. But like the pistons in the engine of a car, it is just one part that works with others. So answers to life’s big questions can be meaningfully sought, but it is a pursuit that involves our whole selves. And there’s no way around this. The reality is, our most essential views about life and the world are shaped by our minds, our hearts, and our wills.
We should be careful to not take our wills too lightly, especially in such a hyper-individualized society where we have given our personal wills a godly status. And thanks to our historical heritage, things like truth and goodness are frequently forced into the domain of preference. So from personal to political levels, we have become more interested in power than in truth—the power to choose, the power to control, the power to create our world the way we want it. Because power is all that we’re left with when we totally trivialize things like truth and goodness.
Our preoccupation with power can be seen in plenty of things in our daily lives. It can be seen in our tendency to explain events that occur in governments or at work or even at home as ‘just political.’ In can be seen in the widespread opinion that personally desiring to do something is reason enough for doing it. In more extreme quarters, some will even claim that truth is something that our misguided ancestors made up, but it was all an elaborate power play. Some even go so far as to say that the ‘will to power’ is the key that unlocks every event throughout history. And those who are ruthlessly consistent with their logic will even say that having and exercising power is the meaning of life.
Now don’t get me wrong: even though I would not go so far as to interpret everything through the lens of power, I think we can learn important things from radical thinkers like Nietzsche about the power of our wills. What’s more, the ‘will to power’ has definitely been a significant force throughout the history of our species. People like Nietzsche help us see the real potency of our wills.
Our wills have a powerful role to play in our pursuit of what’s real and true. It’s not enough for us to simply say we are interested in the truth; we have to really want the truth if we are to have any hope of finding it. We need to be willing to adjust to reality, because our wills are powerful enough that we can make ‘reality’ adjust to us. That is to say, we have the power to selectively accept the parts of reality that suit us and avoid the parts that don’t.
All this is not surprising from a Christian viewpoint. In fact, people are powerful creatures according to Christian thought. At times our weak and humble position is—rightly—emphasized by Christian teachers so much that we may forget that the Biblical writings also teach that we have been endowed with incredible powers. The opening of the Christian scriptures tell the epic story of the God of the universe designing human beings to be like him, made ‘in his own image.’ And there is a great deal of significance in God using himself as the blueprint for our human design. Perhaps the greatest significance is that the ultimate Person surprisingly chose to share the power to choose with human persons. So though we are not gods, we are the curious creatures that are made of both the dirt and the Divine.
But there’s more essential significance in people being made by God to be like God. The Biblical writings tell of the ultimate Relational Ruler creating human beings to relate and to rule. In other words, humans have been designed to experience ultimate fulfillment in sharing love with God and others, and in compassionately caring for everything in the created world—this is a huge part of our ultimate purpose according to Christian thought. Yet, humans have the power to choose. And the ensuing Biblical drama chronicles many gut-wrenching stories of the dark and powerful potential of the human will. It’s stories—along with those of human history—show that we have the power to love and to hate, to embrace and to betray, to create and to destroy, to care and to neglect, to preserve and to pollute. Even when it comes to the matter of what’s true, it is claimed in Biblical writings that we have the power to accept or ‘suppress the truth,’ including truths that we already know deep down inside.
All of this might provoke the seriously significant question, why? I do not wish to suggest that I have peered into the mysteries of Ultimate Reality and have all the answers. But I do find these partial explanations compelling in relation to the question, why? Because God is Love and he ultimately wants us to want him, since love cannot exist without two-way-choice. And because God cares for the world he created and he wants us to want to care for the created world, too. The stories of Scripture show over and over that God will pursue but not impose himself on us; that God remarkably respects our will and our decisions. We should recognize that this means he treats us with immense dignity—even though we may not reciprocate such respect—and allows us to truly be free, with or without him.
So when we struggle with life’s ultimate questions, we should bear in mind that God’s existence (or non-existence) certainly does not depend on our opinions. But we should also remember that our wills are incredibly powerful. So much so that the first and most pressing question is often not, do I think God exists? No, the most pressing question for many is, do I want God to exist?