The Heart in the Bible

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

God works through the heart (Jeremiah 31:33). It is out of the heart that we connect with God (Romans 10:10). We are told not to lose heart (Galatians 6:9). What does the heart represent in the Bible?

The definition of the heart in the Bible includes the conjunction of emotion, knowledge and the will. Each of these parts has an effect on the other parts; each part cannot be separated from the other parts.

In the story of the prodigal son, the father’s love for his wayward son was one of emotion, and not just from reasoning or just his commitment to his son.  The father did not respond to his son just because it was the right thing to do, or because he was forcing his will to comply.  “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him (Luke 15:20).”  It was the combination of all three parts – emotion, knowledge, and the will, that serves as a model for the love of God for us, and as a model for the love we are to have for others.

In contrast, in the description of a religious sect, Jesus describes their knowledge and their commitment, but questions their motivation. He compares them to white-washed tombs, beautiful on the outside but dead on the inside. He compares them with a dirty cup, again presentable on the outside, but the inside is corrupt (Matthew 23:25-27). Here again, rationality and dedication are insufficient if not corresponding to honest emotions. Paul also points to the knowledge of God alone being insufficient (Romans 1:21). The rich young ruler also attempted to gain favor by performance.

What if our desire, knowledge or will is lacking? God builds desire in us (Philippians 2:13), and for that we have to turn to Him.

Follow Your Heart?

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

The Bible says the heart is deceitful. Mental health practices, however, often encourages one to listen to the heart. “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Perhaps the heart is deceitful, and God works to change the heart. “The wise in heart are called discerning, and gracious words promote instruction (Proverbs 16:21).

How might God work through the heart? There are many accounts in the Bible. Knowing truth and one’s experiences of emotion seem to be primary ways God works through the heart. For example, knowing the truth can change the way one feels. It may not eliminate unwanted human emotions, but positive emotions are added, like hope, gratitude, or joy. When Jesus foretells the destruction of Jerusalem, He tells his followers to not let their hearts be dulled by the worries of this life (Luke 21:34). In the Old Testament, for another example, when the Israelites were desperate it was an occasion for God’s intervention. “The Lord Himself will fight for you. Just stay calm” (Exodus 14:14).

God also works through these experiences of both positive and negative emotions.  The Israelite’s faith was founded on the fulfillment of God’s promises.  Another example in the Old Testament occurred when Jonah was angry that God spared the city of Nineveh, God changed Jonah through an experience of emotion. When Jonah felt a loss when the plant giving him shade died, he understood how God would feel if He lost the city (Jonah 4). This experience changed his emotions. God may even direct one to have such an experience: “Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent” (Psalms 4:4).

Changing one’s heart, in which the Bible includes knowledge, emotion, and will, always involves not only Truth, but an encounter with Truth. “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD” (Jeremiah 24:7).