Tuesday, 16 December 2008

the thoughts of the heart

As I was reading through Luke recently I was struck by the number of references to the heart.

For us, the heart is the place of emotions and feelings, particularly the place of love. We are "led by the heart" if we make decisions based on our emotions over and against what our minds and thoughts are telling us. We "wear our heart on our sleeve" if we let everyone know who we love, "guard our hearts" when being careful about whom we love and our "hearts break" when that love is not returned.

This is not the way Luke speaks of the heart. Yes, the heart loves, for we are to 'love the Lord your God with all your heart' (10:27). But this is not the full story. You see, the verse actually says to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. Love is something that belongs to our whole being, not just our heart. Our minds love as much as our hearts do.

As I read over the places where the heart was mentioned, I found that it was the place of thought (1:51, 66; 2:19, 35; 3:15; 9:47; 21:14; 24:38). Now, this is so different to the way we think about the heart that the greek word for heart, kardia, is sometimes translated "mind" (NIV 1:51, 66; 21:14; 24:38; ESV 12:45; 21:14). Conceptually it just doesn't make sense to us for the heart to 'think'.

The heart is also the place for storing what has been heard, or for memories (1:65-66; 2:51; 8:15). It is the place of belief (24:25), perhaps the inner self which only God sees (16:15), the place where decisions are made (21:14) and we talk to ourselves (12:45).

I found all this very interesting because it is not the way I usually think about the heart. It is different to our modern romantic notion of the heart. Perhaps it is just a conceptual difference in the languages... perhaps, but without doing an huge study on both languages and looking at the range of meanings associated with different words for mind and heart and soul I could not answer that question. And there are things we can learn without such a study...

1. Our hearts are not in conflict with our minds. They are not opposing authorities within us. We often think of our hearts as free and liberating but our minds as somehow chained and burdened to a priggish old school-ma'am named 'right'. We fall in love with someone we ought not to and we say things like 'I know I shouldn't, but my heart just says yes'. Perhaps we ought to admit to sinful desires coming just as much from our minds as our hearts. Yes we might have conflicting desires, but they don't come from different places within us, one from the mind and the other from the heart.

2. Feeling, thinking and believing all take place in the heart. It's not as if we think rationally with our minds but believe the irrational with our hearts. This is not the way it works. That's a distinction that is not present in scripture and is not helpful. We believe because we can think.

3. We need to be careful when reading scripture that we don't important modern romantic notions of the 'heart' onto scripture.

4. The best way I can summarise what heart or 'kardia' means in Luke is this: It is our inmost being, our true selves. The place of thoughts and memories and decisions that others cannot witness. Only Jesus percieves and knows our inmost self. Only God truly knows our hearts.

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