“You dare to come to me for a heart, do you? You clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous junk!”
-Wizard of Oz
“I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.”
Most people don’t break out into song over their four-chambered organ of atrias and ventricles, or cry tears of joy for their pulmonary circulation. Yet everyone happily knows they have a heart as it’s a crucial part of living. It’s amazing that we have a blood-pumping organ that is responsible for keeping us alive. But I want to talk about a different heart. When we say “my heart breaks” or “my heart is so full,” we are identifying something else entirely. This post is aimed at exploring the role of the emotive heart by seeing if the Bible has anything to say about it.
Why Do I Have a Heart?
Our hearts make our human experience unique. This life forces us to feel a range of emotions. Anger, laughter, compassion, grief, love, hate, jealousy, and joy are just some of the heart’s produce. As humans we have the amazing ability to express those feelings. Back in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve are made in the image of God (Genesis 1). All of humanity bears the intentional design of the creative Divine.
The Bible reveals God as one who has emotions (even though they’re not exactly like ours). He feels anger (Psalm 7:11; Deuteronomy 9:22; Romans 1:18), laughter (Psalm 37:13; Psalm 2:4; Proverbs 1:26), compassion (Psalm 135:14; Judges 2:18; Deuteronomy 32:36), grief (Genesis 6:6; Psalm 78:40), love (1 John 4:8; John 3:16; Jeremiah 31:3), hate (Proverbs 6:16; Psalm 5:5; Psalm 11:5), jealousy (Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:14; Joshua 24:19), and joy (Zephaniah 3:17; Isaiah 62:5; Jeremiah 32:41). Can you see the point? Humans have emotion because God does. Having heart-produced emotion is part of God’s good design.
What does the Heart do?
It doesn’t take a genius to write that the heart is where our feelings come from. But it takes experience to know the gut-wrenching throb of disappointment or the walking-on-air joy of happiness. Life’s twists and turns bring both great pains and joys. In many ways our hearts give color, adding vibrancy to the black and white “paint-in-the-lines” timeline of the life we have on this planet.
But there’s a problem.
God reveals through Jeremiah: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). So, our hearts lie. A lot. And they’re also sick, and incomprehensible. This doesn’t sound like God’s intention. Even more so, Jesus turns up the heat with: “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:18-20). From life, we know the heart is the producer of our emotions. From God, we know the heart is pumping more evil than blood. We’re in big trouble — could there be any hope?
Does My Heart Matter to God?
So what about this organ, turned emotion-creator, matters to the God who never has needed our terminal hearts? Let’s look at three ways the Bible gives meaning to our hearts.
1 — Inward not Outward
All over the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus compares true followers of God with fake followers. Believe it or not, real disciples of God are not the religious elite — they are those who do the will of God (Matthew 4). Surprisingly, it’s possible to “keep” God’s laws and completely dishonor him at the same time (Exhibit A: the Pharisees). Matthew records Jesus quoting an old verse in Hosea to illustrate what he has desired from his followers all along: Mercy, not sacrifice (Matthew 9:13; Hosea 6:6). God doesn’t want our outward appearance of obedience, but instead a heart that loves him. Our hearts matter to God because he calls us to love him who first loved us.
2 — God and Neighbor
Jesus fought the Pharisees on what true obedience to the Law means. His words rang more clear than a police siren:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:38-40).
See that the greatest commandment has everything to do with emotions. Jesus invites true followers of God to love God. Be devoted to God, and follow him with your all. If there’s a summary statement of God’s revealed will to man, this is it. By saying “the Law and the Prophets,” Jesus is using a common way of referencing all the Bible. So Jesus tells the Pharisees: “If you know God’s desire for man, than you know to love God wholeheartedly and love others like they’re you.” Our hearts matter to God because we are called to a two-fold love — for God, and others.
3 — You’re Married
God has always kept a people that he especially loves. His love for his people is displayed through saving (Deuteronomy 5:15), promising (Genesis 12; Deuteronomy 7), and loving (Deuteronomy 7:8). Not only has God created everything on this planet and beyond, but he also enters into a Creator/created relationship with those who have “hearts after God” (Jeremiah 31:33, Hebrews 8:10). And at the foundation of this relationship that God has with his people is a marriage. In fact, the union of marriage was created to give us a living model of God’s loving covenant relationship with his people (Ephesians 5).
The book of Hosea (interestingly quoted by Jesus when discussing the heart) tells a love story. God’s people have left him for other their own gods (Hosea 1). After promising a just judgement for their sin (Hosea 2), God’s people receive the unexpected: mercy. This mercy comes by the way of love language! God says,
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
And there I will give her her vineyards
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt” (Hosea 2:14-15).
The rest of Hosea revealingly opens the blinds to the nature of God’s covenant relationship with his people. God makes promises to his people. They leave him. Sin is paid for. God calls his people back to him. His people repent. See a theme? This happens over and over again. Rinse and repeat.
Here’s the reality: if you’re a Christian, you’re part of God’s people. All believers experience the special reality of God’s salvation, promises, and love. And the Bible goes great distances to show us that God is the groom and his people are the bride (Isaiah 62:5, Zephaniah 3). The church is the bride of God. God is married to his people. You are married to the God who made and loves you. In this relationship, made possible by Christ’s death, God loves his people deeply and profoundly. Our hearts matter to God because we are married to God in an unbreakable loving bond sealed by the blood of Jesus.
Maybe now you see your heart (which you hopefully have never actually seen) a little differently. Our hearts make life real and three dimensional. They are powerful production lines, hopelessly broken by the Fall chained to seek their own good. Yet, their power, strength, focus, determination, feelings, and purpose all can be amazingly and humbly pointed towards God. Like a flower that needs the sun to really grow, our hearts need God in order to live according to his design — loving God and neighbor.
So let’s love the one who loves us so deeply. Let’s live lives cultivating heart-felt emotions for God as he replaces, renews, and restores who we are.
“Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee;
For Thou hast formed us for Thyself,
And our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee”
Long live the heart.