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. The Bible also talks about how God works through the heart. When the Bible references phrases like “called to mind” or “remember”, it uses Hebrew words focused on the heart or essence of one’s being. “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 Israelites’ 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).