The Human Heart

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The human heart. It can be such a fickle thing. The prophet, Jeremiah, writes with the authority of the Spirit on its weaknesses and its paradoxical strengths in this beautiful and poetic passage. He uses the metaphor of the heart to reveal to us what ʺtrue wisdomʺ is. What is true wisdom then?

ʺThus says the Lord:
Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings,
Who makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a barren bush in the wasteland
That enjoys no change of season,
But stands in lava beds in the wilderness,
A land, salty and uninhabited.ʺ (Jer. 17: 5-6)

No lack of clarity there. Does this not reveal the tenor of our own times? Do we not live in an age that is turning away from God, that puts its faith in mere men, and humanly constructed philosophies? And if we look at the daily headlines do we not see the consequences of this misplaced ʺfaithʺ? There is not much in those headlines that is either hopeful or respectful of human life at any stage. While these human philosophies always claim to be ʺnew and improvedʺ means for making life better, for bringing about more just societies, they are really nothing more than old heresies, and failed ideas dressed up in new clothes. These man-made philosophies have nothing in them that is eternal. They are like the ʺbarren bush in the wasteland that enjoys no change of season, but stands in lava beds in the wilderness, land that is salty and uninhabited.ʺ Because their authors have turned away from God, there is no life in them. They are dessicated, fruitless things. While they argue to the rafters that they are from the heart, they have no life in them. They are false promises at best, or worse, outright lies. And the great irony is that, in the end, because there is nothing eternal in them, they will wither and die, having borne no fruit. But, sadly, not before they lead a lot of innocents away and cause a great deal of damage.

On the other hand:

ʺBlessed are those who thrust in the Lord:
The Lord will be their trust.
They are like a tree planted beside the waters
That stretches out its roots to the stream:
It does not fear heat when it comes,
Its leaves stay green;
In the year of drought it shows no distress,
But still produces fruit.ʺ (Jer. 17: 7-8)

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Those who have not turned away, who understand that they have nothing without God, are, ʺlike a tree planted beside the waters, that stretches out its roots to the stream.ʺ Because we have faith in God, the eternal is with us and within us. And even though the rest of the world looks and feels like it is going to hell in a handcart, we fear nothing. Our roots go deep and reach out to the stream that is eternal. Even in the heat of ridicule, our faith remains lively and strong. Our ʺleaves stay green.ʺ Even when everything around us seems dry and dangerously barren, we ʺshow no distress.ʺ Even in the hardest of times we still bear the fruit of our faith so that all can see it and taste of it. Because we have the eternal in us, we hold nothing back. And when everything around us is withering in the desert of selfishness and ego, we remain vibrant and generously fruitful. We still offer, freely, the living fruits of our faith, by which all can be refreshed, renewed and redeemed.

ʺMore torturous than anything is the human heart,
Beyond remedy; who can understand it?
I, the Lord, explore the mind
And test the heart,
Giving to all according to their ways,
According to the fruit of their deeds.ʺ (Jer. 17: 9-10)

Yes. The human heart can be a very torturous thing. It can turn bitter with resentment and arrogant with pride. On the other hand, it can be the very wellspring of love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness. It is easy to see that the former is lifeless and destructive, while the latter is full of the fruits of life, indeed, eternal life. A prideful heart denies any authority beyond itself. A bitter heart dries up from its core. A heart rooted in God’s eternal love is humble, dynamic, joyful and life-giving.

In the end, those who have turned their hearts and minds away from God, and those who have turned their hearts and minds toward God will be judged accordingly. This is not a gamble. This is not a matter of luck, or of glibness. It is a matter of choice. It is a choice of both the heart and the mind. ʺSee, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.ʺ Choose wisely. (Deuteronomy 30:15) Lord, give us the grace to choose wisely. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.