Listening to Your Heart is a Bad Idea

Neil Castle

17 January 2013

Walking into any home wares or junk shop you’ll quickly find yourself surrounded by a plethora of wall art, posters and trinkets, many of which encourage you to, as Roxette sang, listen to your heart, or stay true yourself, or as Princess Diana once said, “Only do what your heart tells you.”

And now that it’s post-Christmas, they’re probably going cheap.

It seems as though listen to your heart, or some derivative of, is the most basic advice to give when we don’t know what else to say, from the well-meaning counsel to a woman in the midst of a difficult marriage, to a young hipster uncertain about which Uni to attend or skinny jeans to buy, to Marcia Hines encouraging an Australian Idol entrant in the midst of identity crisis.

It sounds good, doesn’t it? It’s hopeful. It’s liberating. After all, if you’re not sure of anything, you can remain sure that your heart will provide the guidance, and ultimately joy, you need. Happiness is there, you just need to search your own heart to find it.

It sounds good, that is, until you find out the true nature of your heart.

The True Nature of the Heart

When the Bible talks about the human heart, it’s referring to the centre of a person’s being, involving their emotions, reason, and will. It has a great deal to say about the nature of the heart, and from very early on in the biblical narrative, we find that it’s actually the source of the world’s problems:

"The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Genesis 6:5)

Since just after the beginning, men and women have been following their hearts. The result was not comfort and guidance, but death and destruction.

God Searches the Heart

The underlying assumption of this myth is that the human heart is basically good, and if you search it for yourself, goodness is what you’ll find. God also searches the heart; yet he has a wildly different and far more terrifying prognosis:

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10)

Jesus shows us that ultimately, all our sinful actions come from the heart:

"For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness." (Mark 7:21-22)

The heart, it turns out, is not the source of joy and truth, but rather, it’s deceitful, sick and full of sin. There is, however, hope for us and our wretched hearts.

Through the prophet Ezekiel, God tells us that he will give us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:25). On the cross, Jesus paid the price for our sin so that we could be given this new heart, and promises that if we believe in him, out of our heart will flow “rivers of living water” (John 7:38; 14:1).

When to Listen to Your Heart

Because we live in the already, not yet, Christians have two hearts that war against each other. We already have our new heart, but our old, sinful heart has not yet been completely removed.

Our old heart promises guidance and joy by screaming at us to believe and follow it into rebellion from God. But our new heart reminds us to believe and follow Jesus, and He will be our peace, joy, comfort and guidance. We must reject one and listen to the other.

Which one will you listen to?

Neil Castle

Neil is the Executive Pastor of City on a Hill Melbourne East. He is married to Kirsty and has two children. He loves music, playing guitar, and wrestling with his kids. Neil has a Bachelor of Theology from Ridley College, and a Diploma of Music from Box Hill Institute.