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Understanding and Counselling Youth: A Biblical Cardiology (Part 3)

2. A Biblical Understanding of the Heart (continued)

2.2 Our Terminology

You will have noticed by now the sense in which the word “heart” is being used.  This term in Scripture is distinctly different from modern, Valentines usage where “heart” usually refers to the passions and emotions in contrast to the mind and intellect (e.g., the common but unbiblical distinction between “head knowledge” and “heart knowledge”)(Adams, 1979:114).  In both the Old and New Testaments, the Hebrew and Greek terms for “heart” include the mind and intellect (cf. Job 12:24; 36:13; Jer. 17:9,10; 23:20; Ezek. 11:5; Hos. 7:11; Matt. 13:15; Mark. 7:19-23; 11:23; Luke 5:22; Acts 5:4; 2 Cor. 9:7; Heb. 4:12; James 1:26) (Adams, 1979:114).  It is consistently used to refer to the whole of our immaterial, invisible inner life (and thus is often closely linked with “soul” and “spirit”), in contrast to our visible, outer man (Adams, 1979:114).  And despite “cardiology” being only a physical-medical term today, one should remember that it stems from a Greek term for heart, “kardia”, thus making a ‘cardiology’ also a legitimate realm for spiritual physicians and counsellors.  Likewise, every soul-helper should remember that they are engaged in true “psychology” (the study of the “psyche”, the Greek word often referring to the “soul”). One of my professors used to say, “The heart is the mission control centre of life.”   This is precisely what Proverbs 4:23 states:  “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”  We live out of our hearts (Tripp, 1995:19-24; van der Walt, 2001:16).  Here is some of what Scripture shows originating in the heart: thinking, loving, hating, fearing, remembering, knowing, discerning, perceiving, talking, reasoning, understanding, doubting (Gen. 6:5; Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:17; Ps. 119:11; Deut. 8:5; Prov. 18:14; Eph. 1:18)(Adams, 1979:114).
2.3 Natural Hearts
What kind of hearts are we born with?  Contrary to popular opinion, the Heart-maker Himself declares in His Word that since the Fall we all inherit sinful and depraved hearts.  King David announced, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me”(Ps. 51:5; cf. Jer. 17:9 as quoted above).  His son Solomon agreed:  “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (Prov.22:15).  Anyone seeking to discover humanity’s true potential apart from Christ should listen to God’s answer through the Apostle Paul: “…all are under sin…there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one….  all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:9-12, 23; cf. Rom. 1:18-32). Despite God’s unavoidable diagnosis, society will let go of almost any belief before abandoning the notion of humanity’s inherent goodness.  Blame is cast in any
direction except the mirror, holding anyone or anything in our environment responsible except ourselves.  Emotional disturbances among youth must have been caused by a bad upbringing or peer ‘victimisation’.  ‘Innocent’ youth are blindly led away into immorality, addictions, or crime by oppressive peer pressure. Angry or depressed youth easily blame parents for not building up their self-esteem, or not nurturing their self-actualisation. 
Thanks to psychotherapy’s massive influence, the knee-jerk reaction today whenever a youth crisis arises is to immediately blame some aspect of their environment.  As predictable as the rising sun, fingers will point at poor socialisation, economical disempowerment, educational deprivation, or supposedly biological factors.  But who will love our youth enough to proclaim that such blame-shifting only robs them of any hope for change, since many youth have no imminent prospect of a better environment?  One must also notice how these ‘victimization’ theories unravel when young people in the ideal environment still rebel and transgress.  Are we saying that one’s environment has no significant influence on attitudes and behaviour?  Absolutely not – who could deny the “shaping influence” of Egypt upon Joseph and Moses, Babylon upon Daniel, or Hellenistic culture upon Paul (Tripp, 1995:10; cf. other evidences in Prov. 29:21, Col. 3:21, etc.)?  Yet in all four of those instances, we see men (some in their youth) who refused to allow circumstances to determine their responses to life’s pressures.  Poverty, abuse, broken homes, sickness, and the countless other stresses life throws at a young person are indeed unjust and abusive often, and are many times horrific and heart-wrenching to observe.  Such chaos is often a very influential context of youth rebellion; however, it is not the main cause.

Remember that the ship is governed most by the set of the sails, not the direction of the breeze (Tripp, 1995:19). None of us is passively moulded by life’s influences; rather, our hearts actively interact with our experiences based upon our Godward orientation (Tripp, 1995: 10-17).  We must realise that every person is a worshipper, at all times.  The question is only:  Who is being worshipped, God or idols? (cf. Exod. 20:3-4; Ezek. 14:1-8, “heart idols”; Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 10:14; Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5; 1 Jn. 5:21, etc.)  Likewise,  Scripture repeatedly shows that we are constantly seeking, craving, trusting, fearing, loving, and serving someone or something (e.g., Prov. 3:5-6; Jer. 17:5-7; Matt. 6:24, 32-33; 10:28; Gal. 1:10; 2 Tim. 3:4).  Rather than our circumstances mastering us, it is actually the object of our worship and our desires that will most determine our outlook on life.
As creatures made in God’s image, we are always “active responders” to life, never merely “passive receivers” (Tripp, 1995:16).
These core convictions which form a sound, biblical cardiology are rooted in such Divine diagnoses as these: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’  For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly.  All these evils come from inside and make a man unclean” (Mark 7:20-23). “What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You want something but don’t get it.  You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.  You quarrel and fight.  …When you ask [God], you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives…” (James 4:1-3).

Who then can deny, despite many other severe problems faced by today’s youth, that their hearts are the heart of the problem?  Despite their frequent lack of real ‘heart-awareness’, beneath everyone of their personal and interpersonal problems lies an inner self that is constantly choosing how to respond and whom to serve.  Young people are interpreters.  They do not live life based on the facts alone, but based on their interpretations of the facts.  Unkind friends do not force a teen into anger or depression; rather, that teen has concluded (interpreted) that he cannot trust God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness in hard times and must rather react and take things into his own hands in some way.

Our biblical evaluation now leaves us with an inescapable implication:  Unless our youth experience change at the heart level, all efforts at reforming them are like stapling fruit onto the branches of a dead tree.  Surely there are some temporary benefits to behavioural adjustments, but true and lasting change must come from within (Col. 2:20-23; Tripp, 1997:110-113; van der Walt, 2002:16, 34).  But how?  How can this be accomplished for our contemporary youth?  What is required – repaired hearts, or more nurtured hearts, or more educated hearts?  No – only new hearts will do!  Nothing short of a complete heart transplant will rescue our young people.  But there is hope – God is in the business of heart transplants and has a 100% success rate and eternal warranty!

– Tim Cantrell, President and Professor of Systematic Theology, Shepherds’ Seminary

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