Jeremiah 17: 9-10
The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
To give to each person according to his ways,
According to the results of his deeds.
Whenever I have discussions with Christians about emotions, without fail, this verse will be referenced, and it is so predictable. It is usually brought up to say that the heart is not trustworthy. After all, we cannot trust something deceitful that would be unwise.
When I was doing a word search, I discovered something exciting. The word that we know as deceit in Jeremiah 17:9 is translated עָקֹב =ʿāqōḇ. So here is the Strong’s Concordance explanation: עָקֹב ʻâqôb, aw-kobe’; from H6117; in the original sense, a knoll (as swelling up); in the denominative sense (transitive) fraudulent or (intransitive) tracked:—crooked, deceitful, polluted.
However, the word aqob, comes from a root word עָקַב = āqaḇ. Here is the Strong’s Concordance definition of עָקַב ʻâqab, aw-kab’; a primitive root; properly, to swell out or up; used only as denominative from H6119, to seize by the heel; figuratively, to circumvent (as if tripping up the heels); also to restrain (as if holding by the heel):—take by the heel, stay, supplant, × utterly.
There are very subtle differences in the pronunciation of these words. But there is a big difference between what we think of as deceit and the root āqaḇ. Aqab means to supplant, overreach, or to take by the heel.
So, when we hear this verse translated into English, in our time and understanding. We hear that our hearts are lying to us, therefore not trustworthy. But as the verse would have been understood in its original language and time, it would be saying that the heart often overreaches, or we grab the heel of something and let it run away, dragging us behind it.
The heart would have been initially understood in this passage as the mind because there was a different Hebrew word used to describe the physical muscle of the heart. The original hearers would have listened to this term as we hear the term mind today.
So, if you will give me a little grace, I will include some neuroscience in this study. Recent brain science discoveries have helped scientists understand that neurons in the human heart connect to the brain.
So, is it possible that a verse Christians for centuries have used to focus on passions and emotions as being deceitful? Is God telling us our brains and hearts are connected? They are precious and not to be devalued.
“I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,”
Also, notice. It says I, the Lord, search the heart and test the mind. Not us humans.
Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life.
When we set a guard, we most often think of a guard as being set to keep something precious safe from something outside. So, if the Word of God is telling us to guard our hearts (minds), it must mean that something about what is inside is precious, and worth preserveing.
A guard who loves and is loyal will also guard against the precious thing being carried away. Guarding by not allowing that which is unique to get carried away on the heels of something that could harm the value, being protected.
When I came to this realization, several questions came to mind.
Why did these verses and pictures get twisted into the theology that emotions are not valuable or trustworthy versus a theology that something special needs to be guarded and treated with great care. Why did this become a theology of emotional avoidance instead of emotional enjoyment of something precious?
We are guarding against the overreach of our hearts and emotions and keeping them from overreaching to spill into and overflowing the wells of others’ hearts in ways that smoother and flood others’ precious wellsprings of life. We keep our hearts from being grabbed by the heal and drug away down a slippery crooked slope.
Remember, God says in Psalms 23 that a cup that overflows is a good thing, but a whole well running over might be overwhelming.
It is time we change this theology back to the picture that emotions that spring from our hearts, and minds are precious and should be treated with care and gentleness.
Our hearts and minds are to be guarded against getting caught up in a stampede and running away without valuing ourselves or the value of others.
Remember, perfect love casts out fear. When we guard our hearts and others together, we cast out fear and build joy. We show others love by showing them that their hearts and minds are precious and that God finds great value there.