There’s a certain common sense wisdom to that I suppose. If one ignores what his or her heart is saying that would seem to be a surefire set up for dissonance in life. The person who doesn’t listen to his or her heart would have this nagging sense that one was doing something wrong and it would come from inside so the individual could never get away from it. The kind of internal tension that results from that is something we’ve all likely experienced at one point or another and have discovered that it is distinctly unpleasant. I can remember several specific instances in leadership in the church where I did not listen to my heart. In every circumstance it created a nagging uneasiness in me that was unsettling at best. Unfortunately, in almost every situation I ended up chiding myself for not following my heart because the results ranged from bad to disastrous. That would seem to suggest this idea of following one’s heart is eminently wise.
Why is it that in our culture this “listen to your heart” thing has become so big? I have a theory. I think it is because we have lost all other moral guidance. In a multicultural relativist society, how do you know what is right and wrong? No one else can tell you, because if they did they would be overstepping their bounds. They would be intolerant and judgmental. In a relativist culture there are no absolutes so there is only what is right for you. This means that the only possible guide to what is right is your own heart. The only wrong that one can commit is to do something that is not right for himself or herself. So listen to your heart, because what else is there? Throughout most of history and still in many cultures around the world today there are other moral strictures that would guide most people’s moral choices. Those would come from religious teaching or the moral beliefs of the culture. But in saying there are no absolutes our culture has thrown out all moral beliefs and reduced religious teaching to a matter of personal preference. “Thus says the Lord” has been replaced by “if it feels good, do it.”
So we have this interesting dilemma. Our world tells us to listen to our hearts and that seems to make some sense. But we read in Scripture that our hearts are not to be trusted and in our honest moments we see the sick selfishness of them and know it is true. What are we to do? We can start with what Jesus said in John 14:1. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” He did not say, “do not let your hearts be troubled, believe in yourself.” Our world tells us we need to believe in ourselves. Jesus tells us to believe in God and in him. That belief is what forms the boundary to the trustworthiness of my heart. God’s truth forms the perimeter of the area in which I can freely trust my heart. When my heart is hurt by someone who speaks rudely or with unkindness to me and desires to lash out in kind, God’s truth tells me to respond with patience, kindness and love, no matter what that person did. My heart won’t tell me to do that, but God’s Word will. And that is right! Not just right for me, but right for everyone, always.
Not long ago our family got to visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom amusement park. A sizeable segment of this park is given to land in which animals roam freely in their natural habitat. There are some ferocious animals there, among them lions and tigers. You go through this area on a tour bus and can see the magnificent but dangerous animals not far away at all. At least I think they’re dangerous. Maybe Disney’s Imagineers have created some astoundingly lifelike animatronic beasts, but I don’t think so. They are the real deal, and they are walking around freely, a clear and present danger to humans potentially. But those animals are bounded by a fence so they do not go wandering through the environs of Orlando devouring the unsuspecting populous. Within that fenced area they are free to roam. Perhaps I should see God’s Truth as the fence that serves as the boundary for my heart. Within its confines I should follow my heart wherever it leads. But that fence is what keeps me from injuring or destroying other people. Actually it keeps me from injuring myself as well. So yes, I should listen to my heart. But first I should trust in God and what he says is right.