Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Incentive to understand the heart

Reading Scripture, there is one word used often which is not easily defined: heart. Here are some places I saw it today:

"The Lord said in his heart, 'I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth.'" Gen. 8:21

The word is used twice here. First, reference is made God's heart. What does that mean? If it referred to the physical organ man has, then this would certainly be a metaphor applied to God (for names of material things are only said metaphorically of God, who is immaterial). Yet both uses of the word seem to point to something more immaterial or integral, certainly something interior. The Lord says something in his heart. This is opposed to the verses that come later when he speaks to Noah. To speak in his heart means in some way to bring forth thoughts or even words without delivering them. At least that is what the speaking referred to is. But what is the heart? Forming words would happen in the imagination, but prior to that is the coming forth of thoughts in the mind/intellect. So does the heart refer to the intellect? Now God does not think one thing now and another later, so what is spoken in his heart is spoken from all eternity, even if about a certain time and place. One more point on God's heart: he is speaking there about thing he will or will not do. He will not curse the ground, and in his heart is also the reason for that. So perhaps the heart refers to the mind insofar as it is ordered to action, or action upon another.

Then the same verse speaks of the imagination of man's heart. Is the imagination something that belongs to the heart? So what is the heart? If the heart is the mind as it is a principle of action, then the imagination may belong to it as the senses do. They are properly ordered to it, or at least by it, and they are unruly if they work apart from it. Adam's eyes betrayed him after the fall, and all men's imaginations try to rule the reason which ought to order them. This seems reasonable. The imagination of man's heart might even refer to something else. Perhaps it could refer to some delusion or disorder in man's heart, using imagination to contrast with the sense which has a present reality as its object. If such is the case, then God is saying something even more self-evident when he calls it evil.

"Blessed are the pure of heart." Mt. 5:8
"He has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Mt. 5:27

These passages from the Sermon on the Mount seems to fit fairly well the above interpretation. The second one could be taken in different ways. One who looks at a woman lustfully commits adultery in his heart. So if one intends to commit adultery or would even do so as long as certain consequences could be avoided, his heart is still the same as the actual adulterer. This involves choice or even desire, so these belong to the heart in some way. Committing adultery in one's heart could also mean going through the act in one's imagination. Yet that doesn't seem as essential as the intention of wanting that is at work. He says that the commission happens at once with the lustful look: using one's senses with a certain mindset is equivalent to carrying out certain sinful acts. This lustful look again reminds one of the opened eyes of Adam, not so much able to see more, but able to look without seeing what he ought.

Purity of heart will lead to seeing God. This does not seem to be an arbitrarily chosen reward. Somehow our heart is capable if seeing, and so purity in it will allow us to see God. Purity first means unmixed. So our heart, whether this be more like mind or will, somehow must have God as its object. It must attend to him and think what is true about him, and it must love him and order other faculties and actions toward him. God alone, and everything else only as ordered to him.

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