Throughout scripture, we see mention of man’s heart. It was a term used to describe our inner being — our mind, will and emotions.
The heart embodies our mental capacity as it remembers (Isaiah 42:25) and understands (Isaiah 44:18). The heart is considered the seat of our emotions (Genesis 42:28) such as anxiety (Proverbs 12:25) and joy (Isaiah 65:14). It is also the source of some admirable qualities such as courage (Psalms 27:14).
In a nutshell, the heart represents who we really are.
But do we know who really are?
In one of the most telling descriptions of the heart, the prophet Jeremiah says:
The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it. (Jeremiah 17:9 NASV)
In this verse, the message is clear we can’t trust our heart, because at its core is deception. Our heart has secrets (Psalms 44:21) that even we are not aware of.
This is exactly the conclusion that Cordelia Fine, an Associate Professor at the Melbourne Business School at the University of Melbourne, comes to in her book, A Mind of its own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives.
Fine analyzed many psychological studies that explore the self-deceiving mechanism embedded in our minds. Her conclusion: the mind has the unique ability to portray us in a way that is different from reality.
She tells of a study conducted by two Princeton professors who tested two groups of students. Each group was asked to read a different scientific paper — both papers were complete fabrications.
The first group read a research paper stating extroverts made the best students. The second group read a paper arguing the exact opposite that introverts had the best chance of high academic performance.
After reading the two papers, the students were each given a psychological test to discover what type of personality they had. Realizing these students were attending school with the expectation of success, not surprisingly the ones who read the extroverts-are-best scored themselves as extroverts and the second group scored themselves as introverts.
Fine says the mind is predisposed to believe what it wants to believe.
It will even adjust its ability to handle pain, if necessary. Again two groups were tested. They were asked to stick their arm in icy water and hold it in as long as they physically could. They had to do it twice, once before a session of exercise and then once after.
However, prior to the second attempt, one group was casually told how studies showed the longer a person could hold their arm in the water after exercising, the longer lifespan they would have.
The second group was told the exact opposite – that a shortened time indicated potential for a longer life span.
Predictably, the first group increased the length of time they could hold their arm in ice water over their earlier attempt and second group reduced it. The deceiving heart did what it needed to do to guarantee a long life, despite no evidence to support the theory.
But the heart didn’t know that.
There has also been several studies on how people compared themselves to the average population. When asked if they were more motivated than average or more honest, invariably people said they fell into the top or better half.
This even applied to people asked about their driving ability while in hospital recovering from car accidents. Of course, it is mathematically impossible for everyone to be better than average, but nevertheless this is how the mind deceives and perceives.
Emo Phillips summed it this way, “I used to think the brain was the most important organ in the body, until I realized who was telling me that.”
This is why God says He searches and tests the heart of man (Jeremiah 17:10; Psalm 17:3; Jeremiah 12:3) to find out what is really there. In fact, it’s only through testing do many of us get a true picture of what is in our heart.
Perhaps the most telling example of this was the Apostle Peter.
Towards the end of His ministry, Jesus told His disciples that He would be struck down resulting in the scattering of the disciples, Peter rashly boasted, “Even though all may fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (Matthew 26: 31-35 NASV).
Peter had a picture in his mind of his superior spiritual qualities. Peter was better than your average disciple. While others would flee, he would remain strong until the end.
But Jesus told Peter he would betray him as well.
Now I am sure in his own mind, Peter was convinced he would be the “Great Defender” of the faith and he almost pulled it off. It was Peter who cut off the ear of High Priest’s slave when they came for Christ in the garden (John 18:10-11).
Peter was ready to stand for Christ, no matter the challenge. He undoubtedly played over in his mind how he would face down a legion of Roman centurions to prove his allegiance to the Lord.
We all do it. We all envision how we will act heroically in certain situations, so why should Peter be any different.
But the imaginations of Peter’s heart were no match for reality.
Peter had been deceived by his own mind. He was prepared for the most brazen challenge, except the one that came from a simple slave girl (Luke 22:54-64).
“This man also was with him (Jesus),” she said as Peter warmed himself by a fire after Jesus’ imprisonment.
Peter answered, “Woman, I do not know him.”
It’s the small foxes that spoil the mind. The small challenges that trip us up.
And then the rooster crowed. Deceived by his own heart, Peter fled.
It was only after this brutal encounter with who he truly was, could God begin the process of building Peter into the rock upon which the early church would be built.
Testing is an important part of growth. It’s a measuring stick of our walk with God. It exposes the deception of our heart and that truth will set us free.
- The Vain Brain, Cordelia Fine (The Guardian: January 26, 2006
- Your brilliant, cheating, beautiful mind, Cordelia Fine (Times online: January 7, 2006)
- Know thyself (Globe and Mail: October 6, 2006) [Link no longer available]