The Heart is Deceitful? Not so Fast

The scriptures speak from many voices with different experiences and different contexts.  So we need to be careful when we build a cornerstone of our theological worldview on a single verse.  One such example is Jeremiah 17:9.

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

Is the heart deceitful?

Some translations say Wicked? 

Is this universally true? 

No, and it’s not universally true in the Bible either.

Consider, a couple of chapters further in Jeremiah we find “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. “(29:13). But if the heart is universally deceitful how can we ever hope to find God?

And what is one to do with Psalms 20:4 “May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.” Or Psalms 37:4 “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  If our hearts are inherently deceitful or wicked what is the Psalmist suggesting that God will give us the wicked desires of our hearts?

These few examples show us that something more must be happening in Jeremiah, and most certainly it is not a universally true state of the human heart.   Have you ever had a bad day? Said things you wished you hadn’t?  Done things with a crappy attitude and intention?  Maybe you have let fears get the best of you? Maybe they were deceitful but do our worst moments define the whole of our life?

Certainly not.

Surely, you have had more moments where you have chosen love and acted well.  Instances where you have selflessly served, put others' wellbeing ahead of your own and times where you have shown genuine empathy, and care and mercy.  These things can’t possibly come from a heart that is wicked and deceitful.

Unfortunately, many of us have swallowed an unhealthy story.  The one where we are born sinful, that there is nothing inherently good in us - that our hearts are deceitful above all things.  Yes, we know that we can do some pretty nasty stuff as individuals and as a species but we know from experience that this is not always the case. 

What if we started our story in a different place?  What if we started our story just a couple of chapters earlier in Genesis?  What if we started with our original goodness?  What if our story recognized that we are quite young in the evolutionary scheme of things and that along with an unfinished, expanding universe we too are still growing and maturing?  What if we could see our trajectory as people towards becoming, evolving towards more love?

What if we were to replace the shame story with one of becoming, learning, developing and maturing as a species?  Letting go of the story that holds us in shame, looking to recover something that never really existed, to lay down the scapegoats for all our challenges in a world that is still very much becoming.   This story only serves us to keep looking back, self-condemnation which is in opposition to the trajectory of creation and the narrative of scipture itself.

You see, God isn’t in the past.  God is in the present, calling us, moment by moment, towards love.   Good coaxes us along into greater wholeness and maturity, out of our infancy, small living, chronic fear, selfishness, and misuse of power.  God is, in a sense, parenting us, like children, towards healthy, self-governing adulthood.

God doesn’t shame us with our past (personal or as a species) because this doesn’t produce expansively loving people or if you like, Christlikeness.  Instead, God calls, inspires and lures us, moment to moment, toward what is truly inspiring and beautiful - Love.

Shame may work for begrudging compliance (if that's the goal, I guess) but it doesn't have the capacity to truly inspire towards wholeness that found in a hope of becoming Love.


Image: Image by shannynkm from Pixabay

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