The Heart of the Matter

October 30, 2007 — 5 Comments

Just in case anyone was still in suspense, Metal/Mexican Monday was re-instituted; actually effective last week, which although I failed to mention here, was quite an amazingly refreshing day despite the rain (or maybe it was due to the rain and cold).

Anyway, if you are to new to this, next Monday just remember to eat something Mexican (not a Mexican) and listen to something metal (preferably not from the late 80’s; also nu-metal does not count). I would recommend Chipotle juxtaposed against some August Burns Red, but again, you can do whatever you see fit.

Moving on to something a little more relevant (although metal is still relevant) I have been doing a lot of thinking a lately, maybe even a lot for me.  I’ve been somewhat assimilating a lot of the reading that I have done over the last several months (and since I first started studying theology four years ago) and have been thinking about synthesizing a lot of it into something that could become a thesis. Ideally, it should be something highly theoretical in nature, but that is laden with numerous practical implications. All this thinking has gradually been leading into one direction.

To preface what follows, when I was first studying psychology (circa summer 2006) I found little satisfaction with many of the personality theories I read about and determined that one day I would write my own, but with an explanation of man that was firmly grounded in the Bible. This is phase one.

Phase two involves my readings in Arthur Custance, who is an anthropologist by degree (and in addition to his doctorate in that, he also had an M.A. in Oriental Languages, specifically Hebrew and Greek) but who had built his theology by reading the Bible through 8 times in one winter (yes, you read correctly, that’s 8 times in one long Canadian winter, how many of us have even read the Bible straight through 8 times period?) Anyway, long story short, the philosophical, scientific, theological writings he has produced in his 9 volume doorway papers series are some of the most fascinating thoughts I have ever read concerning theology. He is particularly interested in the biological ramifications of many of the stories in the Bible we give little thought to, particularly the fall of man (only genes can be inherited from one generation to the next, so in order to effectively inherit a sin nature from Adam, it has to be passed on genetically)  and the virgin birth (a woman in theory can conceive on her own, but would necessarily be a female child; for a male child to be born in that way is nothing short of miraculous, but it was also absolutely necessary for Christ in order that he avoid inheriting that genetic abnormality known as a sin nature, which comes from the man’s corrupted seed) just to give two examples that become inexorably linked when one considers the biology.  The point of phase two being that my thinking on theological topics after receiving a firm basis in two years at Word of Life was suddenly being stretched in different directions for a more profound understanding of what man is, what he has become, who God is, and what He has done for man to make provision for his redemption and restoration of the fellowship he was created for in the first place.

Phrase three then necessarily becomes synthesis of previous gleanings into a cohesive whole. I suppose this means I need to write my own multi-volume systematic theology, but rather than jump straight to that, I should probably focus on a more attainable goal in the next couple of years with the expectation that it would become part of a much larger body of writing in the future.

This is where you come in.

Given the background of my thought development, one thing that caught my attention was the heart. We are aware that our usage of the word in English can mean both the organ that pumps blood throughout our body, as well as a reference to our inner selves, which is also the case we find in Greek. What I am wondering is just how much of an overlap there is in the term. That is, could many of the Bible’s teachings referring to the heart be taken both in a figurative way that we usually take it in, but also in a non-figurative physiological way?

For example, Proverbs 12:25 states:

Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.

Now the interesting thing about this is that we are tempted to make heart simply stand for the spirit of man, which is what it may very well mean. However, so far as we know, the spirit is not localized in a specific part of the body (which I may debate against later) however the heart obviously is. It would be hard for anxiety to be stored in your spirit, but it could be stored in your heart physiologically speaking and if so would have certain ramifications. That in fact, is what medical science is finding (see Suls J; Bunde J (2005). Anger, anxiety, and depression as risk factors for cardiovascular disease: The problems and implications of overlapping affective dispositions. Psychological Bulletin. 131(2), 260-300, as well as Jiang W, Krishnan RR, & O’Connor CM. (2002). Depression and heart disease: evidence of a link, and its therapeutic implications. CNS Drugs, 16 (2), 111-127) namely that anxiety when internalized, localizes in the heart physically and not only then causes heart disease, but also then leads to depression in the individual who is allowing negative emotions to fester.

The verse, and my subsequent research paper on depression was the first link in a chain of studies concerning the psychology of man, as well as the cardiology of man and how that might have spiritual implications.

My question to you is, what do you think of all this?

  • Is it possible that many of the passages in the Bible concerning the heart could have physiological implications?
  • Could that be where your spirit is localized within your body?
  • If your spirit is localized in your heart, would that help explain the sudden changes in individual’s personalities after heart transplants? (More on that next time)
  • It is possible for the heart to rupture from extreme sadness or extreme joy, when this happens, if one were to be say, pierced in the side, blood and water would inevitably flow out, could it be that Jesus himself died of a broken heart over our sin? (Granted He did give up His own spirit, but he could have done so after it had lost the part of the body it was localized in)
  • When we are saved could there be a little more to the idea of Jesus coming into our heart? That is, could our physical body qualitatively change just slightly upon salvation by the implantation of something new in our heart? (In a sense that you become a new creation by virtue of a change in the fundamental part of your body that stores your spirit?

These are just a few questions, some I have an answer for, others I am still researching and prayerful considering, but at any rate, I would appreciate outside thoughts and concerns as I work towards a synthesis and better understanding of these ideas.


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

5 responses to The Heart of the Matter

  1. So my thoughts…the physical heart is affected by anxiety but it does not originate there, all these things are controlled by the brain.
    The reason stress is such a killer is that, in modern society, the situations that cause us stress are not the same sort that we would have dealt with five thousand years ago. When an intense situation arises at work, our bodies are fooled into thinking adrenaline will solve the problem, but it doesn’t. When the problem continues, adrenaline keeps being released, and our bodies quite literally start to burn out. Blood is diverted from the stomach and eating becomes difficult. Sleep becomes less effective, we are left with a trickle of energy keeping us awake even though all we want is a few moments’ repose. There’s numerous other factors, but anxiety is a physiological process that originates from our perceptions of the situations we find ourselves in.
    I’m always slow to cite spiritual causes for physical phenomenea. I’d rather see how things really work. Why would we short-change God by assuming that a given process is mystical and unknowable, and miss the design he put into it?
    I might take some flak for saying this, but I think science trumps the Bible. Let me explain. If you believe God created this world, then the next natural conclusion is that you can learn about God by studying this universe. If this is his work, then we will find his marks and see how inspired it really is. All truth originates from he who made it true. The fact that all our electrons somehow keep orbit even though they should have enough centrifugal force to be speeding across the universe instead of sitting neatly in one area, that’s God’s truth. The Bible does not contain all of God’s truth, not by a long shot. The strings that intersect to create the subatomic particles that compose all the matter we know…that’s God’s truth. We don’t need the Bible to tell us those things, we have nature and science to tell us those things. As good as the Bible is, we all must admit that it is at best 99.9% accurate, as we do not possess the originals, and even our best Greek experts don’t always agree on the meanings of what we hold now.
    Man can misunderstand or distort the Bible, as it’s composed only of words. But the laws of physics, anatomy, psychology…every science known to man, we cannot change the observable, repeatable facts of this universe.
    I should note that I’m not dissing the Bible, as it primarily deals with spiritual truth and very little in scientific truth. If there was ever a contradiction between the Bible from 2000 years ago and the science we have right in front of us though, I’d have to go with science. There are many scriptures which show the limitation of the author’s experience, i.e., Psalm 88, which seems to paint God as cruel and neglectful, and hints that when we die that’s it, no afterlife.
    My conclusion is…if I found some parallel between a scientific fact spoken of in scripture that the author would not have known on his own, I’d find it interesting (though there is a HUGE danger of overstatement, ascribing meanings to things that were not meant to be), but personally I think we’ve got plenty of truth right here in front of us.
    To see if there is a physiological change associated with salvation, first I’d look at the person, not the Bible. It obviously doesn’t come right out and say that such a change happens, so if we were to make such an assumption based on some vague passage, it would need to be scientifically tested if at all possible. The last thing we want is to be guilty of overstatement–i.e., if I go around telling people that Jesus died for our sins to restore our relationship with the Father if only we have faith, and then go on to say that Christians can’t get cancer, the discrediting of the latter statement will send out a message that I also was wrong about the first.

  2. First I don’t have a B.A. in theology or anything else for that mater. But I definitely believe that physical pain and illnesses can be caused by felling ill of ones self, or having self pity. I don’t know where I heard it but stress is a major factor that cause some types of back pain and headaches ( a psychological cause of a physical symptom).
    I don’t see any reason why other emotions can’t have an effect on a physical body, good or bad. When depressed your body produces different chemicals than when you are happy, some of those chemicals could have affects that we don’t know about ( like causing heart disease).
    I heard about a family sewing a radio station because in a contest to win concert tickets two girls competed to see who could drink the most water, one of them died and not because she drowned Her cell began to burst because of supersaturation. Anything in exec es can kill you even water. Maybe these chemicals produced when depressed damage the body permanently when someone is in this state of mind for long periods of time.

    I hope this helps,

  3. First off, Kyle, this is an excellent response. Its well reasoned, shows thought, and has something of substance to contribute to the discussion. However, being as how this may well become something I further elaborate on, I may as well start by responding to some of the points you bring up.

    To begin, I’m not sure if I made it clear enough in what I said, but I was not positing that anxiety originates in the heart (physically). It is definitely a measurable brain process that has known origins and effects within the brain, I was simply bringing current medical research to light in conjunction with a passage in the Bible to say, it would seem that an emotion, such as anxiety, which originates within the brain, if harbored, can have negative results on the heart, in a spiritual sense for sure, but apparently also in a physiological sense as well causing later heart disease, which is a biological malady, but is also something that causes depression, which is a so-called psychological dysfunction, which puts us back in the brain again (assuming serotonin levels are the related to depression as causes, and not as results, I would posit the latter in this case)

    So yes, anxiety is a known physiological process, but I am not concerned with how it arises, or why it is more apparent in our day, all of that has been documented. What has not is some of the effects, which is what I had hoped to bring to light as the related to the heart, both physiologically and psychologically; two processes that become more and more interwoven the more you study them.

    In this sense, science is catching up to what the Bible has already said thousands of years ago, which oddly enough is what usually happens when there arises a dispute between supposed empirically proven science and what the Bible teaches. As somewhat of a footnote on textual criticism, you had said “As good as the Bible is, we all must admit that it is at best 99.9% accurate, as we do not possess the originals, and even our best Greek experts don’t always agree on the meanings of what we hold now. Man can misunderstand or distort the Bible, as it’s composed only of words. But the laws of physics, anatomy, psychology…every science known to man, we cannot change the observable, repeatable facts of this universe.” In response, it is somewhat misleading to say that even our best Greek experts don’t always agree on the meanings of what we now hold. In reality, there is very little actual dispute over what the actual original manuscripts have said. Of the over 400,000 textual variants in the New Testament, only 1% are actually of value to a discussion on what the originals manuscripts were. In that case, yes it is true that they do not always agree, but for the most part, there is little doubt as to whether or not the Greek NT I have on my desk now is accurate to the originals (now accurately interpreting it into English and properly expositing the resultant text is a different story).

    As to laws of physics, anatomy and psychology, it is fair to say that only one of those really has laws, and that is physics. Physics possess this property because of its mathematical nature. Anatomy on the other hand, does have laws to certain extent, but mainly just in the sense of we know what our bodies are made up of. Psychology though, it is fair to say considering it was my major, is far more disputed and argued about cogently than the nature of the NT manuscripts. Talk about a branch of science that isn’t even sure if its a part of a tree or not, psychology is all about who’s theory you adhere to and practice. There is no empirically validated constants in the field of psychology, mainly because they are trying to study exactly what we are talking about here, that is the spiritual nature of man.

    So back to the spiritual matters at hand, if God in fact inspired the Bible, in all of its contents then it also stands to reason that it is inerrant as well, for why would God inspired text that is inaccurate or prone to deceive? Rather than put all of this out there in this comment, you can e-mail for my statement on the doctrine of Scripture if you so choose, but the bottom line is if there is a discrepancy between science and Scripture, it has to be due to either a faulty interpretation of Scripture or inaccuracies in the science. If all truth is God’s truth, something I wholeheartedly agree to, why would God leave errors in His direct special revelation to mankind through the Bible, only to be exposed by scientific interpretation of natural revelation? Special revelation trumps natural revelation on all accounts, for one cannot come to Christ merely through natural revelation and the resultant sciences, but one can through the special revelation presented in completely and without error in the Word God. If there is parallel between something in Scripture and something that science has found to be true, it is more than interesting parallel, it is because they have the same Author, for indeed, all truth is God’s truth.

    In a final note, it was not my intent to suggest that there is a direct physiological change that occurs at salvation, and am not entirely sure where your cancer reference applies, except as possibly an example of overstatement. If this change were to occur, I would take the opposite approach and search the Bible first and my interpretation of its passages concerning the heart and spirit of man since that is what the Bible is principally made available to us for; namely the explanation of salvation and all its aspects. You do not appear to be applying your approach to the Bible consistently, for you say you defer to science if there is contradiction since the Bible is not chiefly a scientific discourse, but then you also say regarding a study of salvation, you would go to the person first rather than the Bible, even though the Bible is chiefly a discourse on the salvation of man. This at least would seem to be one area where the Bible speaks that no other discipline can have anything to say against it. It could be shown that the Bible tends to imply there is some level of physiological change occurring at the salvation of an individual, then it happens, whether or not science can effectively prove it. The fault lies with science in that instance and not the Bible. If it lies with the Bible, what is the Bible good for? It is a slight exaggeration, but is also worthy of consideration.

    I appreciate your zeal Kyle and your ability to articulate yourself, keep on keeping on as Scheide would say.

  4. Micah, I appreciate your response as well. You didn’t have quite as much to say as Kyle, and were seemingly more favorable to my position, although this is not a debate in any way.

    I have heard of that story of the lawsuit about the girl who died from drinking too much water, something no one would have expected. It does speak volumes (pardon the pun) about the importance of maintain balance, specifically regarding emotions.

    Science in fact is very much in line with the basics of this position, that namely, negative emotions can cause physical problems. I would take it one step further personally and say that negative spiritual issues can cause health problems as well in a way that is not readily apparent until deeper counseling delved into with the individual.

    That being said, I’m glad you see the value of understanding where emotions and physical pains can intersect. Hope you’re doing well, and enjoying Knoxville.

  5. nate, ah, nate. i can only say and comment on how wise you are… some deep thoughts dude. deep thoughts, i know youre probably like, well… wheres your reply. to which i say i agree with alot of what your saying. but it is always good to here others opinions as well (kyle, micah)

    i also just wanna say how much of an impact your story of the bird that got crapped on by a cow and eaten by the cat had on my life. anyways man, i cant seem to get in touch with you anywhere else so, this was the only other way.

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