The Heart of the Matter

In Acts 1:24 God is called the “Heart-Knower.” Knowing hearts is God’s business—not ours.

There are people in counseling who think that they can read the hearts of their counselees so as to learn what “idols” they have in their hearts. That is an impossible task, and should not be pursued.

“But I’ve heard people (even some Nouthetic counselors) talk that way; are they all wrong?”

Well, judge for yourself.

First, it is absolutely clear that nowhere is searching another’s heart set forth as a counseling construct. If you don’t believe me, then search the Scriptures, fellow-Berean!

Next, consider these verses:

. . . may you hear in heaven, Your dwelling place, and may You forgive and repay the man according to all his ways, since You know his heart, for You alone know the human heart.  (2 Chronicles 6:30)

. . . may You hear in heaven, Your dwelling place, and may You forgive, act, and repay the man, according to all his ways, since You know his heart, for You alone know every human heart.  (1 Kings 8:39)

Two absolutely clear passages—both say that nobody can read hearts but God. Right?

“Well. . . “


“I guess so.”

Guess? How can you guess about an outright affirmation of the fact?

“What about Ezekiel 14:3-8, then?”

This is what the Lord God says: When anyone from the house of Israel sets up idols in his heart, puts a sinful stumbling block before his face, and then comes to the prophet, I, the Lord, will answer him appropriately. I will answer him according to his many idols, so that I may take hold of the house of Israel by their hearts, because they are all estranged from Me by their idols. “Therefore, say to the house of Israel: This is what the Lord God says: Repent and turn away from your idols; turn your faces away from all your abominations. For when anyone from the house of Israel or from the foreigners who reside in Israel separates himself from Me, setting up idols in his heart and putting a sinful stumbling block before his face, and then comes to the prophet to inquire of Me, I, the Lord, will answer him Myself. I will turn against that one and make him a sign and a proverb; I will cut him off from among My people. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

OK, I’m willing to let you change the subject. First, Ezekiel 14 isn’t a counseling context. Secondly, it says nothing about idols manufactured by one’s heart. In verses 3, 4, 7 it talks about setting up idols in (or on) the heart, not producing them. The context, and much of Ezekiel, takes up the serious matter of idolatry. The people had been exiled, in large part, because of idolatry. But here they were, exiles, who were forced to leave their idols behind, longing for the idols they had left. So, instead of abandoning idolatry, they carried thoughts (and, perhaps, imaginations) of those idols in their hearts. That’s what the passage is all about. Besides, no one is ordered to find out what idols a person might have in his heart. Right?

Moreover, when people go about looking for idols in another’s heart, even though there is no command or example to do so, they act almost like those who are looking for demons of this and demons of that. That’s not a good thing to do.

1 Samuel 16:7 should clinch it for you.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.”

Here, man is set over against God precisely with reference to the matter of knowing hearts—man looks on the outside of another man; God looks on the heart!

In 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, Paul makes it clear that he doesn’t even judge what is in his own heart—let alone that which is in another’s.

To me it is of little consequence to be judged by you or by the judgement of any other human being; indeed, I don’t even judge myself. Now I am not conscious of anything against myself, but that doesn’t mean that I am innocent. The One Who judges me is the Lord. So don’t judge ahead of time, before the Lord comes, Who will bring to light the things that are now hidden in darkness and will make the purposes of heart to appear. At that time each one will receive his praise from God.

So—what do you think after examining those passages?

“Well . . . .”

Give it some more thought and I’m sure you’ll get it right. Man looks at actions and listens to the words of others, when he counsels. He would not presume to take over God’s task of looking into the hearts of counselees.

How about it?

2 thoughts on “The Heart of the Matter

  1. The ability to (admittedly imperfectly) intuit the intentions of others based on their behavior, demeanor, tone of voice, affect, etc, seems to be a pretty well established feature of normal human perception and cognition and a normal feature of interpersonal communication. We do it all the time, without even consciously trying.

    Ought we to consciously avoid doing this? Does the fact that God comprehensively knows the human heart while we do not imply a positive obligation to try to not understand others more deeply than their outward appearance and behavior?