The Bible is full of controversial verses.
Many don’t like what the Bible has to say about sexuality and marriage. Some disagree with its teachings on gender or refugees or poverty or abortion or … you get the point.
But that’s nothing new. Scripture has been offending and upsetting readers since it was written.
In the book bearing his name, Jeremiah describes Jehoiakim king of Judah reading columns of the prophet’s writing and becoming so enraged at what it said he cut off pieces and tossed them into the fire.
The king did this until the entire scroll was burned and destroyed. Jeremiah just wrote another scroll.
But there’s another verse in Jeremiah, that if our culture actually knew what it said, they would be grabbing a pair of scissors to join Jehoiakim in his aggressive edits.
Total Eclipse of the Heart
If we define controversial as contrary to the culture at large, this verse in Jeremiah would most certainly spark social media outrage—if anyone actually read their Bible and knew it existed.
While everyone is obsessed with fighting about verses dealing with hot-button topics, Jeremiah’s words strike at the heart of what society gets wrong.
Jeremiah 17:9 says:
The heart is more deceitful than anything else,
and incurable—who can understand it?
The worldview of the Western world is centered on the motto “follow your heart.” Once you start to look for it, the concept is inescapable. It’s in everything.
The mantra is frequently given as the solution to every problem on TV shows and movies. It’s often the unstated, but assumed foundation to every song.
If you would only follow your heart, you would find yourself, find your soul mate, find success, find happiness, find peace, find purpose, find love.
But that’s not what Jeremiah says you’ll find when you follow your heart. The prophet, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says we will often find lies.
Like a siren, the words of Scripture pierce through the noise of this world. The one thing the world tells us to trust most is the one thing the Bible says is most deceptive.
As Trevin Wax explains in This Is Our Time, the idea of following your heart is a faulty map. It will inevitably lead you in the wrong direction.
So we are forced to make a choice between the accepted philosophy of our age or the timeless wisdom of Scripture.
Clearly, God’s word is controversial, but the question remains: Is it right?
Should we trust our hearts or look outside ourselves for guidance and direction? Will we gain wisdom most by looking within or looking up?
Un-Break My Heart
One simple question should tell us if following our hearts is the true way to live: What would happen if everyone followed their heart?
Your initial reaction might be to think this would unlock some utopian vision, but if you stopped to think about this for a bit longer you would realize the issue.
Would you want to live in this world, but the only difference is everyone did exactly what they wanted? It would be chaos because some people’s hearts run contrary to each other.
What if two people are convinced that their heart is leading them to marry the same person? What if my heart says go for a promotion even if I need to step on you to get it?
That leads to the other issue with following our hearts. What happens when some of our hearts are turned to evil things?
Dylann Roof’s heart wanted to start a race war, so he murdered nine African Americans at a Bible study to try to make it happen.
Imagining what it would be like if everyone followed their heart should make two things very clear: 1) We need something outside of our own hearts to judge the rightness of our desires and 2) We need a new hearts that only desire right things.
It’s here we realize the controversial verse of Jeremiah is not so controversial. God has given us Scripture to serve as an external measuring stick to show us when our heart goes wrong.
He has also promised to give us new hearts. Later in Jeremiah, God says:
I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God because they will return to me with all their heart. (Jeremiah 24:7)
We need the heart that only God can give us so that we can follow Him and not our misguided hearts.
Controversial or not, following your heart is a dangerous idea that Jeremiah tried to warn us about hundreds of years ago.