Follow Your Heart…?

I have the privilege of being a part of the editing team for the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels translation from Vine of David. Every time I go through Aaron Eby’s translation I learn something about either Hebrew or our Master, or both.

Today, I was finishing up reviewing chapters 9-16 of Luke and came across a phrase which Aaron has translated: “He returned to his heart.” It was in the context of Yeshua’s parable of the prodigal son, and his making the decision to return home after his time of rebellion. This reminds me of the phrase we hear so often, “Follow your heart.” However, most of the time we hear that phrase, “Follow your heart,” it generally means: “Go for it!” “Dream big!” “Live the American Dream!” It is usually in the context of self-indulgence, where we are supposed to find that “inner-voice” that is telling us what we need to be doing with our lives to get the fullest experience of life…to “drink in life” with passion. It’s really the opposite of the Hebrew meaning of this phrase (which I will explain further momentarily).

It reminds me of this new movie Eat, Pray, Love, based on the book by Elizabeth Gilbert (which could be subtitled, “Hinduism has allowed me to cast off restraint”). Sadly many Christians are looking to this as a spiritual expression for believers. They are searching for something “more.” They want adventure & romance, and if their current situation can’t provide it they search it out. I’ve seen countless Christian marriages fail in the last 3-4 years because of this. And the answer is usually the same, “I’m following my heart” or “God is leading me in a new direction.” But would God really wreck a marriage, the most primal institution of the world, in order to make “me” happy? Is it really all about me? According to the philosophy of “Follow your heart” it is. However, Scripture actually warns us about the deceptions of the heart:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

How many people are being told this? How many people have bought into the lie already, and it’s too late to recognize this? This is where being a diligent student of the Word will allow it to drive our lives, rather than allowing our hearts to drive them. In the context of the passage to which I referenced, the Hebrew literally says the same thing. It is וַיָּשֶׁב אֶל־לִבּוֹ. “And he returned to his heart.” But what does that mean? Does it mean that he finally found his “purpose” in life through reading The Purpose Driven Life? Does it mean he finally got up enough courage to hike the Himalayas? Does it mean he gave up his family, went off to a foreign country and lived it up? Wait… that’s what he did before he “returned to his heart.” So you see, “returning to one’s heart” in the Hebrew sense is not about all of these things, but about “coming to your senses.” It’s about following your head, not your heart. It’s about doing what’s right, rather than what feels good. Why? Because the right path and the difficult path are often the same, and when we choose the right over the wrong, the blessing will be in the journey. The joy will come from within, rather than from anything external. And the fruits will be eternal, rather than momentary.

Have you returned to your heart?

The Divine Disconnect

Yesterday, for my drash, I spoke on what I called, “The Divine Disconnect.” To me it is the crux of Yeshua’s ministry, and all of Scripture for that matter. The focus of my discussion revolved around Yeshua’s teaching in Matthew 5:20, which says,

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Traditionally, this has been interpreted as meaning that the righteousness of the scribes & Pharisees was based on keeping the Law, but our righteousness must be based on faith in Yeshua, and this latter righteousness surpasses the previous. However, this interpretation doesn’t hold any water, particularly in relationship to the context of Yeshua’s teaching, either broadly throughout the Gospels or more narrowly within the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The immediate context of this statement seems to make a clear case for the way it was to be understood. The statements that immediately precede this are:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19, ESV)

From this we see that Yeshua’s topic was the importance of the mitzvot. However, his emphasis was not on the mere adherence to the external strictures of mitzvot. His point, I believe, was well taken when he contrasted his expectations in regard to Torah against the known practices of some of his contemporaries within Pharisaic leadership. What is the heart of this warning against? In a nutshell, hypocrisy. There were many in the day of the Master who believed what we believe today: That it is fair to judge others by their actions, while judging ourselves by our hearts. But Yeshua calls us to a higher standard. He calls for both our hearts & actions to be joined together in the service of the Creator. Whereas the Pharisees of which Yeshua spoke had either the heart or the actions, there remained a disconnect between the two. How many of us have fallen into this trap?

We are quick to decry any kind of “works” based on our misunderstanding of Paul’s polemic against the topic. However, how many of us can truly say that we haven’t tasted the “leaven of the Pharisees?” It seems that as human beings, we are caught in the middle of a juggling act, constantly trying to find a balance between our love and our response to that love. It seems we are constantly settling for one or the other. There are those who are holed into the polar extremes of this, but most of us are somewhere right in the middle. On one extreme, there are those of us who smugly assert our theological creedos of how much we can’t “earn grace,” and therefore are completely devoid of any righteous fruit in our lives. On the other, there are those of us who are so focused on bringing back the mitzvot (commandments) which have been all but lost over the last two millennia that we tend to forget the weightier matters of Torah—love, mercy, compassion, etc. But most of us fall somewhere in between. We tend to struggle with maintaining a balance between what we know and feel, verses how we respond to that. There is somehow a “disconnect” between our flesh and spirit, and we are inevitably making corrections & adjustments along the way.

But such is life. If we ever get to the point that we are settled in our relationship to the Almighty, something has grown cool. Until we shed this mortal coil, I believe we will constantly battle to serve the King of the Universe “בכל לבבך” (b’chol levav’ka)—”with all your heart.” Because in order to serve Him whole heartedly, it requires a death—the death of the one giving service. For unless we die, our service will ever be tainted. But a one-time death will not suffice. Thus, we hear the message of the Master echo in our ears: “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Therefore, let us repent and die today, in order that we will live tomorrow as a whole person.

“Repent one day before your death.” (Rabbi Eliezer, Avot 2:15)

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Yeshua, Matthew 4:17)