The Profundity of the Human Heart
In theology, the heart is the “core” of the whole person: soul or spirit, mind and body. The heart, then, is not only a physical organ but also a person’s inner, spiritual self. The heart is, paradoxically, is both known and unknown. The reason is, in the words of the Greek Scriptures,
“The heart is deep beyond all things, and it is the man, and who can know him? I the Lord try the hearts, and prove the reins, to give to every one according to his ways, and according to the fruits of his devices” (Jeremiah 17:9-10).
In other words, there are unfathomable depths to a person. Despite what can now be known about him or her, he or she is and remains an inexhaustible mystery. Thus, there is always more to learn about him or her.
The human person, then, is a vast ocean of being, containing unfathomable depths. That is why, to use another metaphor, the most mysterious phenomena in the universe are not in outer space but inner space, namely, the depths of the human heart. The longest and most profound journey a person shall ever take is not, say, to Mars, but into the heart, the center of the abyss of being.
The Lifelong Journey into the Heart
In Ancient Greece, one of the inscriptions, in the courtyard of the temple of Apollo at Delphi, reads, “Know Thyself.” The words are both simple and difficult: simple to say but difficult to do. “Know Thyself,” then, is a task, an arduous task, which requires a lifetime journey into the heart. One of the reasons it takes so long is that the self gets in the way of knowing itself. It is, after all, much easier (to paraphrase Soren Kierkegaard) to be objective about other things and persons than oneself, because the self, essentially, is a subject, not an object. Thus, it is easier to know outside than inside the self.
The Heart as the Unconscious
There are unknown depths to a person. The reason is that he or she is both conscious or aware of his or her thoughts and feelings and unconscious. His or her consciousness or awareness of the self is but the “tip of the iceberg.” Buried beneath is the realm of the unknown or “the uncharted waters” of the unconscious, the depths of a person’s thoughts and feelings, which are in the heart. There they are, waiting to be uncovered, discovered, by his or her willingness to look within, taking the inner journey to “Know Thyself.”
Effective psychotherapists, counselors or pastoral counselors are, as it were, archaeologists of the heart, excavating the buried or repressed layers of “issues” in a person’s unconscious. Then they are brought to the “surface,” that is, into consciousness, so that he or she can — one issue at a time — deal with them. That is one of the ways in which a person begins to heal and, thus, experience growth.
Therefore, as the biblical poet says, “the heart is deep” (Psalm 64:6d). When a person is open to inner exploration, when he or she is not afraid to take a look inside, he or she shall discover ever-new truths about himself or herself, becoming aware of the strengths and weaknesses, good and bad, joy and pain in the human heart.
There is, then, more to you and me than either you or I you can immediately see, namely, the heart!
The Hebrew text reads differently from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, which is commonly called “the Septuagint.” While the Hebrew text is authoritative for Jewish people and many Christians, the Greek text is authoritative in the Orthodox Church and, thus, for millions of Orthodox Christians throughout the world.