All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit. (Proverbs 16:2)
Some of the worst advice you could ever receive is to “follow your heart”. It’s a well-meaning platitude, and it fits right into our self-indulgent, self-righteous, self-sufficient culture, but it’s terrible advice. It basically means to embrace your desires, to trust your instincts, to go with your gut. Someone unfairly demeans you at work, and your angry heart could easily lead you to seek revenge or at least start playing the political game more ruthlessly. Someone criticizes something you worked hard to achieve, and your wounded heart could lead you to be insecure or depressed or try even harder next time to show them you’re somebody. Someone compliments you, and your fickle idolatrous heart could convince you that your identity is in any sense established by what they think. Every evil ever perpetrated upon human history originated in the desires of the human heart — desires which were not governed under God’s lordship, ran wild and “free,” germinated into sin, and ultimately blossomed into full-on death (see James 1:15).
God gave us our desires and emotions for our good and they are wonderful and valuable in many ways, but they were never meant to be in change. We shouldn’t be following them anywhere. Your heart is not a ruler, it’s a throne (the seat of government of your internal life; your “will”), and God has given you the authority (shudder!) to appoint it’s monarch. The human heart isn’t to be followed, it’s to be subjugated and subdued (Genesis 4:7).
Subjugate (verb) — to bring under domination or control, especially by military conquest (more)
Contrary to our modern social platitudes and earthly wisdom, the Bible gives clear and scathing analysis of the human heart. It condemns the heart as primarily deceitful and “desperately wicked”, “desperately sick”, “beyond cure”, etc (Jeremiah 17:9, depending on your translation). So, unless you want to be led down the fast track to the dark side, the heart makes a phenomenally poor leader.
But it makes an excellent deceiver. There is almost no end to the ways our hearts can trick us into justifying our sinful, broken, hurtful thoughts and actions. And this is the point Solomon is making in Proverbs 16:2. Everything seems like a good idea to us when our hearts are ruling us, because by definition we are acting out of our desires. Our actions are easily justifiable – to ourselves and even to others who are also being ruled by their hearts and happen to be making decisions at that moment in the same desire-dark alley we are. When we ignore wise counsel or selectively listen only to those who have failed to seek the transforming wisdom and leadership of Christ, we can plow ahead recklessly and trample others mercilessly … because we are blindly following where our wicked hearts lead us to go. If history tells us anything, it’s that there is no depth to which we can’t stoop, given the right conditions and a willingness to accept that the voice in my head telling me to follow my hearts has my best interests in mind. It doesn’t.
But the Lord weighs the spirit. God absolutely does have your best interests in mind. He designed you. He has a dream for you. He made you the way you are for a purpose. And He has declared you (His creation) and that purpose (His dream and will for you) to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31).
God knows better than your heart
God knows every fiber of your being — not just the atoms and molecules, but the thoughts, feelings, and intentions. Charles Spurgeon said it well, “our thoughts are speech before God.” You have no secret thoughts or deeds before God. He knows it all intimately. He even knows why He made you the way He did, why you have the thoughts and desires you have, where your life is going, and how best to get you where He dreams it would go. So God’s authority on what is best for you is far greater and higher and better than whatever authority you might be tempted to ascribe to your feelings. Given that truth, wouldn’t we be far more wise to seek the counsel of God’s Word and God’s Spirit and God’s people than to rely on our hearts, which are “more deceptive, untrustworthy and cunning than anything else in the world” (Jeremiah 17:9, my translation)?
Deceitful (adj) — guilty of or involving deceiving through concealment or misrepresentation of the truth; deceiving or misleading another; dishonest, untruthful, mendacious, insincere, false, disingenuous, untrustworthy, unscrupulous, unprincipled, two-faced, double-dealing, underhanded, crafty, cunning, scheming, calculating, treacherous, Machiavellian, sneaky, etc. (more)
God judges rightly
Another implication in Solomon’s claim that God weighs the spirit is related to determining the value of that spirit. In ancient times, people didn’t use money the way we do. They transacted their business by trade, bartering goods and services with one another. I need a cow, so I’ll trade you 10 chickens for yours. I need a fence, so I’ll help you put harvest your wheat if you help me build one. Money, when it was initially developed to make those transactions easier (who wants to carry around 10 chickens?), was denominated by weight. If you have a bag full of gold or silver nuggets, then I can set the price of a cow or a fence to be a certain weight of gold. That’s where British “pounds” came from, for example. Later, nuggets were replaced by coins, and coins by paper currency (essentially government-backed IOU’s), and currency by credit cards (you-backed IOU’s), and credit cards by Apple Pay. But I digress.
But even still today, some things are also sold by weight. You don’t by a number of jelly beans, you buy a number of pounds (or kilograms) of jelly beans. Same for wheat, produce, precious metals, and many other commodities. So in many instances, especially in ancient times, trade is very much bound up in weights… both of the commodity being purchased and the implement used to purchase it. Therefore, the Bible tends to talk about integrity in terms of honest weights and scales (e.g. Proverbs 11:1). If you rigged your scales or pressed your thumb down a little harder on your side of the scale, then you could sell someone less grain than what they should be purchasing, or pay a smaller weight of gold nuggets for your new oxen. God hates this dishonesty.
What’s most important for our discussion is that God knows how much things are supposed to weigh. Whatever your scale says, He is ultimately the one who weighs your gold and your goods, and thereby knows their rightness before your trading partners. Similarly, God weighs your spirit, and thereby knows its rightness before Him. Your heart may be able to deceive you, but it won’t deceive God. It may be able to talk you into justifying your bad behavior. You may be able convince others around you to call bad choices “good”. You may even get elected and pass laws that legalize your heart’s desires. But you won’t fool God. He weighs the spirit, and He knows what it should weigh, because He calibrates all weights and measures (establishes their rightness), whether spirits, gold nuggets, corn, oxen or otherwise. And all the justification, consensus, or legal wrangling in the world won’t change what God has decreed.
We must choose
So we must choose who will set the weights of our scales … who will steer our wills … who will guide our words and actions … who will sit on the throne of our hearts. Will it be our deceitful hearts or the God of just balances? I love the contrast Scripture provides us in describing this choice…
On the one hand, “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He is the voice that whispers in your ear, “Do what you want! Follow your heart!” … the siren singing beside the wide road which leads to destruction.
On the other, “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless [whose spirit is weighed rightly] toward him” (2 Chronicles 16:9). He is the Word of Truth, the voice that says, “Delight yourself in me! Follow me!” He is the door, and the Companion who walks with you on the narrow road that leads to life.
Heeding Solomon’s advice, the wise will distrust their heart, run to God, and find life.
An amplified proverb (see more in series)