We have all heard it before: “Follow your heart.” It’s what causes Meg Ryan to fly to Seattle to meet Tom Hanks whose voice she has only heard over the radio but with whom she has fallen madly in love. It’s what we use facetiously in order to get out of a serious discussion about what someone ought to do (or maybe that’s just me). Most of us have probably scoffed at the idea.
After all, as Christians, we believe in a fallen reality; one in which total depravity is real, meaning not that we are as terrible as we can be, but that every aspect of who we are is tainted by sin. Perhaps, especially our hearts. If sin does anything, it definitely disorders our loves. Thus, following our heart is an impractical and, in light of sin, unwise practice.
Yet the fact that such a slogan is still common currency in our society ought to give us pause. Why does the idea of “following our heart” hold such attraction for so many? I suggest it is because, fundamentally, we were always meant to do so. In a state of innocence, our heart provided the passion, the heartbeat, to an increasingly intimate relationship with God. It was to be the fire that fueled us, providing the impetus for pursuing God with the rest of who we are – body, intellect, etc. Of course, things went horribly wrong, but the idea remains like a fossil buried in our humanity.
This leaves us at an interesting place: post-things-going-horribly-wrong but where our inclination remains to pursue our passions. NT Wright offers a helpful way of understanding our situation:
“Jesus is in fact inviting his hearers to something much more radical: an anticipation of what we might call eschatological authenticity. Yes, there will be a time when God’s people will serve and love him, and live out the genuine humanness of which the ancient Law had spoken, ‘naturally’ and from the heart. But this will be a God-given ‘second nature,’ a new way of being human. And you can begin to practice this now, difficult though it will be, because Jesus is here, inaugurating God’s kingdom.” – After You Believe, 107
Following your heart is, for the Christian, an eschatological reality that is both now, but perhaps more significantly, not yet. Our problem is not that the idea itself is floating around but that we are too quick to import it wholly into the present. As we live more fully into the our “second nature,” as we literally put on Christ, the desires of our hearts align with the Father’s allowing us to be true to ourselves, as those selves have been transformed.
Perhaps then we ought to stop scoffing at the idea of being true to oneself, and start sharing how Christianity welcomes that, in its proper place, and the only way to do it in a fulfilling way is, in fact, in submission to Christ. He’ll confront us, no doubt; he’ll change our heart, absolutely. But at the end of all things, he will also invite us to follow it, as it leads us into deeper union with him.