Have you ever thought how odd the word heartbreak is? Merriam-Webster defines a heartbreak as “crushing grief, anguish or distress.” When a beloved family member passes, we experience heartbreak. A friend’s girl friend gets engaged to another man, and we might describe him as broken-hearted (or perhaps we see opportunity? More on that later…).
Most people will fully understand what is meant by this expression. But why does the English language describe this emotion as a heartbreak? After all, the heart is made of soft muscle tissue, not hard matter.
Muscle tissue tears. It gets pulled. It can weaken. If you have experienced this kind of emotion, it is perhaps more aptly described as a gash, a gutting or a wound that may never properly heal. Like human skin, muscle tissue scars. The difference is it remains unseen.
In order for something to break, it must be made of a harder substance.
A Hardened Heart
According to ancient Hebrew tradition, the heart is not only the source of emotions as poetically understood in modern English, but it is also the center of the will, the desires, the conscience; it reflects the inner man. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament make clear that the heart is the root of the problem for mankind (Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 15:19). Repeatedly, the Bible portrays men’s hearts as hardened or as having the potential to become hardened at any time. It happened to Pharaoh in ancient Egypt (Exodus 8:15, 9:12, 10:20, 14:4). Jesus asked the disciples if their hearts were hardened because of their unbelief (Mark 8:17). Paul spoke to the churches in Rome and Ephesus of those with hardened hearts who did not believe (Romans 9:18; Ephesians 4:18). It can happen to you. It has happened to me. No one is immune to this threat in the Christian walk.
“Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity” (Joel 2:13).
The word in Hebrew that is used here in Joel is Lēbab, and it is reflective of the inner man as contrasted with the outward appearance. The ancient Hebrews had a tradition of tearing or rending their garments to express the extreme emotional distress often associated with grief or sorrow. Rending one’s garments would be the expected response in that culture to a loss of some kind. Often, this action represented gut-wrenching sorrow over some wrongdoing. This was an outward expression of inner pain; a means of showing others the agony that was lodged deep within the soul or reflective of repentance over some sin. The context of this particular usage is a warning about sin. To rend your heart means the sorrow felt over sin needs to start from within. It then extends to the outward expression of repentance that is rending one’s garments.
Now I am not suggesting that we need to tear our clothes when we’ve done something wrong or experienced some loss. But there is something important to learn here.
As a muscle, the heart can be built up with proper care. It contracts and expands. In order to expand, it takes the kind of intimate relationship with God that is nurtured through intentional, moment by moment communication with Him. The romance of a lifetime awaits those who choose to turn from their sin and wholeheartedly place their faith in Jesus Christ. There is no other way. He has assured us of this.
We want our hearts to be strong enough to live and love courageously, but we also want to be tenderhearted towards others. We want strong, soft hearts that are responsive to the truths of the gospel message.
And we seek those who are open-hearted, humble and who daily surrender their stubborn, stony frail human hearts to Jesus’ Lordship in their lives. Trust me, I do. It’s the new sexy.
We gain hope, a new purpose and renewed joy.
Until we meet again! 🙂