I first came across today’s little-known Bible verse while reading The Pilgrim’s Progress, and it was so amazing to me that I had to set the book aside and look it up on the spot. Search on the internet, and you’ll find volumes of Christian apologetics seeking to justify the author’s belief in God by claiming that they just know he exists because they can feel his presence in their heart:
The imagination knows God and the heart knows God, but the conscience silences the whole person because of a mysterious presence—total depravity. (source)
I feel God in my heart and I know is is always there.I read my Bible everyday and I pray amd meditate everyday, I have a heart of gold, I give to the uttermost(even when I dont have it to give)I pay my tithes and I have a lot of faith. (source)
If you are a person of faith who has always known in your heart that Darwin was wrong, the revelations on this website will help you to know with certainty that you were right all along, and that Darwin was wrong all along. (source)
I feel God in my heart, and I love the Lord so much. And when I feel him in my heart and when he’s touching me, I just — it just rolls over. (source)
The heart feels God, not the reason. This is what constitutes faith: God experienced by the heart, not by the reason. (source)
All these professions of faith, especially the last one by Blaise Pascal, express the belief that God’s existence is not a matter of empirical knowledge, but is felt intuitively through a different and more profound inward knowing. This faith is often summed up by the statement “I feel God in my heart”. And that’s why it’s so shocking that the Bible says this:
“He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.”
Since the book of Proverbs is just a collection of pithy sayings, it doesn’t offer any context by which we could decide the meaning of this quote. It could mean, if you’re feeling charitable, that we should not walk by faith and blind belief in our own infallibility, but should rely on facts and evidence to back up our decisions. This interpretation is remarkably similar to the secular humanist view.
However, it could also mean, and I suspect it was intended to mean, that religious faith is only acceptable insofar as it agrees with the Bible. The text is assumed to be infallible, and our religious beliefs are judged by how closely they agree with it. (This is how it was used in the Pilgrim’s Progress, where this text is cited to justify condemning a character to eternal torture because he, though he claimed to be a Christian, did not believe that human beings are completely evil and depraved.)
In either case, however, it offers a ready counterargument to theists who claim to “just know” that God exists, or any other religious claim supported solely by personal intuition. The Bible itself states that the human heart is unreliable and that such claims are not to be believed. This verse is unlikely to set any believer on the road to atheism by itself, but it may help lead them to the realization that there are other, better ways of knowing by which we can learn about the world.
Other posts in this series: