[Note: This is the second post in a series. ]
Towards the end we set ourselves a challenge. If matters of the knowledge of the heart are important to God, and if relationships between God and man and between people matter to God, we should expect to find it either mentioned clearly and unmistakably or see it mentioned often and widely. That is precisely what we find. Indeed, the subject is massive enough for books, not merely a series of posts such as this one. In fact, we find the knowledge of the heart as well as the troubled matter of relationships in this fallen and rebellious world being seriously problematic due to the reality of sin. Let us continue our examination of this subject by looking at how far back this problem went and what solution to the problem of heart knowledge was proposed by God in light of the melancholy record of human experience.
In Genesis 2:15-18 we have two elements of the problem of the knowledge of the heart placed side by side in a way that is not accidental: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”” First, God commands Adam not to eat from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and then God says it is not good that man should be alone. Here we see two different types of experience that God does not want man to have. For one, God did not want mankind to have the sort of knowledge about evil that comes from experience. God did not forbid this sort of knowledge because He is a cosmic killjoy, but rather because there are real and deeply tragic results that come from experiencing evil. Likewise, God did not want mankind to have the long experience of loneliness, because mankind was meant for relationships and not meant for solitude .
And yet mankind has a deep knowledge of both evils. Far from finding that the exeriential knowledge of good and evil makes us like God, we are bent and twisted and deformed both by our sins and by our suffering the sins committed against us by others. Our capacity for trust and intimacy are gravely wounded, our hearts are broken, our spirits are shattered. Our longings are bent and twisted by our experience of deep evils. Our fears and anxieties are fed and nourished while everything else is stunted and malnourished. Far from liberating us from restrictive morality, both the sins we commit and those that others commit against us make our lives grievously difficult and marked by deep trauma. Yet we are often denied even the satisfaction of seeking justice against those who sin against us in the realization that we are bent and broken ourselves, and that even if we restrain ourselves from the worst of the evil that is inside of us, we will be tormented by the knowledge that we are rejected and feared by others whom we care about. This is not the sort of knowledge that we were ever meant to have, but we have more of this sort of knowledge than we know what to do with.
Romans 1:18-25 gives the sad and inevitable result of a mankind blessed with intellectual knowledge of the nature of God through science and investigation with the absence of heart knowledge of the Creator God: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”
It did not take but a few generations of human history for this lamentable tendency to be seen in mankind to such an extent that massive judgment was seen as necessary. As it is written in Genesis 6:5-8: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Just as was the case with the heathen scientists of the Hellenistic period, so too early mankind did not wish to find the heart knowledge that would save them from destruction, focusing instead on the vicarious and actual experience of evil continually.
Why did God regret having made mankind in the first place? God desired to create man in order to build a family, in order to have a relationship with beings capable of growth, beings free to love Him. He wanted children the way that people want children, to have little beings in their own image whom they can raise and shape, whom they can shower with love and affection, in the hope that such beings will carry on their qualities and love them in kind. We are beings created to love and be loved, and yet in early mankind the widespread knowledge of evil was such that instead of longing for love and relationships as we were created to do, the thoughts of mankind were only evil continually, and they had no knowledge of God in their hearts. God was still gracious, though, to Noah and his family, despite the woeful state of mankind at that time.
Matters did not greatly improve when God began working with Israel as a nation in delivering them from Egypt and in bringing them through the wilderness to the promised land. Even before they entered into that land, God bemoaned their key failing, a lack of a heart to know God and love Him. As it is written in Deuteronomy 5:28-31: “Then the Lord heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me: ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. 29 Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever! 30 Go and say to them, “Return to your tents.” 31 But as for you, stand here by Me, and I will speak to you all the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments which you shall teach them, that they may observe them in the land which I am giving them to possess.’”
Here we see that although God longed to have a relationship with ancient Israel, they were afraid and unwilling to open their hearts to Him. Love, as deeply as we long for it, cannot be forced or coerced, and so God grieved that His people, whom He lovingly delivered from slavery and provided for for forty years in the wilderness, were not willing to have a relationship with Him despite all that He had done. From the very beginning of human history, God saw over and over again that without help, mankind simply did not have the heart to love correctly. No judgment could frighten mankind into obedience, no meritorious deeds of service and deliverance could make mankind grateful enough to love. No thundering voice or witnessing of miracles could awe mankind into love. So instead God chose to have a relationship with a few people over the course of history, but there was no widespread and intimate knowledge of God throughout the period of ancient mankind as well as Israel.
What God had decided was that mankind needed a new heart. As it is written in Jeremiah 31:31-34: ““Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.””
Here we see that God had decided that what Israel needed was a new heart and for God’s ways to be placed in the mind and in the heart so that Israel as a whole could know Him, could experience God’s ways, could have an intimate relationship with Him, so that there would not need to be the attempt to substitute this intimacy with the sort of intellectual head knowledge that comes from most teaching and preaching. God did not and does not want people to merely know about Him. He wants them to know Him like we know a beloved friend or family member, to walk with us and talk with us. It was for the lack of that knowledge that Israel was destroyed. Even knowing that God wants us to love Him and to love each other, what does this actually mean? How can we know God as He wishes us to in a world that is so filled with darkness as our own?
 See, for example: