Scripture attributes to the heart such activities as thoughts (Genesis 6:5) and intentions (Genesis 8:21), desires (Psalm 37:4) and purposes (1 Corinthians 4:5), hate (Leviticus 19:17) and love (Deuteronomy 10:12), and such emotions as anxiety (Proverbs 12:25) and joy (Proverbs 17:22). Trained in science at school, and an avid reader and writer of every genre of poetry, I have tended to treat the Bible’s mentions of the heart as figurative and not physical. However, recent scientific research on the body’s cardiac pump has challenged me to consider that the biblical heart was not wholly spiritual.
Here are some of those scientific observations about functions of the heart from a well documented paper by Professor Mohamed Omar Salem:
Perception and decision making
‘After extensive research, Armour (1994) introduced the concept of functional “heart brain”. His work revealed that the heart has a complex intrinsic nervous system that is sufficiently sophisticated to qualify as a “little brain” in its own right.’ ‘The heart’s nervous system contains around 40,000 neurons, called sensory neurites’ (Armour, 1991). ‘Nerve pathways enter the brain at the area of the medulla, and cascade up into the higher centres of the brain, where they may influence perception, decision making and other cognitive processes’ (Armour, 2004).
Communication and attraction
‘The heart’s magnetic component is about 500 times stronger than the brain’s magnetic field and can be detected several feet away from the body’ (McCraty, Bradley & Tomasino, 2004). ‘There is now evidence that a subtle yet influential electromagnetic or “energetic” communication system operates just below our conscious awareness. Energetic interactions possibly contribute to the “magnetic” attractions or repulsions that occur between individuals, and also affect social relationships. It was also found that one person’s brain waves can synchronize to another person’s heart’ (McCraty, 2004). ‘The heart also secretes oxytocin, commonly referred to as the “love” or bonding hormone… [that] functions in childbirth and lactation… Concentrations of oxytocin in the heart were found to be as high as those found in the brain’ (Cantin & Genest, 1986).
‘The heart’s afferent [= in-coming] neurological signals directly affect activity in the amygdala …, an important emotional processing centre in the brain… that … coordinates responses to environmental threats. It compares incoming emotional signals with stored emotional memories, and accordingly makes instantaneous decisions about the level of perceived threat’ (Rein, McCraty and Atkinson, 1995 & McCraty et al, 1995).
‘There was evidence that both the heart and brain receive and respond to information about a future event before the event actually happens. Even more surprising was that the heart appeared to receive this intuitive information before the brain’ (McCraty, Atkinson & Bradley, 2004).
Of course, Ezekiel’s promised new birth as ‘a new heart, a heart of flesh’ (Ezekiel 36:26) is not implanted by hospital surgery. But we can begin to see that the spiritual heart communicates via the body’s amazing blood-pumping organ! We are truly ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ Psalm 139:14) – earthly clay animated by the breath of God (Genesis 2:7; compare John 20:22).