We’re all afraid of dying, some days more than others. And the heart, the first internal organ that we become aware of, can often be the center of that fear. Its beating makes it a living thing, seemingly on a course of its own. We know it must beat if we are to live. And so we are in terror when it doesn’t beat often enough or beats oddly or skips a beat. And yet the psalmist wrote, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (NIV Ps. 73:26).
The Hebrew word that is most often translated as heart is probably most used in the Bible as a metaphor, a way of referring to our will and our intellect. But in this psalm, the psalmist directly connects “my flesh and my heart,” making heart the beating center of who we are, of our existence as a person.
What the psalmist is saying, I think, is that who we are is greater than the beating of our physical heart because God, the source of our life, is greater. And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus includes the same comforting assurance. Right before he tells us that worrying isn’t going to “add a single hour” to our lives, he assures us that our life is “more” than any of the things we rely on for physical existence (NIV Matt. 6:25-27).
Just as our conscious individuality is greater than the body, the life we have in God is greater than the life we have here. And God’s heart is greater than our heart. As George MacDonald wrote: “There is a live heart at the center of the lovely order of the universe—a heart to which all the rest is but a clothing form—a heart that bears every truthful thought, every help-needing cry of each of its children, and must deliver them” (Phillips, Discovering the Character of God 30). In the midst of our most fearful moments, God hears our “help-needing” cry. And when we surrender all, it is God’s “live heart” that we have. Constant, strong, reliable. God’s strength is our strength. God’s confidence is our confidence. God’s heart is our heart. (Living Strong 2014)