Kardiognostes | Only God Knows the Heart

“Even the depths of Death and Destruction are known by the Lord. How much more does He know the human heart?”1)Proverbs 15:11 NLT

We are often deeply aware that we have problems in our relationships but how often do we fail to describe exactly what the source of the problem is. “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.”2)Proverbs 20:5 NIV One of the greatest skills of a counsellor (or a man or woman of understanding) is the ability to probe the deep places of the heart and to draw out the issues that have caused the impasse. Only then can the couple identify the source of the problem and begin to move forward to resolve the impasse.

Why would Solomon describe the purposes of a man’s heart as ‘deep waters?’ Well, the problem with deep waters is that you cannot see down to the bottom. At some point, as a diver goes deeper and deeper into the ocean the light fails to penetrate any further. What lies beneath becomes dark and mysterious. Without the aid of another light source those things that lie at the bottom of the ocean will never come to the light.

Only God fully knows the human heart. From Genesis to Revelation it is clear that apart from divine revelation we are completely cut off from the means of knowing the true condition of our own heart. Jesus is the consummate ‘Man of understanding,’ and He has come specifically to reveal the sinful and broken heart of humanity in order that those who are lost might come to repentance and salvation. Only a man or woman of prophetic understanding can draw out that which is hidden.

In fact, if we were to try to define the exact nature of the ministry of Jesus we could effectively say that He came to unveil people’s hearts and to unveil the heart of God toward broken people. Without this initial unveiling of the fallen condition of our hearts we cannot be saved. Once we have come into the kingdom of God we need to adjust our spiritual eyes to the light like a person who has emerged from years of living in the deep darkness of some subterranean cavern. Learning to live in the light means that we are learning to live in an intimate relationship with God who sees into the depths of our hearts but He loves us even in those times when we He sees us still living in bondage to sin and selfishness.

The Hidden Person of the Heart

As we have already seen, the Apostle Peter spoke about what he called the “hidden person of the heart.”3)1 Peter 3:4 Paul spoke of the ‘inner man’4)Ephesians 3:16 or the ‘inward man,’5)2 Corinthians 4:16 and both of these ideas correspond to Peter’s concept of the hidden person of the heart. This ‘hidden person’ is the true inner person who needs to be distinguished from any false perception we may have generated about ourselves or which we may have projected upon others. It is not a matter of who we wish we were but who we are in reality. This is the person that God sees when He looks into our hearts.

The Greek word used by Peter for ‘hidden’ was ‘kruptos.’ This word means ‘concealed, private or secret.’ Paul used the same Greek word in 1 Corinthians 14:25 when he spoke of the “secrets of the heart.” He also used the word ‘kruptos’ when he said that God “will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts.”6)1 Corinthians 4:5 NIV The language of the Scriptures continuously points us to the fact that, unaided by divine revelation, we are incapable of discovering or knowing the true condition of our hearts. We are entirely dependent on God for this knowledge.

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Jeremiah stated that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?”7)Jeremiah 17:9 This verse states emphatically that no one, without the assistance of divine revelation, can come to an accurate knowledge of his or her own heart. Immediately following this verse Jeremiah wrote: “I the Lord search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.”8)Jeremiah 17:10. When God looks into the heart of the unbeliever this is what He sees.

God searches the heart and He tests the mind. The Hebrew word for ‘mind’ is ‘kelayot’ and it actually means “the kidneys” in ancient Hebrew. Colin Brown, the author of the Dictionary of New Testament Theology tells us that the kelayot are “frequently mentioned in close connection to the heart. They are, in a metaphorical sense, the seat of the deepest spiritual emotions and motives, so secret that men cannot fathom them. Only God is able to search and test them.”9)Colin Brown; Dictionary of New Testament Theology Vol. 2 p.181-2

As we have already seen, it is the Lord’s purpose to “bring to light what is hidden in darkness and [to] expose the motives of men’s hearts.”10)1 Corinthians 4:5 Jesus is claiming that He is the one who searches the deepest motives of the human heart. He is the One who spoke in Jeremiah 17:10. No-one can know the depths of the human heart except God. In Jeremiah 17:9 God searches the heart of the unbeliever but in Revelation 2:23 He searches the heart of the believer.

We read earlier in the book of Hebrews that “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”11)Hebrews 4:13 In Proverbs we read, “Even the depths of Death and Destruction are known by the Lord. How much more does He know the human heart!”12)Proverbs 15:11 NLT David was contemplating the awesome omniscience of God in Psalm 139 when he said,

O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.13)Psalms 139:1-6

While we may find the omniscience of God unfathomable to our finite minds we are faced with the reality that God knows everything about us, every single detail, every thought, every hidden attitude and every hidden motive behind our actions. Jesus said, “The very hairs of your head are all numbered.”14)Matthew 10:30 Such knowledge is indeed beyond us but on every page of Scripture we are confronted with the truth of a God who numbers every grain of sand and every star in the sky. In the light of this revelation David exclaimed; “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me!” It is truly breathtaking!

In the book of Acts we find Luke using a specific Greek word that is not used anywhere else in the Bible to describe God’s comprehensive knowledge of the human heart. The first time this word is recorded it was on the lips of the eleven Apostles as they sought to determine a replacement for Judas who had committed suicide. “And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen.”15)Acts 1:24

The word that Luke used to describe this aspect of God’s omniscience was ‘kardiognostes’ which literally means “the knowledge of the heart.” In this context it appears to have been used almost as a divine title so that we could say; God is “the Knower of Hearts.” Peter, who reported the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles, also used the same Greek word: ‘kardiognostes.’ “God, who knows the heart, showed that He accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did to us.”16)Acts 15:8 NIV

This all-knowing God, who intimately searches our hearts and minds, does not look at people the way we do. Many of us would remember the words of Samuel the prophet on that remarkable day he came to the house of Jesse to anoint David as King over Israel; “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”17)1 Samuel 16:7

God consistently looks beyond outward appearances and looks deep into our hearts. Jesus spoke this discomforting reminder to the Pharisees, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts.”18)Luke 16:15 The outward religion of the Pharisees might have convinced those around them but it didn’t convince the Lord. God could look straight into their hearts and see through the walls of religious pretence.

For Solomon, the penetrating gaze of God into the human heart was one of the fundamental principles of divine revelation. On the day of the dedication of Solomon’s temple he prayed to God saying; “Forgive, and deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart: for you alone know the hearts of men.”19)2 Chronicles 6:30 David said to Solomon just before he died, “And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve Him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts.”20)1 Chronicles 28:9 NIV The hidden motives behind our thoughts and our actions are extremely important to God. He always perceives what motivates our behaviour even when we cannot.

It would seem that the entire foundation of David and Solomon’s thoughts orbited around this fact of infinite divine omniscience. The book of Proverbs is an encyclopaedia of these kinds of profound insights into God’s knowledge of the human heart. Solomon had been trained by the Holy Spirit to look beyond outward human appearance to the deeper issues of the heart. “All a mans ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.”21)Proverbs 16:2 The more I meditate upon the Scriptures the more this immoveable fact becomes the rock to which my life is anchored: God knows my heart and He searches my deepest motives. And even when He sees me still stuck in my brokenness He unconditionally loves me!

References   [ + ]

1, 12. Proverbs 15:11 NLT
2. Proverbs 20:5 NIV
3. 1 Peter 3:4
4. Ephesians 3:16
5. 2 Corinthians 4:16
6. 1 Corinthians 4:5 NIV
7. Jeremiah 17:9
8. Jeremiah 17:10
9. Colin Brown; Dictionary of New Testament Theology Vol. 2 p.181-2
10. 1 Corinthians 4:5
11. Hebrews 4:13
13. Psalms 139:1-6
14. Matthew 10:30
15. Acts 1:24
16. Acts 15:8 NIV
17. 1 Samuel 16:7
18. Luke 16:15
19. 2 Chronicles 6:30
20. 1 Chronicles 28:9 NIV
21. Proverbs 16:2