Using the Bible to understand the human heart and the mind of God

Paths of the Sea, Highways of the Heart

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God designed the earth and the sea—as well as the human heart and mind. His word can help you develop mental discipline you need to find your way.

What comes to mind when we see ocean waves crashing against the shore? Do we think of raw power, unchecked? In fact, though seemingly wild and uncontrolled, these waves conceal an order found in the waters’ offshore movement.

The Creator has orchestrated a precise rhythm to the ebbs and flows of ocean water on our planet. Sea currents are unmistakably arranged in consistent, directed movements of massive amounts of water—so massive that, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Gulf Stream carries 150 times the volume of water of the Amazon River. Ocean currents’ location, direction, and speed are influenced by a complex interplay of the Earth’s rotation, winds, water densities or temperatures, tides, and coastal and sea floor features. These “paths of the seas” influence movement of otherwise immobile animal species, circulations of phytoplankton, migrations of whales, and even patterns of earth’s weather (“Ocean Currents,, August 2011).

The father of modern oceanography, Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806–1873), was a renowned scientist of his day. He was also an accomplished astronomer, meteorologist, geologist, and cartographer—as well as a student of the Bible. As Maury’s daughter records in her biography of her father, “Matthew’s father was very exact in the religious training of his family.... He would assemble them night and morning to read the Psalter for the day, verse and verse about; and in this way, so familiar did this barefooted boy become with the Psalms of David, that… he could cite a quotation, and give chapter and verse, as if he had the Bible open before him” (Diana Corbin, A Life of Matthew Fontaine Maury, 1888, p. 8). A Richmond, Virginia monument to his memory even depicted a Bible beside his left leg. Today, Matthew Maury would have been destined for academic and professional oblivion with his insistence on scriptural veracity. But was he naïve—or was he wise and perceptive?

Charting the Paths

After a fractured leg sidelined Maury’s naval career, he spent 19 years poring over old ships’ logs and naval records and setting adrift weighted bottles to prove a theory. Exhaustively compiling charts and maps, he suspected that sea currents were governing the earth’s waters. What served as the inspiration for his theory? The psalms imprinted in his heart and mind from his youth by his father. Psalm 8:8 tells of the “birds of the air, and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas.”

Charts and maps of a few surface ocean currents won Maury accolades, tributes, and statues. However, the full complexity of the interplay of seemingly infinite variables that create planet Earth’s weather defy today’s scientists. Meteorologists crunch many terabytes of data in supercomputers with sophisticated modeling, yet we see short-range weather forecasts fail somewhere almost daily. Long-range forecasts are just that much more suspect. With even the most advanced computer, none can perfectly model what the Creator has assembled and harnessed to His bidding.

If a Creator God, thousands of years in advance of scientific discovery, could record indications of currents—paths—of the sea, what else is buried within Scripture? Does the same God who created you shed light on our own deep motivations and innermost needs? The Bible has been referred to as a “life map.” Could that same God record highways of the human mind and heart?

Creating the Highways

Columbia University researcher and psychiatrist Norman Doidge, MD, describes researcher Paul Bach-y-Rita’s use of a device that enabled the blind to see. According to a 1969 Nature article, his work allowed even those blind from birth to report sight (“Vision Substitution by Tactile Image Projection”). Bach-y-Rita used a large dentist’s chair, a vibrating back, and a tangle of computers, wires, and a studio camera, together weighing over 400 pounds. The blind person would settle back in the chair behind the camera. Signals from the camera were carried to 400 vibrating stimulators set in rows on a metal plate inside the chair back. Functioning like pixels, the stimulators served as a “tactile-vision device” enabling the subjects to read and recognize objects like a telephone or vase. Seemingly miraculously, all subjects reported a remarkable shift, going from tactile sensations to “seeing” people and objects, even flinching as a ball was thrown toward them (Norman Doidge, The Brain That Changes Itself).

Albeit impractical, this device demonstrated a principle now known as neuroplasticity, the capacity of the brain to rewire and change its functions to meet demands. Without fanfare, the brains of these blind subjects rerouted tactile information to the visual areas of the brain. The brain was not only mapping a different route or neural highway for neural messages, but also selecting a new destination for them—something previously thought impossible. Since then, neuroscientists have demonstrated many other examples of neuroplasticity, even showing how the brain can repurpose the surface of the cerebral cortex to make up for damaged areas. It has even been applied to show that criminal or deviant sexual fetishes are formed as a habit rather than acquired from birth. As neuroscientist Carla Shatz summarized, “Neurons that fire together wire together” (Doidge).

Demands placed on your thoughts and feelings make deeply grooved highways in your mind and heart. Our choices—indeed, our very thoughts—have lasting consequences. The things that we give our attention to imprint themselves in our brain circuitry and wire themselves into the fabric of our hearts. Wonderfully, a wise man of old understood this long before Doidge or Bach-y-Rita. King Solomon stated, “Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you. Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established. Do not turn to the right or the left; remove your foot from evil” (Proverbs 4:25–27). What we give attention to “establishes” itself as an embedded groove or habit in our life, whether for good or for evil.

We choose our thoughts, emotions, actions, and—eventually—our habits. Can we choose a desired consequence without selecting the paired highway of the heart that leads to that result? That would be like trying to travel from Los Angeles to Ohio by driving to Seattle.

Trusting God’s Instructions

Human beings distrust our God-given maps because of Satan’s first lie. He told Adam and Eve that God wants to deprive us (Genesis 3:4–5). In fact, God gives us a path leading to joy (Psalm 16:11; John 15:11), abundant life (John 10:10), peace (Philippians 4:7), and healthy relationships. He implores us to choose that abundant life (Deuteronomy 30:15–20; John 10:10) by making choices in harmony with His guiding law of liberty (James 1:25; 2:12), the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1–17; John 14:15).

Our choices and thoughts matter. First, they imprint themselves in our brain circuitry and wire themselves into the fabric of our hearts. Then, they bring inexorable and lasting consequences. The Creator knows this well. He lovingly fashioned and shaped the myriad of mechanisms that form everything from the paths of the sea down to the highways in our hearts. No loving, selfless parent casts a child adrift in the world to sink and drown. God, our loving Father, has not left us adrift to be buffeted by the chaotic waves of our own misguided emotions, thoughts, and actions.

Maury studied old ships’ logs for 19 years, searching for the storied paths through the sea, all to create a few maps. Maury spent far more time, however, searching the Bible. Does your heart’s instruction manual, the Holy Bible, not also warrant your study?


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