“The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:1, ESV).
Do I plan with my heart? Modern science identifies the mind as the center of thought, whereas in Biblical times and cultures it was the heart that was usually so depicted. It is the intestines or bowels which we today associate with emotions or feelings.
Conversely, the ancients ascribed thought to the heart and emotions to the bowels or intestines. So Solomon said, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7, NKJV). But, in Genesis 43:30, when Joseph saw Benjamin, he was moved with compassion. In the original language the word there is “bowels.” Also, in 1 John 3:17 modern English translations read, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him . . . .” The Greek original uses the word for “bowels” rather than heart. Modern translators have chosen the current idiom as the best way to communicate the original meaning.
But even in modern modes of expression the answer to my original question may still be yes. The fact is that much of our planning is based more on emotion than intellect. We seek ways to accomplish what we yearn for, to fulfill our most urgent desires. Taking an expensive vacation may not be the wisest thing in terms of budget, but it may satisfy even more important emotional needs. Much of our planning will find us caught between reason and emotion, what we should do as compared to what we really want to do.
Our emotions belong to us, that is they are human in origin and nature. But facts are real and the consequences of following our emotions must be faced. Therefore, the wise man added, “The answer of the tongue is from the Lord.” Does he mean that God will inspire each of us to arrive at the right solution, to make the correct plans? Experience and other Biblical texts teach us that this is not the case. Rather Solomon is exhorting his readers to look beyond the heart (emotions, desires) for information on which to base a correct decision.
I am not sure what other applications Solomon may have had in mind when he wrote these words. But I am confident that it does not distort the passage to suggest that there is an absolute standard by which both our emotions and our intellect may be measured. That is God’s truth. Our emotions are variable, but truth is constant and absolute. The “answer” to our search for a correct plan is found not in our desires but in the wisdom which comes from God. God has spoken (Hebrews 1:1-2) and his word provides for every circumstance (Romans 10:17; Hebrews 4:12; James 1:21).
Thankfully we are often able to make plans or set goals which will satisfy our desires and emotional needs, but not violate reasonable considerations. But that is not always the case, and we must never let our “heart” alone be the decision maker for life’s choices. Let us always consult God’s word and ensure that our actions are in keeping with his will. Doing what is right is far better than doing what we want at the moment.