Heart Knowledge over Head Knowledge

As a boy growing up in the 1950s, I felt the fear that many of my contemporaries felt when we were reminded of the threat of atomic war. I had nightmares. Sometimes tears flowed. The reminders were pervasive. Preachers described doomsday in terms of nuclear annihilation. Our teachers told us to hide under our desks. Newspapers calculated the travel time for missiles coming from Russia. Little wonder I was a scared little boy.

That is until I read a verse in the good old King James Bible, “The fear of man bringeth a snare, but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe” (Proverbs 29:25). I memorized that verse. I recited it to myself over and over. I cannot explain how it happened, but those childhood fears evaporated. I can only attribute it to the power of God’s word planted deep within.

Christian counselor K.J. Ramsey attributes this to “heart knowledge.” She described her own battle with fear when she had a serious illness. Writing in Christianity Today she said, “In that suffering the word hidden in my heart started countering my fear. I was confused and craving comfort, but God’s story was alive inside of me, welcoming me into the wonder that I am loved at my weakest.”

She quoted researchers in neuroscience and education who describe memory in two ways. “Heart knowledge” is embodied, autobiographical memory. “Head knowledge” is less related to lived experience. It is like the difference between rote learning and applied knowledge. She said, “The word has to be experienced and embraced as living, active and relational to become a lasting part of our autobiographical memory.”

This may be what Paul had in mind when he wrote to the believers at Colosse, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16). “The word” is God’s revealed truth, his message, holy scripture. “Dwell” means to live in or to be at home inside of us. “Richly” could be translated abundantly, or overflowing.

If I do this, it means that my Bible reading and memorization will be a response to the living God, hearing from him and treasuring his word. I will then learn his word with heart knowledge by applying it in my decisions, behavior, and thoughts. I will put to use the scriptures I am reading and memorizing, by praying them, sharing them and living them.

If Ramsey is right, there may even be a redemptive quality in my frustrations, anxieties, and pain. She cites brain research which tells us that learning is optimized in suffering. “When we come up against the limits of our knowledge of God and life, when we realize we are not in control . . . God has wired us so that our bodies release the very hormone we need to form new neural connections.” It is then that the implanted word is “rooted in our autobiographical memory,” our lived experience.

Proverbs 19:25 is still precious to me. It is a part of God’s word which has helped to shape my spiritual autobiography. Now when I am fearful or anxious about world events, it is comforting to remember the promise I hid in my heart over 65 years ago. “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe” (NIV).

Pastor Randy Faulkner