Orthocardia: Having a Right Heart

Orthocardia: Having a Right Heart

Written on 05/23/2022

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Author: Shiao Chong

You might have heard of the theological terms orthodoxy (right beliefs) and orthopraxy (right behaviors). But what about orthocardia—having the right heart? I first came across the term in a newsletter from American journalist David French. Of course, all three are interconnected. But although orthodoxy and orthopraxy are both necessary, I think we have overemphasized them at the expense of orthocardia.

At risk of oversimplifying, for some of us Christian spirituality revolves around believing the right things. It is centered, metaphorically speaking, in the head. For others, our spirituality is metaphorically centered in our hands—how we act and behave. Both are ways of focusing on outward conformity to right beliefs or right behaviors. But calls for a right heart—loving rightly, desiring rightly—seem muted amidst the loud cries for the previous two.

It is too simplistic to say that the so-called religious right focuses on orthodoxy while the so-called religious left focuses on orthopraxy. Both sides emphasize different beliefs and different behaviors. The right might emphasize purity, truth, and obedience. The left might emphasize justice, love, and grace. Both will chastise those who misbehave, whether it’s crossing sexual boundaries or perpetuating racial injustice.

How important is orthocardia, or having a right heart? I believe a rightly ordered heart is required for inner transformation. Without it, both our orthodoxy and orthopraxy will be distorted.

Think of a compass. A compass points to north because it is affected by Earth’s natural magnetic fields. You only know where east, west, and south are in relation to where north is. If you bring a magnet close to the compass, its magnetic force will distort the compass’ readings. The compass will no longer be pointing to true north, and consequently its east, west, and south also will be realigned.

Your heart is like your spiritual compass, for “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). Wherever your heart points affects the other dimensions of your spirituality—your beliefs and behaviors. The triune God is our true north. Only when we love God with all of our hearts will our hearts be rightly aligned and rightly influence our beliefs and our behaviors.

But have we unwittingly allowed other things to distract our hearts away from God? Our hearts can be pulled by the magnetic attraction of other things—even good things. For example, we can love God’s truth more than the God of truth. We can love God’s justice more than the God of justice. We can love God’s church more than God. We can love a right cause—whether it’s being pro-life or anti-racist—more than God. Have our hearts loved the gifts more than the Giver? As such, are our orthodoxy and orthopraxy distorted, overemphasizing certain beliefs and behaviors and underemphasizing others? Are we polarized because our hearts aren’t properly aligned?

In the final article of our “Seeking Shalom in the Midst of Polarization” series (p. 33), Matt Lundberg says that we are called to be agents of God’s shalom. If God is our first love, then our hearts will desire God’s shalom for ourselves and for our world.