The Heart of the Matter


I was recently listening to a live version of a song by Simon and Garfunkel and noticed something interesting. The song was “Kathy’s Song,” which Paul Simon wrote in the mid-1960’s for the Sounds of Silence album. If you’re not familiar with the song, it’s a hauntingly beautiful love song that has the power to hold audiences captive—one of those songs that when you hear it, you want to just stop and listen in appreciation. So, as expected, in this live version the audience cheers when the song is introduced, but quickly goes absolutely still in a kind of hushed concert reverence. What struck me as interesting was a point in the performance where many in the vast audience broke their rapt attention to cheer for a verse from the song. The verse that invoked this response was:

And so you see, I have come to doubt
All that I once held as true
I stand alone without beliefs
The only truth I know is you

Despite the solemn atmosphere of a moving love song, people chose to cheer for and applaud these lines after they were sung.

Being a love song, the “you” in this verse refers to a beautiful young woman, of course. Kathleen Chitty had captured Paul Simon’s heart when he and Art Garfunkel were still making a name for themselves, living in England and trying to book gigs at clubs, with Kathy at times collecting change in a hat as they played on public sidewalks. She was such a big part of Paul’s life that he mentions her in another Simon and Garfunkel masterpiece, “America.”

Part of the brilliance and strength of these lines in “Kathy’s Song” come from their honesty and sense of loving devotion. There’s a tremendous emotional weight in the words. But at their core, they are also tragic, describing a level of disillusionment that would be devastating to experience, a place in life no one would want to find themselves. Which leads me to wonder: What was it about these lines that inspired many in the crowd to applaud them? Was it arbitrary, or perhaps a uniquely quiet part in the song people chose to fill with noise? Definitely not. Did someone on the stage ask for applause or gesture to the audience? Doubtful. Did a bunch of people there know Kathy Chitty and agree about how great she is? Unlikely. So what was it?

I think the answer describes the true nature of the human heart.

We all want to think of the human heart—a person’s soul, the core of his or her being and the root of purpose and will—as worthy and noble, the source of all the great words and deeds in human history. We want it to be the very best of humanity and what it means to be human. We want it to give us the chance to do something truly good in and of ourselves. Many stories paint that picture, and we are drawn to them. But Jesus paints a different picture:

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23)

This is no different than what God the Father said about the human heart all they way back in the time of Noah, both before and after the flood:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)

…the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. (Genesis 8:21)

This nature is something the apostle Paul called “hardness of heart” in his letter to the early church in Ephesus:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. (Ephesians 4:17-18)

The human heart, meant to live in worshipful joy and contentment and move us to works of love that glorify God, is by nature cold and corrupt. It has in fact been ruined by sin.

I believe Paul Simon wrote these lyrics from “Kathy’s Song” in their tragic sense, his confusion and despair a sad reality to ponder and overcome as he clung to the lifeline of a woman’s love. I believe the cheering people at the concert intuitively leaped past that to infuse these lyrics with purpose that matched the nature of their hearts, lifting these lines up as a banner to rally around. By nature, people want to sow doubt and tear down what is held as true, and have others join them in those endeavors. By nature, people are willing to stand alone in pride, deciding for themselves what is right and wrong. By nature, people want to love things of their own making—be it a relationship, an ideal or a golden calf—and nothing else. This is why they cheered. In the middle of a song of love, their lifted voices revealed the true nature of their hearts.

It is into this cold world of hard human hearts that God sent his Son, Jesus, the one human heart that was by nature warm, pure and good. By remaining pure-hearted in life, Jesus created a way the hard-hearted could return to God. His undeserving death fully paid the penalty of the hardest heart so that mankind no longer had to be alienated from the life of God by nature. Through faith in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, people can repent of their sins and be counted as pure. Jesus said:

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

It is a tragedy that this broken world can throw honest men and women into a storm of doubts and despair. It is a worse tragedy that the hard, natural hearts of people twist their thinking until their desire is to praise and rally around doubts and disbelief. And it would be the ultimate tragedy if there were no way for these people to redeem natural hearts that long for ungodliness for pure hearts that long for the life of God. Thank God that out of grace and love for us he made it possible to be pure through faith in Christ!

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)