This passage from the book of Jeremiah has been with me for the last several days.
9 The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
10 “I the Lord search the heart
and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds.”
To be fair, it’s a bit beyond me to define the heart, but I guess over time I’ve come to believe our heart is the part of us that guides us.
Before we know Christ, it’s our heart that is in rebellion against God. When we are saved, it is our heart God calls to himself. Where we rebel, it is our hard heart God breaks, and where we submit it is our surrendered heart he rewards. As we live, and are sanctified, we wage war against the defiant parts of our heart, and as we grow its those same parts that are redeemed to God’s image.
I don’t get the impression our heart is a static point within us that, once moved, propels the rest of us alongside it, like some spiritual center of gravity. When I read Jeremiah, I get the impression our heart is alive with intent. It’s the evil little voice that celebrates quietly when we’ve finally worked out just the right combination of ideas to convert our obstinance to righteousness; the quiet seed of our justification.
Being people, we do with this scripture what we do with most inconvenient truths. We find plausible alternatives. Psychology grows to help us understand ourselves, and reinforces the illusion that we can be “well adjusted”. We trace our sinful motivations to roots in our past, and attribute our sick habits to behavior learned from our families. We delude ourselves with the assurances of our control, and search out all manner of explanation other than our illness, and helplessness to understand ourselves. In our blindness, we instinctively listen to the voice that sounds the best. The one that “feels” right. The one that is deceptive above all things, and desperately sick.
So when our wives call us terrified because our daughter isn’t responding to her voice, several hours later do we remember begging God to deliver her, or do we blame our spouse for overreacting in the beginning? When our jobs become hard and we ask God for the strength to endure, or the wits to overcome, do we fail to ask him to reveal the disease in our heart which drives us to Facebook instead of excel? When we argue with our spouse do we fight until they break, assured of our “rightness”, or are we humbled by the deception within us, and instead listen quietly and prayerfully seek wisdom from the Lord?
When it comes right down to it, I think most of the time we forget its our own heart that deceives us. Instead we cling futilely to the illusion that we know. When pressed, we believe we chart our course.
Last week, my daughter fell ill. Really ill. It was one of those sicknesses, when you see it for the first time, as a parent you have to stifle the urge to panic. I was overcome by the fear that God will carry out his Will at my expense if He so chooses. I worried that He would take my little girl, and leave me with only the assurance that it was his plan, and He is good. I feared being in the position so many other parents have faced, having to let go of my child, but not really knowing how to live without her. I prayed in my weakness, and begged God for mercy. I asked Him to love me enough not to break me, and to spare my girl.
When I was finally able to see M, I realized her sickness was not nearly as bad as I had feared (she’s 100% fine now), but rather than instantly glorify God and His gracious gift, I faulted my wife for “making me think M was dying”. My heart, which had just been given the greatest gift I can imagine all over again, was all too quick to find any excuse not to worship God, and by instinct I was prone to follow it’s lead.
Thinking back, I realize I came face to face with my heart in all of it’s ungrateful ignominy last Thursday. Then I read the verse above, and for the first time in a while I remembered the rebel within me was more dangerous than the enemy without.
I don’t look for God in my life.
It’s unintentional ignorance, and it is not something I’ve been fully aware of until recently. Still it’s true. Gradually, without ever meaning to, I have come to regard God as a crutch when I’m crippled, but a burden to be cast aside when I’m whole, or at the very best, a duty to be born.
This is the problem as I understand it, but I’m interested your thoughts. Do you think I’ve totally missed the mark? What does it mean to you that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick? How do you guard against the lies that come from inside you, rather than the lies that come from without?