Hearts are treacherous things. It is always difficult to see what this monster inside me is trying to do. My heart is deceitful, just like yours. Jeremiah even refers to it as “desperately sick.” There is a long Christian tradition of distrust of hearts and desires. As the wise philosopher Pogo the Possum once said, “I have met the enemy and he is us.”
One of the great difficulties of taming the heart is the myriad forms this evil takes. There is a modern notion that people are intrinsically good (except for those bad people). There is no justification for this idea other than it is quite comforting to believe it. Generally, when I try to assert that people are good, I am really making a much more personal statement.
I am saying that I am a good person.
Now, I must defend this sentiment. Evidence comes up all the time that says quite the contrary. If I am so good, why do I want to yell at my kids, envy my neighbor’s car, sleep with that girl? I know these things are wrong and yet I want them.
Feeling the tenuous support for my assertion of my goodness, I must do some mental gymnastics to keep cognitive dissonance from killing me (for an excellent book on the sorts of gymnastics we do, read Mistakes Were Made: but not by me). I can, for example, say that I deserve my neighbor’s car. I work as hard as he does. My kids were being little demons, yelling at them is totally justified. If God made all those beautiful girls, why would he say I can’t enjoy them.
Our powers of rationalization are nearly limitless. When Muamar Gaddafi was killed by revolutionary forces, one of his last words were, “What did I do to you?” I think he meant it. I think he had no idea why these people he had brutally ruled for decades would want him dead.
What is frightening is that I have the same monster living in me. Mark Sayers in his book Facing Leviathan argues that one of the great problems humanity has is that when our heroes save of from a monster, they don’t account for the monster inside them.
We would be wise to identify the monster and name it for what it is. One useful tool to do this is actually just a few clicks away. That’s right, your Facebook wall.
Take a look at the last ten posts you put up.
It’s OK, we’ll wait.
Back, good. Why did you post what you did?
Maybe you lambasted those idiots at some organization. Was it a selfie? Maybe it was an adorable thing you kids just said. A quote that you found inspiring. A rant about that guy who cut you off in traffic earlier. A complaint about the weather.
Behold, your heart.
I recently was talking to a friend about selfies and he noted that they are usually put up by ladies more than men and more often by single eligible ladies than any other. So a selfie, for them, it partially motivated by the desire to get a guy. There is that desire that everyone feels to be wanted and attractive and nothing does that like a selfie with 42 likes.
How many men have put a picture of themselves up with their beautiful girlfriend? In their hearts, they know they are showing everyone else how special they must be to have that girl at their arm. What about that picture of a cat? Part of the message you sent was, “See how funny I am.”
Closer to home. Here is the last post I put on Facebook.
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. -Animal Farm
Now this appears harmless. I just finished reading Animal Farm and this is one of my favorite quotes in all of literature. It is also important to me that you knew I read it. I want everyone to know that I am a literate and intelligent person and nothing does that better than to post a quote from a book. Yep, none of you will think I’m stupid. I read a book.
What about the post before that?
You just know that every tech company is right now developing a phone bending machine to determine if their phones bend too easily.
This is innocuous enough. But I know that this will affiliate me as part of the cutting edge group discussing the recent difficulties with the new iPhones. Chip sure is a cutting edge guy. To top it off, do you sense that fun sarcasm? I sure hope you do!
Even as I write this blog post, the monster inside me stirs. Wow, people will sure know that Chip is a guy who knows his weaknesses and is willing to be out there: authentic. honest. Chip is one great guy. One of the great joys of Heaven will be to have that monster silenced forever.
Some will object that I am being too harsh. The post of grumpy cat was actually quite funny and harmless. If we second guessed every single sentence on we wrote or said, we would quickly stop speaking. Every sentence could have a possible poor motive ascribed to it.
This is true. A result of reading this could be that everyone is so concerned about this that they never post anything, write anything, or speak to anyone. The goal of life is not simply to fail to sin but the honor and love God. I hope to cause some introspection, but only enough to cause you to look outside yourself to the God of all speech.
But in your searching of your heart, consider not just what you posted, but what you didn’t. There are many things that are not appropriate to place in a public setting like Facebook. Your bathroom habits should not be a public discussion nor your brothers troubled marriage. We should keep these private matters just that, private.
There are also those matters we fail to bring up because they reflect badly on us. I have been known to go back and correct spelling in my posts not because I want to make a more pleasant appearance for the reader, but because I don’t want to look stupid. Would you ever post a bad picture of yourself because it is a great picture of someone else? There are a delightful few people I know who regularly talk about their weaknesses and pains, but most only discuss their successes and virtues.
I don’t mean to say that everything said is done from a poor motive, I hope this whole blog post is helpful to me, my friends and family, and the church. I know my motives are mixed. Knowing that does not force my silence. Reticence to make a mistake is as dangerous as being cavalier. Edmund Burke said it well, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”
While some will be tempted to silence, most of us will fail to take Jesus seriously. For example,
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, Matthew 12:36
The monster inside me starts to justify against the words of Jesus. Then James follows up with an even harsher message.
So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. James 3:5-10
What? A fire lit by Hell! The monster revolts at these words. James is clearly exaggerating. What Jesus and James are asking is impossible!
How can I fight the monsters out in the world when even when I defeat them, the monster in my heart will replace them. This is the dilemma when Frodo offered Gandalf the One Ring, he responded:
Gandalf: You cannot offer me this ring!
Frodo: I’m giving it to you!
Gandalf: Don’t…tempt me Frodo! I dare not take it. Not even to keep it safe. Understand, Frodo. I would use this ring from a desire to do good…But through me, it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine.
Human beings are far more majestic and powerful creatures than we ever imagined. We are more like Gandalf than we realize. Being image bearers of the Holy and Powerful God of the Universe is something we barely understand.
So what do we do? Clearly we need to talk and clearly our hearts have deep motives that we don’t understands. Thankfully, God did not leave us without guidance. The Psalmist struggled with his Facebook feed just like we do.
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139: 23-24
Talk to God about it. He knows you fully and loves you! He knows what is good and what is evil. The technology is new but the hearts are not. The Psalmist had a problem in his heart too and he felt safe to go to his God with it.
Humility is not the failure to be proud. It is to stare deeply into the soul of your God and to be overcome by Him. We have a God who is surrounded by unimaginably powerful angels day and night yet somehow, amid all of that grandeur, he loves you. This is an amazing thing.
So look at your heart for a minute and look at your God forever. Some should leave Facebook because it is too tempting for them. Most of us should live in it wisely. As Jesus said:
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:45
Who is the good person? The lover of God. If you want to redeem your foolish heart and speech, God alone is the source of a pure heart. How is the monster slain? By going to the God who has already killed it. Jesus killed the monster. It is in its death throes in my heart today. Soon, very soon, I will die and it will die too. Then I will be free.
Until then, rejoice in the slayer of monsters. Watch the monster in you die slowly and Jesus’ power in your life grows. The solution to the weaker joy of wanting approval from people is to trade it for the greater pleasure of being approved by Father or Heavenly Lights! That, my friends, is very good news.
The image above is courtesy of Sean Macentee and is used with permission.