Friday, June 22, 2007

Psalm 51: The Hardening of the Heart

Could there be a scarier spiritual dynamic than the hardening of the heart? Could anything be sadder than to watch a warm and tender man become cold and hard? Could anything be more spiritually dangerous than the capacity of a sinner to grow quite comfortable with doing what would have once assaulted his conscience? What's worse than coming to a place where you actually have the capacity to feel right about what God says is wrong? What could be more threatening than the thought that, as sinners, we have an amazing capacity to deceive ourselves? David's story is a case study of this kind of danger. David prays for a broken heart because, in his confession, he's realized that his heart has become hard.

When you read the story in 2 Samuel 11 and the words of confession in Psalm 51, you can't help but ask, "How did David get from the anointed King of Israel to a murdering adulterer? How could this good man end up in such a bad place? Such is the dangerous deceitfulness of sin and the disaster of the hardening of the heart. Here's the thing we all need to remember; sin isn't an event, no, it's a progressive movement of the heart that results in disobedient behavior.

Let's consider David's story. David inadvertently saw Bathsheba bathing. The fact that he saw her wasn't sin, but what he did with what he saw began the process of sin. It's clear that David wasn't repulsed by the temptation. It's clear that he didn't seek God's help. Why is this clear? Because of what he does next. David sends a servant to try to find out who this woman is. This isn't the action of a man who's running away from temptation. David immediately begins to move toward what he knows is wrong and so in his heart he would have to be justifying what he was doing. David finds out that this woman he was lusting after was married. But again, he doesn't stop, he doesn't run. No, he uses his political power to bring her to the palace. What did David tell himself he was going to do next? How did he justify what he was about to do with a married woman?

At each point as you read the story you want to scream, "David, stop, don't do what you're thinking of doing!" But he doesn't stop. Upon bringing Bathsheba to the palace he has sexual relations with her. As you read the account, you find it hard to believe that this is the same man that Samuel anointed to be king because of the character of his heart. But the plot thickens as Bathsheba becomes pregnant. Once more, instead of the pregnancy awaking David from his self-deception, it rather becomes the occasion of even deeper and greater sin.

David does his best to use Uriah to cover what he has done. If he can get Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba then perhaps the pregnancy will be attributed to Uriah and David's sin will be hidden. But Uriah refuses to participate in David's scheme. So what David does next, in lust-driven anger, is hard to imagine even though by this time you know now that sin has a firm hold on him. David has his soldiers set up Uriah so that he'll die on the battlefield. And then David marries Bathsheba.

It's a tawdry and disgusting story, one you wouldn't read if it were a paperback at your local bookstore. But the story is helpful, for it pictures how sin is a progressive system of sinful desire and self-deception. It stands as a pointed warning to us all.

I know you're like me and you too would like to tell yourself that you're not like David, but you know you are. Like me, you too get attracted to things that are outside of the boundaries that God has set for you. Like me you're quite skilled at covering, minimizing, rationalizing, justifying, defending, or otherwise explaining away your sin. Like me, you don't always stop at the first warning that something is wrong. You permit yourself to step even closer to evil, telling yourself that you'll be okay. Like me, you allow yourself to meditate on things you should repudiate. Like me, you participate in the hardening of your own heart even as you tell yourself that you can handle it, that you'll be okay.

The physical acts of sin are not actually where the real action takes place. By this I don't mean that behavioral sin isn't sin. What I mean is that the real moral war of sin and obedience is fought on the turf of the heart. It's when the battle for the heart is lost that the battle of physical resistance to sin will be lost as well. When the heart become hard, the system of internal restraint that keeps one pure ceases to function as it was designed to function, and we say "yes" to what God has called us to say "no" to.

But there's hope for us. Jesus came to give sight to blind eyes. He came to release the captives from their prison. He came to give us new hearts. He came to break sin's dominion over us. He came so that we'd have the power to say, "No!" when temptation comes our way. He came so that we could live with open eyes and soft hearts. He came so that we could turn to him in confession and receive his forgiveness, just like David.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Psalm 51: Wisdom is a Person

Sin is all about foolishness. Sinners are fools who're able to convince themselves that they're wise. When I sin I convince myself that my way is better than God's way, that my thoughts are wiser than God's thoughts, that what I desire is better than what God has planned for me. Sin is all about how a fool is able to swindle himself into thinking that what's wrong is actually right.

Think of sin in its original form in that awful moment in the Garden. There would have been no disobedience if Adam and Eve had refused to listen to the voice of another counselor. What was this counselor seeking to get them to do? He was enticing them to question, if but for a moment, the wisdom of God. He was enticing them to think that he was wiser than Wisdom himself. And he was temping them to believe that they could be as wise as God.

Check out what Moses records as being one of the things that attracted Adam and Eve to the forbidden fruit. Here's what's said in Genesis 3:6b, "and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise." Now this phrase is worth unpacking.

You and I will never understand the full range of the temptation of Adam and Eve, David, or ourselves until we understand the fundamental nature of wisdom. Wisdom, in its purest form, is not an outline, it's not a theology, it's not a book, it's not a system of logic. Wisdom is a Person. You don't get wisdom by experience, research, or logical deduction. You don't get wisdom by education and experimentation. You get wisdom by means of a relationship to the One who is the source of everything that's wise, good and true. In talking of Christ in Colossians 2:3, Paul says that "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" are hidden in Christ.

Adam and Eve had all the wisdom they needed, no, not in their independent ability to figure themselves and life out, but in the relationship they had with Wisdom; a relationship that hadn't yet been tainted by sin. Tragically, they took the bait, turned their back on Wisdom, and received the exact opposite of what the snake had promised them; foolishness. This act of foolishness and disobedience began a storm of foolishness that has flooded humanity ever since.

No longer wise, now born into the world as fools, we all need to be rescued from ourselves. And yet, even though there's empirical evidence that we're fools (debt, addiction, obesity, conflict, anger, fear, discouragement, fear of man, etc...), we convince ourselves that we're wise and head confidently down pathways that lead to destruction and death. The way that seems wise to us isn't wise and the way that is wise looks to us to be the way of the fool. You can't argue us into wisdom, because every wise thing you would say is filtered through the grid of our own foolishness.

And so, we need what David needed. Blinded by his own false wisdom and able to take tragically foolish actions that would forever alter his life, David needed rescue. No, he didn't need rescue from Bathsheba. No, he didn't need rescue from the temptations that accompany positions of power. No, David need to be rescued from himself. He was held by the hands of his own foolishness. What David needed was Wisdom to come near and break David's hold on David. Like us, David needed the rescue of the Wisdom Redeemer. Then and only then would he be wise. Then and only then would he see, confess, and turn from the foolishness that had so deceived him.

Thankfully, the One who is Wisdom is also a God of grace. He delights in transforming the hearts of fools. He finds joy in gifting us with the wisdom that can only be found when He's in us and we're in Him.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Psalm 51: Hoping for a Broken Heart

I am too satisfied
with the things I say
the things I do
the attitudes
of heart
that shape my reactions
after day.
I too easily
quick assessments
of my own righteousness
in situations
where I have been
anything but
I am too skilled
at mounting
plausible arguments
to make me feel okay
about what I think
what I desire
what I say
what I do.
I am too defensive
when a loved one
makes an attempt
to call me out
and suggest
for a moment
that what I
have decided
or done
is less than
I am too
with the state of things
You and me
too relaxed
with the nature
of my love for You
too able to
my need for Your
In the recesses
of my private
there is so much
that is wrong
that I am able
to convince myself
is right.
There are attitudes there
that should not be.
There are words there
that should not be
There are thoughts
that do not agree
with Your view
of me
and mine.
There are desires
that take me in a
different direction
than what You have planned
for me.
I make decisions
based more on what
I want
than on what
You will.
So I am hoping
wise eyes
that are able
to see through
the cloud of
and see myself
as I actually
I am praying
wise ears
that are able
to hear through
the background noise of
well used platitudes
and hear myself
with clarity.
And I am longing
a humble spirit
that is willing
accept and confess
what You reveal
as You break through
my defenses
and show me
to me.
I am hoping
a broken heart.

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." (Psalm 51: 17)