Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tares and Wheat of the Heart

What does one do when, in the heart, vice and virtue share a common desire? – a desire that if fulfilled would result in someone else’s good, but may also secretly feed the ego and contribute to personal corruption? I suppose this sort of thing is common, yet unobserved, in many people. Over the years I have gradually become aware of it within myself, and I’m convinced this peculiar inner reality must be an old companion. I wonder if most people are like me; that is, assuming their own intentions are mostly good, and the desire to do something helpful springs chiefly from goodwill. But the human heart cannot be summed up by a cliché. There is no sleeve large enough to hold it. Instead, I am learning “The heart’s real intentions are like deep water” (Prov. 20:5). It takes an honest person to “draw out” the heart’s true motives, and my own careful introspection betrays a troubling inner reality: layers of contaminant line the bottom of my well. It settles there like sediment – long forgotten until I get bumped.

Recent events in my life have triggered this self-examination, namely a developing friendship. Through the gradual course of fellowship and conversation, my friend has learned that I am a Christian; I have learned he is a de facto pluralist. He is a skeptic, doubting that any of us can really know truth. Yet, I truly enjoy his company. The difficult situation in this case is that my ugly vice of pride along with my virtue of philia love both happen to have the same hope in mind for my new friend: that he would come to see Jesus as the Truth.

Here is how I see the vice. Much of the world’s agony can be attributed to man’s arrogance. There is a base pride people share that covertly wants other people to be like us, think like us, speak like us and looks like us. In its most potent form it consummates itself in the worst atrocities: prejudice, racism, even genocide. With most people I suppose it is kept in check by a desire to be civil and accepted. But even in the civil this vice apexes in the worst kind of attitude, an attitude that says: if you will not think like me then I reject you. This vice takes pleasure in pointing out someone else’s mistakes, or influencing a person to be more like us. There is an arrogance that thinks: if I correct him he is subordinated to me. It gives the accuser a false sense of power and security. Regretfully, I admit there is an ugly part of me like that because I feel these things at work in my own heart. I may be able to control my behavior, but I am bound to my human nature. There is a part of me that has used civility as a means to a wicked end, a part of me that wants my friend to be like me and think like me all for the wrong reasons. It is a part of me I loath – even though I know I share it with the rest of humanity.

But there is also a virtuous motive behind my hope for my friend. It doesn’t involve wanting him to be like me per se (it in fact celebrates his differences), but instead hopes for what is best for him. My reasoning starts with life’s fundamentals. First, I have observed that something has gone terribly wrong in this world. History and present-day circumstances give evidence that somehow what was meant to be straight has become severely crooked. There are global tragedies: slavery, human trafficking, murder, rape, and theft, just to name a few. Injustice abounds. Our vocabulary needs words like brutality, hypocrisy, greed, hatred, and cowardice because all those things exist. (These realities are unanimously recognized by all civilizations as bad.) Worst of all, I am confident that the thing that causes the bad, the thing gone wrong in the world, the thing that makes straight lines crooked, the thing that twists desires and corrupts beauty – that thing enters the world through me. My own worldview claims this corruption is in all people (Rom. 3:10-18), and I believe it because I experience it in my own heart. It’s discouraging to see the world as twisted and corrupt; but to see oneself as twisted and corrupt is outrageous. Even though I want to do what is right and beautiful, my corrupt nature works against that desire (Rom. 7:18).

So it comes to this: If I am to grieve over my own depravity, must not philia love lead me to grieve over corruption in others? especially those I care about? In fact, the virtuous part of me identifies with others so well that I come to see their sin and error as my own. When we accept all human corruption as a shared problem, we embrace a humility that prevents us from distinguishing someone else’s sin from our own. We will witness a crime and think mournfully, I’m capable of that. Therefore, if true love is in me, I will grieve when I see someone else’s offense just as I would grieve had I committed it myself. It’s not self-righteousness, but a love that wants to guard the innocence of a fellow human, just as I want to guard my own innocence. Therefore, when another man is guilty, I should see myself as guilty, (because without splitting hairs, I am).

This universal brokenness is evidence we desperately need help from outside this world. And, of all the holy men ever to walk on earth, Jesus is unique: he is the only one who claimed to come from the outside – the only one claiming to have a cure for what is wrong. And if he can help someone as messed up as me, I’m convinced he can help others. This is one reason why the virtuous side of me longs for my new friend to find sanctuary in Jesus. The familiar statement: “It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t hurt anybody else” is illogical. If I truly believe humanity to be on a self-destructive path, and Jesus holds the only lifeline, it would be selfish for me to be indifferent about how others think and act, even if it only hurts themselves.

So if my new friend were ever to truly know the joy of being embraced as an heir by a King, his happiness would be my happiness. My love and friendship are his without qualification. Yet nothing would delight me more than to see my friend experience a relationship with a Deity whose right hand holds “pleasures forevermore” (Psa. 16:11). I know these things are his to accept or reject. I admit it: my heart is “deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:20) but one day it will be made straight. And that is my hope for my friend.

1 comment:

Cindy said...

Once again, Russ, you hit it for me! I went to a meeting tonight where we discussed self-examination. I needed to hear that, and this article. When someone else falls, I need to grieve like it was me. I am afraid I still love self-righteousness too much. I love you and am so amazed at your insight.
love, mom