Hearted

Got a little older, got a little colder;

There goes that easy enthusiasm.

It never spilled–it seeped out slowly:

One day I realized I was lying on the floor,

With no idea what to do next,

Thoughtless.

 

Mad monsters made you meaner

Than you ever imagined you being.

You realized you don’t smile at strangers

Anymore–no energy.

You used to wonder what was wrong

With everyone.

 

There’s some audible hollowness

When you tap on these chests

When you’re looking for sturdiness, anywhere.

The drywall is thin

And scuffed up, and holey,

But–standing.

 

Hard-hearted or broken-hearted:

In a cracked and shattering place like this one,

That’s all there is.

be my absolution!

Have you seen this ad?

Like every good advertisement, it latches onto something more basic and important to the human mind than the functional purpose of the product being sold. Essentially it says, our product will address a fundamental desire in your heart (which is what all good Hallmark cards do).

Call it validation, affirmation, self-worth, whatever you want. The dual ideas of absolution – “formal release from guilt, obligation, or punishment”; in other words, the remission of sins – and justification – “the action of declaring or making righteous in the sight of God” – are the heart of it.

The longing for validation itself is not wicked. Just the opposite; that longing was created in the human heart by God when he first fashioned the race from the dust. When it is pure, it is the longing to relate with God. It is a longing for everything wrong in me and my life to be atoned for and forgotten, and for God to love me and call me worthy.

When it is impure, it is the drive behind every sin. Millions of teenage girls who give up their virginity do it because they want absolution and justification, but instead of seeking it from Jesus, they seek it from a fellow sinner. Millions of proud hypocrites who condemn their neighbors likewise work to be validated by something other than the cross of Christ.

This month, I am reading through the Psalms. David and the other psalmists give words to that basic human longing in its pure form, addressing to God and only God the cry, “Be my absolution!”

Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! 3:7

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! …Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! 4:1

Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray… Lead me, O LORD… 5:2, 8

Be gracious to me, O LORD… heal me, O LORD… 6:2

Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes… 13:3

From your presence let my vindication come! …Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings. 17:2, 8

Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD! 25:7

For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great… Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. 25:11, 18

Vindicate me, O LORD… Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and mind. 26:1

Et cetera. It is important to note not only what the Biblical authors say, but that they say it; in other words, there is something to learn from the simple fact that the psalmists looked to God and him only for grace, help, healing, happiness, vindication, forgiveness. The truth is that to look for these things – to look for validation, absolution, and justification – in any other place is idolatry defined. We look for absolution from whatever we worship.

We must be specific. My question is: how does God absolve and validate me?

He does it like this:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized in Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with [Christ] in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. Romans 6:3-6

Faith unites the believer with Christ, particularly with his death and resurrection. When Christ died, I died. My “old self,” of which sin was master, died and was buried forever, disabled from disqualifying me ever again. When Christ resurrected, I resurrected, to a new kind of life, a life lived to, for, and in God. Before God, all the wrong in me and my life died with Jesus on the cross. When he walked out of his tomb alive, three days after dying, he left it all there in his grave. It’s not on me anymore.

The consequence of this is that God forbids me from seeking peace anywhere else. Only Jesus forgives sin; personal achievement does not.

So, alright! Be my absolution, Jesus!

with all your heart and mind

Intellect versus emotions. An eternal battle, it seems.

Christianity at its core is a reasonable worldview based on historical events. The life, death, and especially the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth either happened or did not happen. If you accept that they happened, you must accept it all: God, the Bible, creation, life after death, etc.

If any person wants to know the truth about God, the world, and themselves, there is a book – the Bible – which makes truth claims, and it contains the story of a man – Jesus – who made the most audacious truth claims in history. Such a person may read the book, meet the man, and investigate the claims of truth for themselves. Thousands of people have written thousands of books precisely on the subject of Christianity’s rationality, the argument for which, if anyone cares to look, is extremely strong.

Christianity engages the mind. God did not leave things primarily up to our feelings, as flighty as they are. Most, perhaps all, other systems of “spirituality,” as well as the reigning system of thought called post-modernism, downplay the mind. “Tune in, turn on, drop out”; “empty your mind”; “trust the prophet and don’t ask questions.” Manipulation is easy when intellect is unimportant, and feeling good is easy when feeling good is all that matters.

Any Christian who tends to cherish “logos” above “pathos” is probably nodding their head in agreement at the above paragraphs. “You tell ‘em,” such a person might be thinking. “Touchy-feely people who let their emotions control them need to get rational already.”

Emotions make a great deal of people in our culture very uncomfortable. Many parents never form real relationships with their kids in a lifetime because the idea of sharing their feelings makes them squirm in their seats. Many other parents damage their relationships with their kids because they pile the mess of their own emotional lives into the laps of their confused children. The point is that striking a balance between unthinking emotionalism and unfeeling intellectualism is difficult, and erring too far on either side is equally destructive.

Unfeeling intellectualism is first of all proud. It speaks harshly, critically, and condescendingly, with such zeal for truth that mercy is ignored. It cannot sympathize with either suffering or joyful people, because it views emotions as weak. People become objects to debate. Scripture becomes something with which to beat people over the head. Input may be accepted from only the tiniest group of people, who must already subscribe to its own rigid system of belief. All others may be ridiculed.

Unthinking emotionalism, meanwhile, is foolish, unstable, and self-absorbed. It picks and chooses what it wants to believe, or what the charismatic leader wants it to believe, setting itself up as the authority over God. Above all else it wants to feel good, seeking spiritual experiences and highs, basing its entire view of God on such experiences. Faith lasts only as long as the feeling lasts. Concern for others is directly proportional to the gratitude and admiration received in return. Love for enemies or ungrateful people is never attempted.

I recognize myself in each of these descriptions. Do you?

Jesus, our Lord and our example, was a stunningly emotional man. He felt compassion (Matthew 9:36, Luke 7:13), indignation (Matthew 23:13-15), anger (John 2:15), joy (Luke 10:21), love (John 15:9), anguish (Luke 22:44). These verses, of course, are only a small sample. Looking at Jesus teaches us how to feel, purely, in a way that magnifies God and does real good for others.

Looking at him teaches us how to think in that way, too. He said, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I came into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). He loved truth and hated lies. He engaged the leaders and thinkers of his day on technical issues of the law, not for the sake of debate, but for the sake of representing God accurately. He based his commitment to the Father and to his work of salvation not on a fleeting feeling or for the purpose of personal fulfillment – everyone he loved abandoned him, God the Father himself abandoned him while he hung on the cross – but on his steady, unshakable love for sinful people.

Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). Loving God is not purely a head thing; it’s not purely a heart thing. It is a beautiful combination of both. God asks for nothing less than our whole selves; head, heart, and all.