Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Hardening of the Heart

Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. The devotional is indented.

Uphold me with a willing spirit. Psalm 51:12

Could there be a scarier spiritual dynamic than the hardening of the heart? Could anything be sadder to watch than 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.
An amazing capacity to deceive ourselves – If we really believe that, we will be very careful in what we allow to influence us. The gateway of our eyes, ears and senses need to be protected. Small compromises lead to huge disasters.

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.
The progressive movement starts with the small movement; the little thing that causes a prick of conscience but is ignored or suppressed. Next time it’s easier and we sink a little deeper.

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?
There a lot of things in this story left unsaid. What kind of woman was Bathsheba who bared her body in a place where someone like David could see. Is she like the women today who prance about with breasts mostly exposed and clothes so tight or revealing that little is left to the imagination? How hard was it to persuade her to come and hang out with the king?

Did David see her one time or was her bathing a ritual that he observed on other occasions? Did he give in right away or did he turn away and then come back for another peek. My guess was that it wasn’t a big fall all at once. I imagine that he gave into the small things that became bigger things that enabled him to become very public in his actions in ways such as enlisting a servant to bring her to his bedroom.

As you read the story, at each point 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 awakening David from his self-deception, it becomes the occasion of even deeper and greater sin.
Today we would have another quick solution for David that also leads to murder – abortion. An appointment could have been made that would have taken care of the problem and no one would have known.

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 that sin now 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.
So Uriah was aborted and David marries Bathsheba. Talk about a dysfunctional situation; what kind of woman marries the killer of her husband? It’s clear that sin marred both of their lives. Did they somehow think that after all this they were going to live happily-ever-after?

Don’t we see the same today in adulterous situations where deception and scheming are essential? The lovers run around in darkness as families are destroyed. Children are sacrificed to the power of lust. When the dust settles, the couple goes on only to act surprised when one of them repeats the behavior with someone else.

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.
As I think about this I see that we can’t do it by ourselves. We are no match for the deceptive power of sin. We need God’s power and we need good friends who will grab us by the neck when they see us straying. When things are good we need to give friends like these access to our lives – we sure won’t when we are on the way down. They can see what is normal and if things start to go bad they will know.

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 becomes hard, the system of internal restraint that keeps one pure ceases to function as it was designed to function, and we say yes to that which God has called us to say no.

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.
And just like David, we need community; God never intended for us to live alone. Victory comes as we join with the ones He has placed around us; the Lone Ranger is a myth.

A question from the meditation

Where has your conscience grown hard to something that ought to prick and trouble it? Conversely, is there a place where you have been unwilling to do what God is calling you to do?
Where am I blind to the answers? Can I even see when my heart is hard? Is the answer I would give only a smokescreen to hide what is really going on? I need friends and I need you Lord.


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