Don’t let your heart become unbreakable

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

C.S. Lewis

The supernatural awakening

We are happy when we have what we want. The natural state of man, however, wants glory for self. That is the root of his happiness. The great portion of his life is spent accumulating comfort, status, reputation, possessions, pleasure—all of which will make him happy, to a degree. But there is a kind of man whose root of happiness has been removed from self and implanted in Christ. His joy is not based on himself, but on God’s glory. What he wants more than anything is not self-glory, but God’s glory. He wants to see it, to know it, and spread it. The natural man wants to see his own glory, know his own glory, and talk about his glory. This kind of love for God is not something a natural person can attain to; it is birthed by supernatural operations. The man who has been supernaturally awakened to the glory of Christ will be fundamentally different from the natural man—the highest experience of his joy will be when he’s lost in God’s greatness.

Why do bad things happen to good people? PART THREE

We started a series this week that aims to answer one of life’s most daunting questions. This is a kind of theodicy– an effort to give an answer to the problem of evil in our world. I named the series “Why do bad things happen to good people” because that’s the way the question is typically asked (even though I don’t agree with the implications inherent in the question).

Each post is a point that builds upon the previous point. So if you’re just starting today, go back and read the introduction and parts one and two. It will put this point in context and clarify what I’m saying. Here’s the previous posts:

Monday: Where We’re Going

Tuesday: There is no such thing as a “good” person. All we enjoy is pure, unmerited grace.

Wednesday: The highest good in the universe is God’s exaltation, and therefore everything God does is toward that end.

Today:

The highest good, which is God’s self-exaltation, is also God’s greatest act of love.

As I mentioned in the last post, God is heaven-bent on garnering glory to his name. It is inherent in everything he does. And he unabashedly declares it throughout Scripture.

Believers and unbelievers alike struggle with this. And the reason we struggle with this is because we think that it’s impossible for God to be loving and self-exalting at every turn.

How can God say, “Glorify me! Magnify my name! Worship me!” and be loving? Like I said yesterday, if I were to make such statements I would be called a megalomaniac.  I would be self-absorbed and vain. How come God says these things, and it’s okay?

We must understand SOME things to reconcile these truths about God.

1. The modern understanding of love is not biblical.

We tend to think that love is something that someone does to us to make us feel good. With today’s understanding of love, spanking your child is unloving because it hurts the child. Confronting harmful behavior is unloving and intolerant because it reveals the failure of another person. According to this system of thought, love always sweeps the issue under the rug. But that’s not the biblical version of love.

If a husband is addicted to alcohol and the habit is ruining his family and his kids are in danger of being abused, would it be loving of his friend to let him enjoy his scotch until he squanders his money, wallows in guilt for the remainder of his life and dies? No. The true friend would slap him around so he realizes the seriousness of his problem. And when we start talking about an almighty, omnipotent God we have to really be careful. What is the best way that God loves us? Is God’s love simply making us feel good about ourselves?

Obviously it’s not. The whole point of the gospel is to make us feel so bad about ourselves that we look to God for salvation.

What, then, is love?

What does the love of God look like?

Love can be defined something like this: Love is doing whatever it takes to do what will make someone happy forever.

If we’re talking about the biblical love, we have to think in terms of eternity. What will be eternally loving? In the short term, sweeping an issue under the carpet may seem loving, but from eternity’s perspective, it may actually be harmful. Wouldn’t it be more eternally loving to confront sin so that it gets dealt with, rather than leaving it to fester or hinder?

So when God loves, he’s working from an eternal perspective. He wants to make us happy forever. Not for a day. Not for 72 years. He wants you happy forever.

What will make us happy forever?

2. God garners glory by self-revelation.

Yesterday’s point was that God is radically dedicated to his own glory. The way God goes about garnering this glory is by revealing himself so that people will see him and worship. God revealed himself by acting in history in the Old Testament (1 Corinthians 10:1-11). He revealed himself by taking the form and likeness of a man and living among us (Hebrews 1:2-3). He reveals himself through his Word (2 Peter 1:21). He reveals himself through the church (Ephesians 3:10).

Human beings are worship factories, built to worship something. Sadly, most of our worship is monopolized by petty hobbies and self-gratification. But we were made to worship God. Fully worshiping God is the most satisfying and fulfilling experience a human being can have. Worship is enjoying God. Here’s the key: we can only enjoy God to the extent that he reveals himself to us. The more we see the character of God in all its fullness– the holiness of God, the greatness of God, the majesty of God,etc, we will be drawn to worship. There is no deeper joy than worship. Nothing so satisfies the human soul as intimacy with God.

If God was not relentlessly seeking to exalt himself, he would be holding from us the only thing that could make us happy forever. The most loving act God does toward the world is self-exaltation. When God reveals himself to the world, he unveils the most glorious and attractive and satisfying object in the universe.

And that is loving.

“In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11

God’s pursuit of glory is inherently loving because what God is seeking to put on display is the most beautiful and fulfilling thing in the world; namely, himself. Thus, our deepest longings are satisfied when the highest good is accomplished. God gets the glory and we get the joy.

* * *

Tomorrow might be the most controversial post I’ve ever written. Hope you don’t tune out.

Friday:

Point Four: The highest good (God’s exaltation) and our highest joy (worship) could not have been accomplished if evil had not entered the world.

Head, Heart, Hands– Don’t Forget the Heart

I think I was in Sunday School as a boy when I learned the “head, heart, hands” saying that describes how God’s Word should affect our lives. It is a great way to show how knowledge is the spring from which obedience flows. Each of the three parts toward obedience is necessary; eliminating any single one is dangerous. In this post I want to examine the danger that skips the heart aspect of obedience.

It’s very clear that the Bible commands certain conditions of the heart. I can list countless verses where we are commanded to feel a certain way– perhaps most popularly the shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Love is an emotion. “Rejoice in the Lord with all your heart. I will say it again: rejoice!” Joy is an emotion.

The way to get around this is the redefine love. And this is how Christians do it: they say God can’t command emotions because emotions are spontaneous and transient– coming and going without our command– and God wouldn’t command us to do something out of our capacity to obey. So love, then, is no longer an emotion, it’s an action. Loving God isn’t having affection for God, it’s doing things for God. It’s reading the Bible. It’s going to church. It’s praying. It’s serving. And it’s all justifiable because it’s impossible to feel love for God every single day.

I can’t tell you how many Christians buy that. Too many. So these things become to equivalent of love. And the true nature of love is lost. Suddenly you are able to love God without liking him very much. And the fact that you are a joyless person isn’t a big deal because, after all, you are going to church, reading your Bible, and giving your tithe.

One way they further illustrate how love is not an emotion is by speaking of marriage. It’s kinda like marriage, they say. “You won’t always feel love for your spouse, but love means you stay committed, you work it out, you make it through.” We equate love with service, commitment, and sacrifice. While I agree with the first statement, that we won’t always feel love for our spouses, I don’t go so far then to redefine love as simply “staying committed”. But that is what love is for many Christians and many spouses.

Why are we so ready to believe that God wouldn’t command an emotion, believing that God wouldn’t command something we aren’t able to control? God commands us to be born-again (John 3:3) and the new birth is a gift from the Spirit (John 3:8). God commands us to repent (Matt. 4:17) and repentance is described as something granted to us (2 Tim. 2:25). Paul calls us to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20), but he also tells us it is God who justifies (Rom. 8:33). Why do we think it strange that God would command spontaneous (as opposed to conjured up) emotions such as love, joy, humility, fervor, hatred (toward sin), or peace?

I’ll show you why love can’t be defined as service, commitment, or even sacrifice. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

You can speak nicely to someone without loving them. You can be a brilliant person without loving people. And here’s the kicker: you can die for another person and not necessarily be a loving person. Here the line is drawn– love is not words, love is not knowledge, love is not even service, commitment, or sacrifice. Love is, well, love. Love likes.

God is commanding your heart to be a certain way. To feel certain way about things. There’s no getting around it. And the  reason God does that is precisely because it’s impossible for us to succeed apart from his changing power.

Here’s the scariest consequence of skipping heart and go straight from head to hands.  This scariest consequence is this:

We might succeed.

And if we succeed in becoming obedient, nice, churchy people (without serious heart-change) we will become self-righteous, joyless, stagnant Christians.

Because the message of the gospel is not simply “behave.” It’s not know what to do, now do it.

Why? Because once full obedience is accomplished we will think we’ve arrived. We may not say it that way, but we will act that way. We will be satisfied with avoiding the sins of infidelity and perjury and cheating on your taxes. And we will stop looking after our souls. And if the church succeeds in creating this kind of culture, it will succeed in something extremely dangerous. C.S. Lewis once said,

We must not suppose that if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world.

Head, heart, hands. Don’t skip the heart part. You might succeed and have no further need of the cross.