If you make faith about obtaining the right answers and adopting a so-called righteous persona, a couple things will likely result if you happen to get there…
For one, the nature of life is such that, one day, you’ll come to find that your strongly held right answers were actually wrong. At least a little wrong. But far more often, very wrong.
Second, having those firm ‘answers’ and obtaining a sense of righteousness will only create a hard casing that preserves your hardened heart.
(Trust me, I’m speaking from experience.)
Here’s one of the things I believe Jesus was getting at…
At the end of the day, whatever your ‘faith’ is, if it doesn’t soften your heart, it’s done you no good.
I’ve met a lot of seemingly righteous/knowledgable people who, inside, carry hearts as brittle as stone. They don’t cuss. They dress in respectable clothing. They give to charity. They attend church every Sunday (along with their perfectly behaved kids).
But that facade of righteousness is so... taut. They don’t speak about their shortcomings or failures. There’s not a lot of humor involved in their rhetoric. And when you share a wound or two of your own, they tend to slowly back away from you. Soon, they’re gone. With the other ‘good’ people over there.
And then I’ve met tattooed, death metal-listening atheists who smoke a lot of things and have never been to church, but have incredibly soft hearts (and are really funny, interesting people — especially compared to someone like me). Your car breaks down? They’re there. Have your kid with you? They’ll have your kid laughing to the point of peeing themselves in seconds. When you offer your shortcomings to them, they draw closer and are not ashamed to look you in the eye.
(Now, there are plenty of tattoo-donning, stuff-smoking atheists who also have hearts of stone, don’t get me wrong.)
Here’s what I’m getting at…
We don’t need more people with answers in the world. We need softer and more vibrant human hearts.
It’s like the smarter and more productive we get as a culture, the more brittle our hearts become (as well as our nerves). It shows in the statistics.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not one to speak. I mean, I’m right there with the ‘righteous’ ones above. My biases may be different, but I have plenty of ‘em. I always start with a hard heart. I judge people from afar. I silence my phone at night (if your car breaks down, sorry, you’re on your own). I look sideways at people with opposing political views.
Apparently, my beliefs and so-called right answers can’t soften this heart of mine.
It’s funny — even as I write this, I notice…
By condemning the hard-hearted and self-righteous, aren’t I, in a way, being self-righteously hard-hearted myself?
Do you see the self-perpetuating cycle of this? We humans can’t do anything about it. Because as soon as we do, we find ourselves playing the same game!
This is where grace comes into the picture...
Grace has nothing to do with you and me. It originates from another source that’s bigger than our small, frightened, and limited personal selves.
Because when I get done judging and condemning (others or myself), eventually, something happens inside. Something shifts and my heart softens (it’s a physical thing — I can actually feel it happen).
Now, it helps if I can find the wherewithal to stop the grinding of my internal gears — to just pause and offer my nonsense up to this bigger-thing (I’ll go ahead and call it God). But as far as the softening goes — that never comes from me. Sorry, it just doesn’t.
I see Jesus as a metaphysical cardiologist. A heart softener of the highest order. Too bad our modern world has thrown his message out with the bathwater that our ancestors muddied up for us.
There’s so much to learn on this path. I pray my heart never hardens as I walk down it.
May God’s grace keep it returning to a soft and vibrant place — even after I try my hardest to stiffen it along the way.