18They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. 19No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, "Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?" 20 He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, "Is there not a lie in my right hand?" --Isaiah 44:18-20
We live in the time of the self-made man, when cliches such as “knowledge is power,” “you have to earn my respect,” “I'm just not happy,” have become a battle cry of the heart to seek a better way and a better life. Talk show hosts bleat cliches about "doing what's right for you" and finding one's "true happiness;" pop-psychologists spout self-fulfilling slogans and mottos in magazines pasted with voluptuously seductive, confident women and muscle bound spartans poised as immovable titans, both in a vacuous white context nowhere near the likes of the world that dwarfs mankind with swelling oceans, thunderous cataracts, or rugged mountains abounding with life-crushing precipices. Men and women write books on leadership, self-claimed oracles that prescribe the means to move hundreds or billions of people toward a self-crafted vision.
Man's thirst for significance and search for meaning are alive and well, as is his lust for power. But the two are not the same at all.
Hidden under the touted cliches of a self-made, self-fulfilling world is a truth that all take for granted, and none can deny: “Also He has put eternity in their hearts.”
But the cloak that obscures even the eyes of the Church has hidden this great truth in philosophies that scale from the simple postulate of the goodness of a “self-made man,” to the complex economical and political jargon that fills the mind with ideas but leaves the heart empty.
At the core of this is a strange correlation between thinking and being—a correlation that finds its origins in the imago dei (image of God) whereby we are irrevocably renderings of the One who spoke, and it was so; at the core is a truth that the world and the Church have not considered well in spite of the warnings of Christ himself when he told us:
For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person. --Mark 7:21-23
At the root of His warning is a long-forgotten truth that we are indelibly imprinted with the imago dei, something seldom acknowledged in its purity: everything we do begins in our hearts, in our spirits; even the world as we see it is the result of an inclination of the heart. What we have called subjectivism is really not subjective at all, but rather a strange, misunderstood capability of men and women to shape the world around them beginning with a movement of heart and spirit. We have a very profound impact on the world around us, beginning with our own attitude of heart.
Inextricably bound to this truth, however, is a simple limitation: as images of God, we are authoritatively bound to the One whose image we bear, and through the work of Christ, that glue of that binding is Christ Himself:
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’? 35 If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside— 36 what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? --John 10:34-36
18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. --Romans 5:18-19
Our very essence and life is bound up with the One who stamped us with His image and breathed life into us. Far from being a crutch to the suffering, God is the very air we breath and the life-blood that courses through our veins, for "in Him we live and move and have our being."
But we have made our idols by the fatness of the land. One third of the world (the civilized world) now glories in self-satisfied fatness where treacherous acts of adultery and sodomy are an everyday affair; men and women pursuing pleasure at the expense of their souls and the souls of their children. Instead of waiting on God, they have thrust themselves forward into a man-centered vision of the 'good life,' exchanging “the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.”
In the other two thirds of the world, mankind commits themselves to striving through unapologetic murder and rape to a position of dominance. Warlords kill simply to display power.
In the first case, mankind forgets both the Giver and the purpose of pleasure, forgetting also that the Giver's definition of violence extends to to the adultereras clearly as it extends to the murderer; in the second case the murderer forgets that he commits his acts of violence directly against the Holy One of Israel. In both cases we have forgotten the stern warning that every act of treachery is a personal effrontery to the Living God, and is produces a drop in the cup of God's wrath, a cup patiently witheld for now, but irrevocably destined to be poured out in fury upon mankind.
Mankind still chooses between Gerazim and Ebal, and the outcome is still blessing or anathema. We chose His way, and our hearts, though sinful yet, are bound to His authority and provision; we chose our own way, and we descend into the snarling, groveling world of hell-bent self-destruction. The first the glory and stregnth of the one who wholeheartedly walks with God in despite even valleys of bitterness and death; the second the life of toil and chasing after the wind, resulting in everything from the bloody shock and awe world of Alexander to the solipsistic, melancholy pathos of an Emily Dickenson.
The hinge point on which we swing is not creativity, nor ability, nor education, nor power, nor authority—but all of what we are and are to become pivots on this one point: we will submit our heart to the One who formed us and gives us life, or we will thrust aside His offer and create our own gehenna.
In more concrete terms we will obey Him in the typical temptations of life and in the vocation He has appointed, or we will wander into self-destruction. The ten commandments are not simply a charge, but are a battle plan. God tells us, up-front, what the enemy will try to use to distract and overcome us. Pair this with God's warning to Cain in Genesis, and the context of our lives becomes clear: sin crouches at our door, ready to spring; if we do not take an active role to submit to God, gain strength for the fight, and grapple with this epic enemy, our lives are forfeit. That man or girl who evinces a thrill through the slight brush of hands or deeply meaningful exchange of looks; the sporty red BMW that you cannot dismiss so easily from your mind; the 'idiot' driver who offends you to the point of murderous thought; even the casual comparison of a neighbor's yard to one's own—these are all the simple challenges to attitude: will I follow my way or His?
We need the empowerment of Jesus' salvation from without and within. For while the enemy without assualts us with temptations, the traitor within calls us to second guess our decisions and question the autenticity of our joy. Both crouch in wait to steal our joy, but Christ said that we “shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set [us] free.” Our cry for freedom is not just on account of an enemy who relentlessly accuses us, but because of a broken conscience within that robs us of the joy God intends for us right here and right now.
A word of caution here regarding sins of the past. For those reading this that mourn their past sins (as so many of us do), let me offer you some counsel and encouragment. God's pathway to blessing is always forward. Examine Ezekiel 33:10-20 very closely. Decisions of the past may have lead me by a certain way to the place I am right now, but God's plan for me is in the here-and-now, and nowhere on a secondary path I could have taken at some fixated juncture in my life. The way is forward, and never back, and the way forward to life is always God's way and not my own. Anything else is not from Him. If we obey Him, we obey Him NOW to make our lives better NOW, not casting a wistful (covetous) eye backward on what could have made our lives 'happier.' God's blessing are now and forever for those who submit to his easy yoke and light burden. This has always been His way, and is one of the foundational reasons why there are no tears in Heaven.
In one word, 'submission,' we can find life and joy. Why would we choose any other way?