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Sunday, 16 February 2014

Can we know...any human heart?

I suggested in my last post that we cannot know our own hearts. That is why we have to ask God to search it for us. One thing we can know for sure about ourselves is that our hearts are deceitful (Jer.17:9) - this is not so much about wickedness or total depravity, but simply the universal tendency to fool ourselves, to believe our own publicity, to hide behind our self-made masks. (And we can't duck out of this so easily by supposing the new heart we receive as part of the new covenant deal removes this tendency automatically or immediately - even a cursory reading of the New Testament should remove that illusion). I share this not to encourage despair in ourselves but dependence on God and mercy towards each other. It need not discourage transparency because part of transparency is acknowledging this tendency in a frank, open-hearted and good-humoured way. True intimate friendship with God (because he is the kind of friend who can inflict the loving wounds that reveal our folly) is the best protection against this self-delusion.

But this reflection over recent months has caused me to think more about the greater foolishness when we suppose we can know and judge what is going on in another human heart. Some of us have often done this in the past and called it 'discernment'. And when we told the said person what we thought was going on in their heart we called it 'speaking into their lives.' I am not talking about mutual instruction and encouragement in God's good ways, or even godly confrontation when a friend's actions, words, or blatantly obvious bad attitudes are causing them to fall far short of their true identity in Christ. I am talking abut those times when we presume to know and judge what is going on in another human heart - despite its complexity, messiness, ambiguity and depth. When we do this it is like presuming to do keyhole surgery with a machete or broad sword. I have had this done to me and I know I have also done it to others in the past.

And every time we say 'well they are only saying that because....' or 'that's just typical of them' we are indulging in it. You may sometimes be right about a person's weakness of shortfall, but that is not the point. There may well be a problem that requires surgery but that does not qualify you to conduct the operation. And it does not take great wisdom to see weakness; it is the ability to see beyond the weakness to the amazing potential within that is true wisdom. There may be a precious few friends who invite us to help them try to understand what is going on in their internal worlds and, if they do, we should tremble as we tread on to this holy ground. I cringe when I think of the times that I have stomped over the hearts of others and still smart from the times others did it to me. 

What if we could create communities when all we did was love each other unconditionally and just looked for the best in each other, largely ignoring the faults and weaknesses, and certainly not supposing we can know what was going on in people's hearts? What if our default response was just to encourage the good that we see, with the confidence that such kindness, encouragement and grace was the best way to disinfect our environments so that people felt able to open their hearts and allow the divine surgeon to do the operating.

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