We've all heard variations of the expression, "Under that gruff exterior lies a heart of gold." It sort of goes with the old standby "Don't judge a book by its cover." The idea being that the ugly, drab, rough exterior often covers something beautiful. I understand the attraction to these idioms. There is a suggestion of hope, an implication that things are not always as bad as they seem. We like those stories. We like to find our heroes and heroines in unlikeable people whose likeability increases the more we come to know them. We like them almost as much as we like stories about 'underdogs' transforming into 'wonderdogs' but why? Because we are enamored by the prospect of being loved despite our unlovable character flaws and with winning against the odds. How else do we account for the number of people playing the lottery and the ever increasing self-help and self-acceptance industry? There are billion dollar industries banking on our predilections for ourselves and our desire for happiness. Sadly, cheap grace and Jesus junk are trying to get their piece of the pie.
It would be really easy for me to chime in on the Rob Bell controversy as an example of what happens when we care more about soothing ourselves than saving souls. He's hawking a very attractive notion that hell isn't available to those who don't care to go there. Bell is the disease of the weak (week). He's the next Joel Osteen. What these men teach are symptoms or the next mutation of a pervasive malaise that plagues the church- that God needs us and wants us to be happy. Easy believism. Fire insurance. I believe in Jesus. I have been good. A loving God wouldn't send anyone to hell. It's all about us. What we want and what think God should do. We get to impose our standards on Almighty God. Really?
None of us, not even the most reformed or orthodox believer, live consistently or congruently with our beliefs. If we did we would live in sinless perfection, which the bible clearly states is not happening this side of heaven (1 John 1:8; Psalm 143:2; Eccl 7:20; Romans 3:23). We are called to live according to God's standards. He made us with a thought and he can take us out the same way. We do not get to dictate to Him how He gets to run the universe and He makes that abundantly clear in Job 38. So why is it that we have such difficulty getting it through our heads that we are not necessary to God's survival? He wasn't lacking anything and decided to make us for some company. He does not pander to our wants. He supplies our needs. Why then can't we spot the problems in what an Osteen or Bell have to say? Because most of us never get below the surface of anything. We take what we see and hear as gospel if it makes us feel better... no matter how little sense it makes or contrary it is to the Word.
Beneath our gruff exterior lies a heart that is desperately wicked and deceitful above all things and we let that heart carry us away to what we love best, sin and ourselves (Jeremiah 17:9; James 1:14-15). We want to excuse our behaviors on our bad day, lack of sleep, difficult childhoods, etc.. All surface level observations. We need to get off the surface and go deep. God instructs us that our behaviors stem from our hearts. Our situations in life- the trials; the tribulations; the challenges; the sorrows and the joys are all the fabric or canvas where we paint a self-portrait of our souls. We display the depth of our hearts in the day to day issues of life. Don't like the way your portrait is turning out? Be encouraged, if the Holy Spirit lives within you, He is transforming your heart.
Post Script: If you want to read about Rob Bell and his recycled heresy of the weak or week... some good places to start are here, here and here. Or listen here.
Prov 28:26 He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered.
26 "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
27 "And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
2 Corinthians 3:18
18 But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.