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Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Inward Eye

In the fantasy novel The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip, one of the main characters, Sybel, plots revenge. She is given a veiled warning when she is told “The giant Grof was hit in one eye by a stone, and that eye turned inward so that it looked into his mind and he died of what he saw there.” The implication behind the warning is that what he saw inside himself was so revolting that it caused his death. Because of that warning, Sybel eventually abandons her revengeful plot after examining her own heart. She finally came to understand that had her plot been successful it not only would have destroyed her enemies, but it also would have destroyed her own soul.

The prophet Jeremiah warns us that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” (Jer 17:9). He gives us a warning to abandon our evil ways. We aren’t really as good as we like to think we are. The apostle Paul points to the same difficulty when he states that he doesn’t do the good he wants to do, but continually does the evil he doesn’t want to do. (Romans 7:15-25). Both Paul and Jeremiah had looked inward and understood who they really were. They both saw themselves as sinners, being unable to follow the just demands of a holy God. They both understood human nature. They also understood that God had to provide the solution to the problem of sin in their lives. On their own, they could never succeed. Paul concludes that trying to do it on our own only makes us more pathetic.

It is too easy for us to gloss over the real us. We paint a distorted picture of ourselves. We like to think of ourselves as being good people. We compare our selves with others. We are like the Pharisee who prayed “Thank you God that I am not like that sinner over there.” If we are better than they are, whoever the “They” might be, we must be OK. But we aren’t OK. We lose sight of the fact that God has an absolute standard of justice, not a relative one. And when we really take a serious look at our inner thoughts we find a different picture. We do have evil thoughts and desires that we have difficulty keeping under control. Our thoughts are often much worse than our actions. These undesired thoughts keep popping up in our minds. We find that we constantly need help to control them. We find that we can’t control them on our own. Measured against God’s standard we come up short.

This is the point where God intervenes in our lives and transforms us. The apostle Paul says that this is where God rescues us from our dilemma through the death and resurrection of Jesus. But the process must begin with our own self examination. We must recognize who we are as we stand before a holy God – a sinner who has violated His holy standard again and again – a sinner in need of His grace. We must confess this to Him and ask for forgiveness. But in order for us to accept His grace, we must first know that we truly need it. We must first recognize and understand who we really are. This requires taking a realistic hard look at ourselves. I wonder, if we turn our eye inward and look at the thoughts of our heart, if we explore the depths of our soul, what will we really find there?

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