“I don’t know what the heart of a bad man is like, but I do know what the heart of a good man is like and it is terrible,” so says a Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev.
I do wonder myself, what does a good man look like? Has he no temper? Is he perpetually patient? Is he consistently kind, polite and gracious? What is he like in private when no one sees him? What are his thoughts then? Is he free from lust, hatred, doubts, anger, and pride? If no man is righteous, how does a man who comes closest to being righteous conduct himself? How does he think, talk and act?
Another Russian novelist Aleksandr Sozhenitsyn once wrote this about the human heart, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds; and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
I have been on Facebook for a few years now, and while the postings in my news feed are interesting, what interests me even more are the commentary section of every post. I realize that everyone of us has an opinion. Some touch-and-go views. And others are strongly held, stubbornly protected and boldly pursued. Without fail, the hot-button issues are always religion and politics. I guess those professions/vocations are naturally held in high esteem in our society and the expectations of them are unavoidably high.
Every pastor and politician are held to a high standard of value, virtue and valor and we as followers and voters are scarce to imagine them as anything less than what we have in our hearts hoped them to be. For us, they represent the paragon of character and principles and we can’t think of them as anything less. Even Donald Trump is currently riding with narcissistic grandeur on the moral and messianic high horse and I occasionally pray hard for democracy to come to her senses before it is too late (you see, another strong opinion expressed).
My point again returns to the two Russian novelists' quotes above for even the heart of a good man is terrible and the question is: “are we willing to destroy a piece of our own heart?” (where the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being).
I guess it is easy to say that no man is perfect, but do those who profess it truly believe it (or are we using it as a front to project false humility)? Even admired personalities of history are flawed in their own ways. Winston Churchill was a callous imperialist and an invertebrate racist, Gandhi was a misogynist and engaged in odd sexual experiments, and Mother Teresa was accused of hypocrisy and some doctors called her care centers “home for the dying” due to its deplorable conditions (while she convalesced in a sanitized upper-class hospital). And please don’t get me started with the Catholic sex abuses and how the Cardinals had covered it up by transferring offending priests from one parish to another. So much for good men (women) and their heart?
Alas, we are all looking for a hero, a role model, a mentor, a trusted leader, a pure reformer, an exemplar of virtues, an adulterated character, a stellar referee, and an honest parishioner, but what this fallen world has to offer is way below the ideals that we all unflinchingly hold on to. And strangely, once we had reposed our trust (and devotion) on a particular leader or preacher, we as their undying fan seemed to view them with rose-tinted glasses. In other words, to us, they can do no wrong. Even if they were off the mark in their speech or preaching and in deeds and conduct, we readily overlook, marginalize, sweep under the rug, forgive and forget, justify, and rationalize their faults (even heretical stand) away.
We tend to forget the words written in Romans 3:10-18: “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.”
Hey, wait a minute, isn’t Apostle Paul talking about the lost – those without God? Sure he is. The lost are lost because they are without God. But are the “found” really living a life so different from the lost? Are the new creation really new or is it a case of new wine poured into old wine-skins?
Well, whether it is openly admitted or not, the line dividing good and evil still cuts through the heart of every human being. In fact, if you bear with me, the founder of the religion of Satan, Anton Szandor Lavey, once wrote this: “On Saturday night, I would see men lusting after half-naked girls dancing at the carnival and on Sunday morning when I was playing organ for tent show evangelists at the other end of the carnival lot, I would see these same men sitting in the pews with their wives and children asking God to forgive and purge them of carnal desires. And the next Sunday night they’d be back at the carnival or some other place of indulgence. I knew then that the Christian Church thrives on hypocrisy and that man’s carnal nature will (come) out no matter how much is purged or scourged by any white light religion.”
Although I find this observation woefully incomplete (not so much that Anton Lavey is far from being a shining role model of the society), I can’t deny that hypocrisy is somewhat prevalent in all organizations (in particular, or sadly, more so the Church due to the high moral stakes held by the custodians of our conscience).
I write this not to divide or discourage anyone here, but my earnest intention is to confront the reality that many wish to sideline so as to focus on the more glorifying aspect of their faith like amazing grace, heavenly worship, eternal life and bountiful blessings. Personally, I don’t think we can make much progress in our journey of faith if we dismiss, ignore, trivialize or suppress our carnal self or fallen nature. The truth about it is usually more than meets the eye. Billy Graham once said that more than 75% of us believers fell because of sexual temptation.
I am not suggesting that we give our supposedly crucified old man more attention than it deserves. I am suggesting that we stop pretending that he is dead when he is clearly not. Religiosity is in fact the greatest cover-up of an outward change with scarcely any inward transformation to show in the long run.
A journalist (William Lobdell) once interviewed Benny Hinn at the Four Seasons and this was how the interview went: “He (Benny Hinn) admitted that even one of his daughters, then 11, had a difficult time figuring him out: “One day she asked me a question that absolutely blew me away – from my own child! “Daddy, who are you? That man up there (onstage), I don’t know.” If my own child is asking that, surely the whole world is asking that.” He (Benny Hinn) told me he had a heart condition that God hadn’t cured and his parents had suffered serious medical problems. “That is very difficult for me because I told my daddy to believe,” Hinn said. “But he died. Now I don't know why….My mom has diabetes, my daddy died with cancer. That’s life.””
For me, on a deeply disconcerting level, that is the raw reality that some mega-churches refuse to deal with (or endeavor to insulate their members from). The members only listen to the rosy side of the faith that the preachers want them to hear. They frontload the wealth and health bits, force down their throats everlasting love and assured prosperity, and turn the God of the universe into their personal butler waiting on them hands and feet, but when it comes to confronting sins (lust, pride, contempt, emotional divorce, unforgiveness and seething envy) and the darkness of the soul which manifests itself in doubt, uncertainty and anxiety, the solution is to ride on a wing and a prayer. Believe. Hope. Have faith. Declared righteous. And then come back next Sunday for another feel-good message of complacent triumphalism.
At this juncture, I think the parable of the prodigal son speaks most intimately to me about the human heart and its condition. And yes, I am talking about the other prodigal son, the elder son. While we are familiar with the younger son’s rebellion and repentance, it is the other son that most of us ought to readily (or quietly) identify with.
First, his piety to the father is all about work or servitude. He said, “Lo, these many years I have been serving you.” He has clearly forgotten that all that belongs to his father’s are his. He therefore lived with insecurity, discontentment and rage. And second, he was a sinner who thought that he was a saint. He told his father, “I never transgressed your commandment.” He demonstrated an outward change that is devoid of an inward transformation - new wine into old wineskin.
One author, Ronald Rolheiser of “Sacred Fire” wrote this: “…the famous parable of the prodigal son and his older brother can serve as a paradigm for this: the prodigal son, illustrating the first half of life, is very much caught up in the fiery energies of youth and is, metaphorically, struggling with the devil; the older brother, illustrating the second half of life, struggling instead with resentment, anger, and jealousy, is, metaphorically and in reality, wrestling with God.” That about sums up the struggles of a Christian on his journey to via dolorosa ("the way of grief").
Alas, there is little here left to write except to return to the two quotes I first started with. In a nutshell, it is about the human heart. It is the condition we all struggle with. It is a lifetime struggle. There is no cure for it. In this epic struggle, some of us will mature and grow and some will give in to our carnal desires. And both struggles happen to the same lifetime at different seasons of that life. At one phrase of our life, we struggle with the devil to rebel against God (the younger son). And at the other phrase, we wrestle with God to give in to the devil (the elder son).
In the book “No one sees God: The dark night of Atheists and Believers”, Michael Novak wrote about this struggle: “Biblical faith demands putting childhood behind, and adolescence, and the busy-ness of young adulthood. It requires an appetite for bravery for going into unknown territories alone to wrestle against inner demons, and a willingness to experience darkness, if darkness comes. Faith is not for those who seek only man-made pleasures.”
At this point, I can’t tell if some mega-churches have conditioned their members to seek only the “man-made pleasures” of prosperity and blessings to such excess that they have left their members little to draw upon when they go through their own shadowland of doubts and despair. Let's just hope that we all recognize that the longest journey may be from the head to the heart, but the toughest struggle yet is to transform our heart for God. Cheerz.