EHR 4: Explore the Iceberg
11/5/2017 12:20:47 AM
October 29, 2017
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Psalm 139:21-24
A couple years ago, Megan and I were outside playing. I think Megan was 2, maybe she was 3. Either way, she was barefoot. Suddenly, she said, “Ouch!” and she sat down on the deck steps. I came and looked at the bottom of her foot. I saw 3 little, dark lines on the ball of her foot. She had 3 little splinters from some plant.
I was able to grab one of the splinters with my fingers and pull it out. That didn’t feel good! Megan started to withdraw her foot. I told her she needed to hold still. Then I tried getting the next one. I couldn’t get it.
So we came inside. I got some tweezers. At this point Megan was starting to cry. I tried with the tweezers to get the splinters. I couldn’t get either one. Megan started to cry even more.
I texted Amy. She came home. We took turns holding Megan, trying to calm her, while the other person tried to get the splinters out. It didn’t work. We tried icing her foot. Didn’t help. Eventually, we decided we had to take her to a walk-in clinic.
At the clinic, the Doctor put a cream on the bottom of Megan’s foot to numb it. At this point, though, she was totally freaked out when anybody came near her foot. She kicked and screamed. We held her hard. Amy tried to soothe her while I tried to hold her. The Doctor had special tweezers he was trying to use. Eventually, he had to get a needle to poke into the skin to get to the splinter. Finally he got one out!
But there was still one in there. Megan was beside herself. Amy and I felt so guilty. We asked the Doctor if we could just leave the splinter, if it would work itself out. He commiserated with us, but said no, we had to get it out now. Otherwise it might get infected. It might work its way in deeper. Eventually, it might require surgery.
So Amy and I steeled ourselves again. We held Megan. Megan cried. The Doctor worked away on her foot. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, he had the final splinter out! We all cheered. Megan looked at us like we were the enemy. The Doctor gave her a couple lollipops. We went home, relieved that it was over.
It was difficult for Amy and I to make the right decision- to let the Doctor keep working on Megan’s foot. It was difficult for Megan to undergo the work. It was difficult for the Doctor to keep digging away at Megan’s soft, tiny foot with no callouses. But, as hard as it was, it was the right thing to do. If we hadn’t gotten those splinters out, there was no guarantee they would work themselves out, especially in a kid who would be walking and running around. There was a real danger of infection. The reality was that it would have been uncomfortable for Megan to walk on that foot as long as those splinters were in there.
This was a case of physical splinters in a child’s foot. I believe we all have spiritual and emotional splinters in our hearts. These spiritual and emotional splinters have worked their way in. They were not removed right away and they have caused infections and discomfort within us. I think most of the time we are not even aware we have a splinter in there. We just know there’s something tender, something swollen and sore, and we don’t let anybody or anything touch it. These splinters manifest themselves in anger, deep sadness or depression, anxiety, explosive behaviour or destructive behaviour.
When it comes to dealing with these splinters, it is very uncomfortable, even painful for us. We often panic like Megan did when we tried to remove the splinters from her foot. We often choose to live with these splinters instead of going through the trouble and pain of removing them. Because we usually don’t even know the splinter is in there, because it’s usually just a tender spot, we don’t even know that having the splinter removed is an option.
But, as God’s adopted children, being renewed in the image of Jesus, the Holy Spirit wants to do “surgery” on our hearts. The Spirit wants to get at those splinters and remove them.
In Scripture, the image of a splinter isn’t used. However, Scripture often talks about our hearts. Scripture makes repeated references to examining our hearts, purifying our hearts and the like. We are going to consult a number of these verses today, but our primary passage is taken from Psalm 139:21-24.
By way of context, this Psalm begins with David’s declaration of God’s majesty. David talks about God’s all-knowing attributes, that God knows all, sifts all and searches all. [Derek Kidner, Psalms, p. 436] Where can we go to hide from God? Nowhere, even going to the place of the dead God can still find us. Then David speaks of how wonderfully we have been made by God. God knew us even as we were being formed in the womb.
Then, in contrast to God’s majesty, David suddenly starts to ponder the problem of evil. This is where we pick up the Psalm at verse 21. Read along with me.
What It Says
What’s happening in this text? What’s going on here? As I mentioned, David begins this Psalm with the amazing character of God. How did he get to these angry words about hating those who hate God? It seems jarring.
David begins with God’s awe-inspiring holiness. He is shocked, then, that sin can to boldly boast in full view of God! How can that be? God is so marvellous, how can sin operate so openly? David’s anger is not spite for others, but zealous passion for God. This is a righteous anger! This is anger at sin and corruption in the world.
David, rightly, is not willing to put up with, partner with or turn a blind eye to the sin in the world around him and those who carry it out brazenly. David wants no part of it! Instead, he is zealous for God and God’s holiness. He is going to distance himself from God’s enemies. There is no room for compromise!
Oh, how often are we willing to compromise with evil and sin the world? How often do we turn a blind eye to sin, corruption and injustice in the world. We throw up our hands crying, “What can we do?” but we don’t hate the sin in the world the way David did.
David recognizes the sin in the world around him. Then he asks God to search out the sin within him. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
How often do we submit ourselves to this kind of examination? How often do we invite God to sift through our thoughts, to examine our feelings, to test our desires, to judge our preferences and to search our imaginations for anything offense in them?
David recognizes that not only is there sin “out there” but that there is sin “in here” too. And I think his passion to see sin eradicated “out there” is also being put to the test. In his zeal for God, is he sinning in his anger? He wants God to check. He wants God to ensure that his anger over sin doesn’t cause him to sin against those created in the image of God.
How do we handle out anger? Do we submit it to God to see if there is anything sinful in our anger? Or do we stuff our anger down inside? Or do we just explode in our anger and let the chips fall where they may? Or does our anger simmer inside us, leaking out in malice and contempt?
What It Means
What does it mean to have God search our hearts? What does it mean to ask God to test us and know our anxious thoughts? How do we follow God in the way everlasting?
First, consider David’s anger. David is angry at the evil around him and worried about the evil within him. As Christians, we have the advantage over David that we can bring our encounters with sin to the cross. David’s word about evil is not the final word. Jesus’ work on the cross had yet to be done. That is the final word on sin! And we are his ambassadors who are to carry that final word into the world. [Kidner, p. 32]
Post-cross, we are to love our enemies, to do good to them, to repay their evil with good and to seek their restoration and reconciliation between them and God. [Kidner, p. 32] Living before the cross, David didn’t have the redemption from Jesus Christ to look through at the evil in the world. His anger was righteous, but he didn’t have the cross to bring perspective on evil and its ultimate defeat.
So when it comes to the evil around us, we are to bring it to the cross, and then bring the cross to the evil. We are to bring the truth of the resurrected Lord to sin wherever we find it. We are to live out the love of Christ in the face of evil and thus overcome it.
But what about the evil within? What about the indwelling sin that resides in our hearts? When we
allow God to sift through our thoughts, when he examines our feelings and desires, what does he find there? What do we know is there? When we are confronted with the sin in our own hearts: our minds, feelings, desires, preferences and imaginations, what are we to do? Again, we are to bring them to the cross, and then bring the cross to them!
When we experience unrighteous anger, when we feel bigotry, contempt or other sinful things towards another, we are to bring our sin to the cross for forgiveness. Then, we are to bring the cross to our feelings. We are to bring the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, the truth of his love to these feelings, to eradicate them, to purify them, and to shed the light of truth on the lies that feed into them.
Similarly, when our desires are sinful, when we are filled with greed, or lust, or materialism, or the desire for power or prestige or popularity, we are to bring these sinful desires to the cross in repentance and seek forgiveness. Then, we are to apply the truth of the cross to these desires. We are to eradicate them from our heart by the truth of Jesus.
But sometimes we feel anger, or we feel sorrow, or even grief and these feelings are not unrighteous. Sometimes we feel a deep-seated anger over things that anger God too. Just think about it. Anger isn’t always bad! If nobody got angry, who would have fought against slavery? Don’t you think William Wilberforce was angry over slavery? And that anger over slavery fuelled his fight against slavery that dragged out for decades!
If nobody got angry, who would fight against child abuse? We should be angry that children are abused, trafficked and harmed. This should make us angry! And in our anger, we should find the energy to fight against these things.
So anger, in and of itself, is not bad. Sometimes it points to a real problem that needs a solution. But always, it points to sin. It may be a sin, if it is unrighteous anger. Or it may point to sin, point to evil, and cause a spark to be blown into a flame to fight that evil.
Similarly, grief or sorrow is not necessarily bad. Jesus was viscerally moved, he had a gut-wrenching response, a number of times in his ministry, in particular over the plight of the common people whose religious leaders were failing them. Grief and sorrow can also be righteous emotions that drive us to God and drive us to fight against sin in the world, or in us.
So the goal is not to avoid feelings of anger, grief or sadness. Our goal is not to be unemotional, or to only feel certain emotions. Rather, it is to examine the whole range of emotions we actually experience and bring those emotions into the light of Christ Jesus. We open ourselves up to God and allow him to examine the reasons for these emotions. We submit to his judgement on the causes of these feelings and then act accordingly.
In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul says we are to examine ourselves to see if Christ “really rules in our lives.” As Christians, we allow Jesus into our lives to forgive our sins. We say he is Lord of our lives. But do we let him rule in our heart? And I don’t mean “rule in our feelings.” I mean in our “heart” in the whole, robust way: our thoughts, feelings, desires, preferences and imaginations. Do we examine these parts of ourselves to see if Jesus rules them?
Too often we make faith too easy. We make faith about holding to a list of words or doctrines, dimly understood. True faith, however, “is the dedication of heart and mind and hand to His service.” [Halford E. Lucock, More Preaching Values in the Epistles of Paul, p. 123] Will we dedicate our hearts to his service? If so, we need to examine our hearts. Is there anger there? Is there grief or sorrow? Anxiety? If so, why?
Jesus said, in Luke 6:45, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” What comes out is a reflection of what is going on in the heart.
400 years ago, a wise pastor named Thomas Watson wrote a book about repentance. It’s a fantastic, convicting book about repentance. Watson correctly and insightfully points out that true repentance begins with a sight of our sin. We cannot see our sin if we do not stop to examine our hearts. And to see the sin in there, we need to let God shine his light on what’s in there.
Sin, remember, is not just the bad things we do. Sin is our alienation from God, our general attitude of rebellion against him. So sin is not just what we do, but also our attitudes, our lack of submission, our disconnection from God. This rebellion against God, deep within the core of our being, is what leads to our sinful actions. Our unhealed hurts, our unresolved grievances lodge in our hearts like splinters. They cause
swelling, infection and pain. These are the kinds of things we want God to shed light on. These are the kinds of things we want him to examine, to bring into the light, so they can be dealt with, healed, forgiven or reconciled as appropriate.
What to Do
So what do we do? Where do we begin? If the goal is to be transformed to be like Jesus, we need to consider what parts of our hearts need to be transformed, healed, cleansed and renewed. We’ve talked before about Paul’s instructions to “kill” or “put to death” our sinful natures. Most often, we try to cage our sinful nature. Paul says that caged is not enough. We must kill our sinful nature.
When we get angry, when we experience grief or sorrow, too often our response is to try to cage it, to bury it, to stuff it down. This doesn’t kill it. This merely cages the difficult emotion. Caged, it still lives. It can still affect us. In fact, it most definitely will affect us!
So, we must examine our hearts. We must examine our thoughts, feelings, desires, preferences and imaginations. And I’m not talking about needing deep psychological analysis. While counselling is good, and sometimes what we dig up in our hearts demands wise, skilled counsel, that’s not what I’m talking about today. I know our congregation represents a broad spectrum of attitudes towards counselling. Some of us have really benefited from counselling. Some are actually counsellors! Others, on the other end of the spectrum, don’t believe in counselling, wouldn’t go to a counsellor by choice. So I recognize we are coming at this from a broad range of perspectives. Let me be clear- this is not about counselling.
[pic] What I am talking about, is understanding what you have going on beneath the surface. Consider an iceberg. A vast majority of an iceberg is actually under the surface of the water! The same is true of our personality, our heart and our character. On the surface, we see our actions, our words, our reactions. Under the surface, are feelings, desires, hurts and attitudes we rarely name or consider.
The skill for EHR is “explore the iceberg.” The skill is to explore what is going on under the surface in ourselves. Why? Because our relationship with God is the source of our relationships with other people. Our relationships with other people are often poisoned by unresolved feelings, hurts and experiences. God would like to heal those splinters, he would like to purify the parts of the iceberg under the surface. As a result, our relationships with others will be healed, redeemed and improved.
The skill boils down to asking ourselves a series of questions. Take a couple deep breaths to settle your mind, then ask yourself, “What am I angry about?”
“What else am I angry about?”
“What am I sad about?”
“What am I anxious or afraid about?”
“What am I glad about?”
As a follow up, consider your answers to “What am I angry about?” Thinking about what you’re angry about, ask, “What am I hurt by? What am I afraid of?” Hurt and fear are two primary causes of anger. Anger is a good test that there’s something going on inside.
As we bring these things into the light, we need to allow God to speak into them. Are these righteous things to be angry about? Are these godly things to be sad about? Or hurt by or afraid of?
Remember, sin is not just the bad things we do. We are also affected by the sin of others. Consider a police officer who works with hardened criminals. Should the police officer be angry about crime? What about crime against children? Working with victims, shouldn’t a police officer, or social worker, be angry about what happened to the victim? Bringing injustice into the light of God’s grace is a good thing! Being angry about injustice is a good thing. The goal of bringing it into God’s light is so that the anger about injustice doesn’t poison one’s other relationships. The anger is not allowed to creep into other chambers of your heart and disrupt other relationships.
When we prayerfully ask these questions, allowing God to shed his light on our hearts, we are submitting ourselves to the work of the Spirit to be healed and renewed. But it can be scary to do this work. It’s unusual for us to explore difficult emotions, to confront what they are doing to us. Like Megan with her splinters, we can react by pulling away, but covering up the sore spot.
But take heart! Remember, as Paul says in Romans 8:39, nothing can separate us from the love of God.
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