Introduction: The Injustice of the Heart
I started reading through the book of Jeremiah again a few days ago. The book reveals an intimate exchange between the prophet, Jeremiah, and God. The book covers a historical time when the sin of Judah had reached its peak and God was preparing to exercise his righteous judgment upon his people who forsook him for other gods. In Chapter 17, God speaks to Jeremiah about the deceitful of heart. His words:
The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give to each man according to his ways,
According to the results of his deeds (Jer. 17:9-10 [NASB]).
As we begin this journey of personal reflection and discussion, I think we must first agree with the Lord that our hearts are deceitful and desperately sick. We sin in ways and areas that we don’t know or even understand. Therefore, we can begin this time together in the quietness of our offices, living rooms, or small groups with confession and contemplative prayer.
God, we love you and we understand that our love is evident when we respond in obedience to your commands. We confess right now that we do not love others as you love us. We do not always seek justice by helping the poor, welcoming the alien, reaching out to the oppressed, supporting the widows. We do not always honor our parents or those you place in authority over us. Sometimes it is difficult to love our family members and friends. We find it nearly impossible to love our enemies. We do not see people as you see them. We do not always use our gifts and talents to stand for “other” people. Forgive us, oh Lord. Helpful our sinful, broken hearts. Have mercy on us poor sinners. Search our hearts, cleanse our minds, and lead us on the path of righteousness. We ask these things in your son, Jesus, name. Amen.
The futility of our hearts sets the stage for the introduction of Mark Labberton’s book, The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor. “This book explores a simply premise: human hearts form the seedbed from which injustice thrives. Injustices cannot be understood without taking into account systematic realities greater than human hearts and elements beyond individual will. But systematic injustice thrives as it does because hearts accommodate and allow it (pg. 16).”
Our Hearts Are Too Small
My husband’s favorite Christmas movie is How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I’m sure many of you are familiar with it. The Grinch lives on a mountain right above Who-ville, where all the Whos live in peace and harmony. Every year they plan elaborate Christmas festivities including food, fellowship, and singing. The Grinch, on the other hand, is bitter, grouchy and lives in a dark cave with only his dog to keep him company. Since he lives a miserable, self-absorbed life, he wants to destroy Christmas and take the joy away from everyone else’s life. As a result, he develops a plot to steal Christmas. Somewhere along the lines we discover that the Grinch’s demeanor is due to the fact that his heart is two sizes too small. His little heart simply doesn’t allow him to love as he should, but God sends a little Who by the name of Cindy Lou Who to extend grace, heighten the awareness, and capture the heart of that mean, old Grinch and his life is never the same.
In so many lives, our lives are just like that of the Grinch. We may not be mean, bitter, or grouchy people, but we are so absorbed with what is going on in our little caves that we fail to accurately see what God is doing and what is happening in places outside of our small perimeter. Sometimes it takes an event, like the Trayvon Martin case, or a character like Cindy Lou Who to shake our foundation and give us a new perspective on life. I’m hoping that this book discussion and supplemental posts will be that shaking for each of us. Labberton writes:
Our hearts don’t consciously will injustice. Nor do they deliberately withhold compassion. Nor is it that tales of injustice fail to grab and concern us. Yet our hearts are weak and confused. Our hearts are easily overwhelmed and self-protective. They are prone to be absorbed mostly with the immediacy of our own lives. Our hearts have the capacity to seek justice, but they are usually not calibrated to do so—at least not beyond concern for our inner circle. In a world of such heart, virulent injustice thrives. Systemic injustice, the absence of the rule of law, and the suffering of so many innocents at the hands of oppressors rely on the complicity and distraction of our ordinary hearts (pg. 17).
What we are searching for, hoping for, praying for are changed hearts, for “changing our world depends on changing our hearts: how we perceive, name, and act in the world. The ways of the heart are reflected in the world daily in how we perceive (see and assess one another), how we name (frame and position one another) and how we act (engage or distance one another) (pg. 23).”
So, let us move forward boldly to examine our fragile hearts. Let us offer our hearts to Jesus and ask him to break them and mold them and break them again until we are together perfected in his image. Let us carefully consider the tensions between our individual hearts and the social settings in which God has called us to live. Let us honestly discuss the issues of power and its abuses. Let us consider carefully how we live.
How is your heart today?
Blessings, © Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2013
* Note: Several readers have reached out to me indicating that they cannot find this book in their local book stores. If this is your situation, you have a couple options: 1.) Purchase the book online and you can receive it in the mail within a few short days, or 2.) request that your local book store place the order for you. Normally, they do that at no additional cost and can have the book delivered to the store for pick up. Looking forward to having you join the conversation. Next Tuesday, we will discuss Part 1, Chapter 1 Our Address.