a heart divided against itself cannot stand – part 1
Appear to be what thou art, tear off thy masks. The church was never meant to be a masquerade. (Charles Spurgeon)
If we’re truly engaged in a modern-day new exodus out of the many enslavements that burden us, through the refining and clarifying fire of suffering, and into the glorious Promised Land of freedom, then there’s much to be excited about. If St. Paul is right, new creation has already begun. Eden’s distant echo becomes a real, tangible expression in and through redeemed humans who, quite literally, become walking-and-talking embodiments of a new humanity, participants in the divine life in there here-and-now Kingdom. This is no pie-in-the-sky religion. We’re not waiting for Kirk Cameron’s silent rapture, though our balding friends might hope that our new bodies feature Cameron’s full head of curly hair. No, we’re engaged in the kingdom-come (on earth as it is in heaven) with all of its glorious possibilities.
But despite the presence of the future, a new exodus reality is that creation still groans, yearning for restoration. No less, you and I groan. The voice of lament, we’d think, ought to be a thing of the past, of Old Covenant realities. And yet, even the saints in heaven cry out in a lamenting groan (Rev. 6) yearning for God’s once-and-for-all restoration. It seems that all is not yet well.
The ravages of sin are still at play, within all of creation, and within the human heart. Thus, I begin a series of reflections on the “divided” heart. It’s a notion found in Scripture, of course, to illustrate the awful pull we feel inside every day. Part of me wants Promised Land life, yet another craves the predictability of Egyptian enslavement. My addictions become friends, and when I leave them, I miss their company. They’ve taken up residence in me. They are more than a behavior. They change my brain chemistry, inhabit my physiological responses, and haunt my memory. As one writer says, “You can take the Israelites out of Egypt, but it takes a long time to get Egypt out of Israel.” When my heart is divided against itself, I’m like a man who is ill. Spurgeon wrote:
It is a disease of a vital region—of the heart; a disease in a part so vital that it affects the whole man. The utmost extremity of the frame suffers when once the heart becomes affected, and especially so affected as to be divided. There is no power, no passion, there is no motive, no principle, which does not become vitiated, when once the heart is diseased.
As we take up this idea, I’m going to talk as much as a psychologist as a theologian. There’s plenty written on sin, but far less on the psychology of the divided heart. If the Gospel has something to do with bringing shalom into broken places, then the divisions within the heart are no less important than the divisions God wants reconciled among Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, Hutus and Tutsis, Arabs and Israelis, or abusers and victims. Further, I want to go so far as to suggest a therapeutic (or soul-care) approach to restoration that takes the division within seriously, and moves beyond behavior-modification or sin-management into a kind of internal reconciliation process that (like all other reconciliation processes) takes time. For some strange reason, we still seems to think that sanctification is instantaneous, and we quickly become frustrated with our own continued brokenness and the brokenness of others. But, if the image within was really shattered in the Fall, then the work before us is time consuming, difficult, and even painful.
That said, I’m neither interested in pop-therapeutic approaches that over-simplify and trivialize real growth, nor therapeutic suspicion which seems to demonize any attempt at self-care (something which, incidentally, goes radically against Christian tradition and Scripture), and which makes its own over-simplistic statements like “Christianity is not about self, it’s about God.” Both extremes will find fault with my approach. If so, just stop reading now.
If you’re excited to delve into what I think might be a very stimulating journey through both Scripture and what I sense is a very new and cutting-edge approach to soul care in modern psychology (something called “Internal Family Systems Therapy”), read on. We’ve got a lot to talk about.