|CC Image Courtesy of Stephen Poff on Flickr|
Most of you know that I was born with a hole in my heart (a congenital condition called Tetralogy of Fallot) that, due to the conditions that I grew up in, went untreated until I was 6 or 7 years old. This hole prevented blood from receiving oxygen; therefore this unoxygenated blood would flow through my body, unable to give my body's cells the nutrients they needed.
Clearly this is a problem.
Eventually, I was put into the care of an aunt and uncle who cared for me properly, ensuring that I received open heart surgery and had a healthy recovery process. The surgery was an all-day event that required surgeons to crack open my chest, sew up one hole and patch up another. And these holes were no small divots. One was the size of a quarter. In a 7-year-old heart. This was a big deal.
It was such a big deal, in fact, that I remember being a young Christian using this surgery as an analogy for what Jesus did to our spiritual hearts. "Just like I had a hole in my heart that needed to be closed, I had a hole in my life that needed to be filled with Jesus." Which, I admit, as a pious 12 year old, that sounds like a pretty neat analogy. Especially when I have scars on my chest to help give my point some more punch.
But this isn't how God works.
The prophet Ezekiel is given a message from God to pass on to Israel:
I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God (Ezekiel 11:19-20, NRSV).
From an early age, I made the mistake of thinking that all God wanted to do with me was stitch up some issues with my personality (my spiritual, emotional, soulish heart, the seat of my impulses and desires) and send me on my way.
But God doesn't mess around with stitches and patches.
Our God is the God of heart transplants.
It would be nice if we could reduce God's work in our lives to that of a finger against a leak, a plug in a hole. It would make the Divine work in our lives a lot easier to manage. Shuffle some issues over here, move over some problems over there, make some time every once in a while on a Sunday, and voila, a Life Improved By God.™
But God is not really into life improvement. God desires - demands - much more of us than this. And not just because He is a needy or demanding God. The fact of the matter is that our hearts are far more screwed up than a few holes or some blockage or a little too much cholesterol. No, our hearts have turned to stone. They can't pump blood at all. Which means, in spiritual terms, they can't even begin to be aware of God's presence and work in our lives, much less respond to His presence.* Remember, it was Jesus who said we had to born all over again (John 3).
What must happen is not just a plug-the-hole kind of spirituality that has just enough room for God. It calls for a complete transplant, a removal of the old, and a replacement with the new.
*This is the theological idea of total depravity. We'll talk about that soon.