Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Harsh Criticism Is Not Hardheartedness—Just the Opposite

Jeremiah 8:18-22
My joy is gone; grief is upon me;
    my heart is sick within me.
Behold, the cry of the daughter of my people
    from the length and breadth of the land:
“Is the Lord not in Zion?
    Is her King not in her?”
“Why have they provoked me to anger with their carved images
    and with their foreign idols?”
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
    and we are not saved.”
For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded;
    I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of the daughter of my people
    not been restored?

As much as I critique and call into account where the church comes short, there is another part of me that wants to weep.  Christians are led astray and then propagate sin and error by their own hand assuming all is externally well.  Through poor instruction by a trusted person and solidified by a conflation of Bible texts, error spreads.  Sin, once realized to have put Jesus on the cross, receives some innocuous dabbling because “it’s not hurting anyone else” or “_____ are doing it” (you fill in the blank) that leads to rationalizing of more sin.

Even worse is that we who engage in this activity actually understand there is something wrong.  The Holy Spirit will use the Word of God that we know, hear, or read to prompt us that something needs a course correction.  And then we apply our own medicine on the wound.  We try harder and invest in “cures” that can leave us emotionally or physically spent.  The problem becomes worse when it is not addressed as spiritual in nature.

Those seeking to assist have a difficult task before them.  They recognize the spiritual nature of the problem and offer spiritual solutions but are often considered to be “holier than thou” or sinners casting the first stone.  It is true that spiritual men and women are still waging war with the law of sin still in their members (Rom 7:22-23), but their hearts grieve over what sin and error do to the church.  Exposure of wrong is not meted out in pretense or feigned authority, but through a careful investigation of scripture and understanding that all I am or have comes from the Father.

Some say we should be more like Jesus in how we deal with people.  Based on my Bible reading, I am comfortable stating that the Lord Jesus is the harshest critic that ever walked the earth.  In Matthew 23, he rails against the scribes and Pharisees with seven pronouncements of woe for their reprehensible behavior.  Then as soon as he completed them he turns to the city and lays his heart bare:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!  (Matt 23:37)

He still cared.  And to what extent?
[Jesus] directs His speech to the city, in this way too being mindful to correct His hearers, and says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!”  What does the repetition mean?  This is the way of One pitying her, and bemoaning her, and greatly loving her.  For like a beloved woman, herself indeed always loved but who had despised Him who loved her, and therefore on the point of being punished, He pleads, being now about to inflict the punishment.  This He does in the prophets also, using these words, “I said, ‘Turn to me,’ and she returned not.”

Then having called her, He tells also her blood-stained deeds, “You who kills the prophets and stones them those who are sent to you, how often would I have gathered your children together, and you would not.”  In this way He is also explaining His own dealings with her: Not even with these things have you turned me aside, nor withdrawn me from my great affection toward you, but it was my desire even so, not once or twice, but often to draw you unto me.  “For how often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her brood, and you would not.”  And this He says to show that they were ever scattering themselves by their sins.  And His affection He indicates by the similitude; for indeed the hen is warm in its love towards its brood.  And everywhere in the prophets is this same image of the wings, and in the song of Moses and in the Psalms, indicating His great protection and care.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew

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