"Create in me a clean heart, O God."
In the four years I’ve been privileged to contribute to this column I’ve had multiple opportunities to share anecdotes of how family life has contributed to my maturation in the faith. My children have dazzled me with insights beyond their years. My wife has spoken truth in love with astonishing courage and compassion. The very storyline of our family has imprinted truth upon my heart like no book or sermon could.
But of my sins—at least the ones that I’m either most aware of or most burdened by—the lion-share are committed within the friendly confines of home, among and, more distressingly, against those I most love. Those for whom I’m most responsible.
And if I had to summarize what I’ve had to repent of most in my little community of faith, it might be typified by the question I find my children having to ask on occasion, “why is daddy so grumpy today?”
Recently I turned to Jonathan Edwards for help. His book, Charity and its Fruits, represents a series of lectures given on Paul’s profile of love in 1 Corinthians 13. In the chapter exploring what Paul meant when he said that love is “not easily provoked” (v. 5) one section near its end cut me to the quick:
Families are societies the most closely united of all; and their members are in the nearest relation, and under the greatest obligations to peace, and harmony, and love. And yet what has been your spirit in the family? Many a time have you not been fretful, and angry, and impatient, and peevish, and unkind to those whom God has made in so great a measure dependent on you, and who are so easily made happy or unhappy by what you do or say—by kindness or unkindness? And what kind of anger have you indulged in the family? Has it not often been unreasonable and sinful, not only in its nature, but in its occasions, where those with whom you were angry were not in fault, or when the fault was trifling or unintended, or where, perhaps, you were yourself part to blame for it? And even where there might have been just cause, has not your wrath been continued, and led you to be sullen, or severe, to an extent that your own conscience disapproved?
Edwards wrote nearly 300 years ago, but he speaks with enduring insight into the human condition—into my condition. Anger’s outburst demands reflection upon its cause, the premises upon which it justifies its presence. It demands imagination, too: what effects its likely to have—better, inflict—the more it proceeds unabated.
Mostly it demands a constitutional change—a reformation of the heart.
My sin of anger may not be the same as that which King David made his repentant plea of in Psalm 51. But my heart is no less in need of recreation as his was.
This is why I need the Gospel.
Only by that news Jesus came to spread may I discover the depth of my darkness. Anger may have behind it as much unconscious impetus as conscious; but that excuses nothing, mitigates nothing, even if the hidden causes make it more explicable. Until I recognize, as Edwards explains, that most anger grows from a root of love-displacing pride, it will continue to seduce while it works its degrading power. Yes, Jesus speaks—and dies—to persuade of anger’s darkness.
But His news of portent is accompanied by an equally fierce announcement of loving patience. How else can King David trust that God would delight in truth’s reinstatement in David’s heart? It has to be because he, by the Holy Spirit, trusted this God would not depart from Him. How else can we explain the purpose of the cross, given the agonizingly slow process by which we become conformed to its glory? It has to be because the love of God is not soon to abandon those for whom it exerts itself.
What do those who know and love you most see in you (or feel from you) that is most in need of transformation? What pattern has led even you to be “sullen or severe, to an extent that your own conscience disapproved?” Consider it grace to have been awakened.
Take heed as to its contrariness to the heart of one so loved. Then take heart that since His love will not countenance its continuance God will carry to completion what He began in you.