Something that John Eldredge says in Wild at Heart has always sort of bugged me. He claims that the church has drilled Jeremiah 17:9 into our heads, and we go around convinced that our heart is deceitfully wicked. So far I agree with him. He goes on to say, read the rest of the book, arguing that our heart was wicked but now is good – that God has given us hearts of flesh for hearts of stone and written his law on our hearts (the hearts of believers, that is), and our heart is good.
That is sort of an uncomfortable thing to hear. Partially it’s uncomfortable because I am keenly aware of the vast gulf between what I do (let alone what goes on inside me) and what is good. I think most honest people will agree with me, unless they’ve compromised their definition of good. But as I was reminded the other day talking to Duchess about my buddy icon (well, talking to her cousin while she looked on), I am Jade Falcon. I will not forget where I come from or where I am going and there can be no compromise. Conquer honorably or die trying. Mostly, though, it’s uncomfortable to hear that my heart is good because I really have bought into the idea that it’s just not. I might even have gone so far as to say that was one of the tenets of my Christianity – that no human heart is good. That “I am a sinner in need of grace,” as Vonsus might say, is the best anybody will ever say for me.
Now of course, that’s not such a bad thing to have said about me. But I think I might have figured out what Eldredge is getting at. First, we need to distinguish between what goes on inside of us and our heart. The heart, as Eldredge uses the term (and I think this is the Biblical understanding, too, to the extent that “heart” is a term of art in Scripture), is more than just what goes on inside you – your thoughts and feelings and dreams. It’s the real you, the you whose name is on the white stone that God will give you at the end of the world. It is the “me” that Paul distinguishes from “my sin” in Romans.
But isn’t that precisely what is wicked? Isn’t it true (again as Vonsus might say) that my heart has done things that my hands haven’t gotten around to yet? I’m no longer sure it is. Here is what hit me the other day: God calls me righteous. Hitherto I have generally believed that imputed righteousness was a sort of legal fiction. The picture in my head was something like this: God looks at me and goes, “Ew, gross” and then Jesus steps in and says, “Dad, this one’s with me,” and God says, “Ok, I’ll pretend that he’s righteous even though he’s not” (emphasis added).
Is that what God does? Is God the God of legal fictions? Or is it more like Eldredge says, that inside me there are two people, so to speak: the real me, and the traitor. In other words, the new man and the old man, my true heart and my “flesh.” To the extent that we conflate those two people in everyday conversation, “I” am still a sinner in need of grace – that is, “I” am a person who sins, and I am need of grace (of course I think I would need grace even if I was not a sinner. It is not moral effort that my true heart feeds on, nor moral actions, but the life of God communicated to it without condition). But my heart is good.
I am not entirely sure what it means for my heart to be good. But I know one consequence: it keeps me in the fight. What is the use of screaming, “Conquer honorably or die trying” if my heart is inherently dishonorable? Who can put their faith in a God whose best effort is a legal fiction? The Gospel, after all, is the power of God to save. Is God’s power a mere legal fiction, simply a change in viewpoint? Or is it power?