Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Road #3: Admit that Circumstances Only Reveal Existing Sin

I once read a quote by Amy Carmichael (missionary to India who became "Amma" to hundreds of girls she rescued from cult prostitution and cared for at her orphanage) that hit me between the eyes. It has stuck with me ever since, and Beth and I remind each other of it often. You may have heard me quote it.
a cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted.
We love to blame our sinful reactions and attitudes and words on others and/or our circumstances. How often have you said or heard things like this:
  • "Well, I was tired..."
  • "I didn't have time to collect myself..."
  • "She just knows how to push my buttons!"
  • "I was fine until he..."
  • "It's just the way I was raised..."
  • "I've just always had a temper." (Good observation, Sherlock! And your point is?)
  • "They just drive me crazy!"
 Ever since the Fall ("It was this woman you gave me!"), these reactions are endemic. Harvey calls us out: 
Blame-shifting is what I do when I basically know I’m guilty and am just trying to convince myself or someone else that maybe I’m not.
You see, your wicked heart and mine are amazingly similar. They both crave vindication. They want to insist that something else made us sin…something outside of us…beyond our control. Aha—our circumstances! (70)
He then gives a helpful illustration from the world of lawn care. His son once started the lawnmower with a loose oil cap. Once the engine heated up, the oil started spewing everywhere. Harvey uses the illustration like this:
This might be a helpful illustration for understanding the operation of remaining sin. Original sin filled the “engine” of our hearts with the “oil” of depravity—dark, greasy, and staining everything it touches. Circumstances come along and heat the engine. When the engine is hot—when events in our lives test our hearts by stirring anger, lust, greed, etc.—whatever is in the engine spews out. The heat (the circumstances) did not fill the engine with oil, it simply revealed what was in the engine. (70-71, emphasis mine)
He then gives some examples (this is right where we live):

To the husbands:
Husbands, you jump in the car only to find (sigh) that the gas gauge you’ve reminded your wife about (hmmff) is on empty again (seethe). What’s happening? … The complaint and contempt that’s filling your mind—is that caused by a gas gauge or by your wife? No, it’s simply showing you the impatience that was already in the engine of your heart. The heat just stirred it up and made it obvious. (71)
To the wives:
Wives, for the hundredth time (eyes roll) he has walked up the steps (groan) without touching the pile of clothes that obviously needs to be taken upstairs (disgusted gaze). What’s happening as the accusation, “at least he’s consistent at being lazy,” slips out under your breath? The engine’s heating, the cap is loose, and an oil spill is on its way! (71)
I love how Harvey then stops for second and directs our gaze to Jesus. What happened when things heated up for our Savior? There was no black sludge in his heart. Nothing spewed out. This man betrayed by a friend. He was deserted by all his friends. He was repeatedly denied by his most vehement follower. This man was beaten and flogged unjustly. He was hanging unjustly on a cross. Mere creatures he had made were spitting at him and mocking him. If anyone had a “right” to retaliate, it was he. And what came out? “Father, forgive them...” and “Today you will be with me in Paradise”! Oh, how we need to "fix our eyes on Jesus" (Hebrews 12:2) if we are going to "have the attitude of Christ" (Philippians 2:5)!

Let's learn this 3rd road well! Our spouses/our marital conflicts don’t CAUSE us to sin. They REVEAL the sin already present in our hearts.
John Bettler has said, “Your spouse always hooks your idol.” … I can’t tell you how many times I thought, “I never had these problems before. This must be my wife’s fault.” The truth is, I’d always been a blameshifter—it’s just that after getting married there were so many more good opportunities to express this fault!” (69)
Let's be honest. We are inveterate blameshifters. We need to train ourselves to humbly suspect and honestly inspect our own hearts first. But that's not all. Harvey really starts to push us toward a new perspective as he drives home the application of the sovereignty and wisdom of God in all of this:
God will create opportunities to reveal and then deal with sin that keeps us from living in wisdom.” (68, emphasis mine)
Your spouse was a strategic choice made by a wise and loving God. Selected by him, for you, from the beginning of the world, your spouse is an essential part of God’s rescue mission for your life. Often a spouse plays his or her part by raising the engine temperature and heating the oil. But if we’re wisely honest we will realize that God is behind it all, revealing the familiar sin so that it might be overcome by amazing grace.” (71, emphasis mine)
Are you beginning to see how radical this reorientation is?! Are you beginning to imagine how things would change if you and your spouse got this (or even how things would change if you got it)?! Your spouse…with all his/her imperfections…is one of God’s chosen tools of sanctification in your life! And don’t flatter yourself! This is a two way street!

Whether we like it or not, God is more committed to the shaping of our character into conformity with Christ than he is committed to our comfort (I learned that one from my mom, but see also James 1:2-4). When God gives us the gift of marriage, there are always two sinners saying "I do." If we have eyes to see it, the places where we "hook" each others' idols and heat up each others' engines are gifts from a wise Father who loves us enough to sanctify us, whether we like it or not.

All praise to the All-Wise God who loves us enough to give us not what we like, but what we so desperately need! Amen?

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