The fact that God looks at your heart is scary

1 Samuel 16

It’s hard to spot corruption until you look inside. And what you find might not be pretty.

We arrive at an oft-quoted scripture in this chapter, one that Christians love to rally around. The reason is obvious: it helps us remember that God is more introspective about our selves than humans, who can only judge superficial, observable attributes at best. It also provides hope for the downtrodden or weak or poor, and reminds others that striving to impress others is vanity.

But I find 1 Samuel 16:7 terrifying. It should trouble you that God looks at our hearts.

We’re good at keeping up our image.  Take a look at your Facebook posts or Twitter feed.  How many of your comments and status updates are intended to sharpen your image? Your profile picture is likely a flattering one, attempting to portray to others what you would you like people to believe you are.  Mine right now projects the image that I’m a good father — I mean, I’d like to think I am. Wouldn’t you? Unless you’re a mother, or don’t have kids at all.  That would be awkward.

How about what you look like at church?  Most people wear something respectable on Sunday mornings — and we say out loud that we’re trying to show reverence to God, but you know at the core it’s just to dress similar to your peers, maintaining an appearance or making it look like nothing’s wrong, that perhaps that pair of pants isn’t the only one without holes in the knees.  And then you smile and say “Good!” when people ask how you’re doing. But it’s not good, is it? You’re in bad shape.

Do you think you’re pure at heart? I don’t.  I know I’m a bad man, selfish in a myriad of ways. Surely the Lord inhabits my entire being, but my sinful desires battle Him constantly. It’s God’s grace that sustains me, not any particular endeavor or well-sculpted version of myself I’ve presented to Him or others.

But we continue. We don’t do particular things or hang out with certain people because it might look bad, because it might tarnish our image or make us feel dirty.  Look at Jesse: even in front of Samuel, he nearly disowns his son for his diminutive stature, for being a lowly young shepherd, perhaps to impress Samuel. Jesse is convinced Samuel is going to pick one of the seven sons he presents, because they all looked “kingly,” and when Samuel inquires about any more kids, David is an afterthought.

Certainly I’ve written in other blogs that our image DOES matter, that Christians SHOULD be careful not to look like jerks or avoid compromising their integrity. But is this what steers you? Previous to today’s reading, Saul was so enamored by the idea of being king that he overlooked humility and obedience altogether, and the consequences linger in this chapter. (Why was Saul “tormented”? I felt that this was explained well enough here.) Even if it’s to appear Christian or goodly, God notices this. And this is no better than going for an obvious ego-booster.

Before getting excited about God seeing your heart for what it really is, make this your prayer:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Before you get too wild with rage, know this: if you’ve made Jesus Christ your Lord, you are no longer condemned, and your reputation to God is free of any wrongdoing. However, your intentions are entirely another matter, and your heart reflects your intentions. Let’s do something about that and make a case for integrity.

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