Heart Exam: A Torn Garment
Humans are really good at faking it.
Some of us are more skilled in deception than others, but most of us can put on a performance when necessary. To save face in front of others (and even in front of God), we will behave however decorum demands. We conform to our environment, and these practices become camouflage protecting us from predators of our reputation and comfort.
We think we know what others need to see in order for us to pass for a dedicated parent, a loving spouse, a caring neighbor, a respectful worker, or a pious believer. Meanwhile, our hearts--the very core of who I am, the deepest, truest part of my self--these hearts harbor sinking depression, negative attitudes, corrupt desires and ill wills.
The scary part is, playing our parts without our hearts in it can feel as natural as slipping on a glove over a hand--or a mask over a face. But who are we trying to fool?
In ancient times, people would tear their clothes to broadcast the grief, anger or despair they felt. Other behaviors may be more familiar to a modern audience, such as wearing black at funerals or laying flowers at a tombstone. To show the depth of their emotional pain, ancient grievers would destroy something very valuable and useful to them by physical standards: their clothing. It was expensive in time and resources to create clothes. Naturally, one would be upset to ruin such an investment. Rending your garments, though, was an outward sign of how distraught you felt inside, to the point where you didn’t care about this luxurious, silly thing keeping you warm and covered.
While many tore their garments in sincere lamentation (see Genesis 37:29, 34; Job 1:20; Acts 14:14), many took advantage of the ritualistic custom to be seen by men (think of the Pharisees in Matthew 6). Perhaps they even thought the action would approve them before God. Certainly Caiaphas the High Priest thought he was righteously indignant when he tore his robes at what he estimated as blasphemy from Jesus’s lips (Matthew 26:59-66). Whatever the reason, this behavior morphed from a genuine and sincere expression of deep-seated feeling into rote custom and deceptive tool to gain the esteem of others. (Sound familiar?)
We know this behavior--putting on an act to cover up the truth about oneself--was practiced among the people of God in Biblical times because of the words God spoke through His prophets. These men sought to accost the people of God of their sinful ways and turn their hearts back to obedience to their heavenly Father. But more often than not, it wasn’t outright disloyalty to God that led to their sins. Rather, it was straddling the fence in half-hearted service:
“And he said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”’” - Jesus, recorded in Mark 7:6-7
“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” - Hosea 6:6
One of these prophets, Joel, called the people out on this subterfuge. In the wake of great devastation and forthcoming judgement from the Lord, God’s messenger sounded forth a call to honest repentance:
“‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” - Joel 2:12-13
You see, it wasn’t enough to follow a checklist or merely appear that they were repentful. God could see their heart. He didn’t want them to look upset about their sin, or feel sorry merely for the consequences of their wrongdoing; He wanted authentic, godly grief over transgressing the Lord God Almighty. God explained it through Paul’s inspired words this way:
“As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” - 2 Corinthians 7:9-11
So, who are we trying to fool?
Perhaps even God.
But the person we want to fool most of all?
I believe it’s the person in the mirror.
Take a look at your heart today. Be honest with yourself, and then, be honest with God. Is your life broken? Are you making excuses to sin? Have you fallen short as a parent? As a spouse? Neighbor? Worker? Child of God? Are you simply going with the flow, doing what you’ve always done, because it’s what you’ve been taught or it’s what you’re comfortable with? Then it’s time for a heart exam.
Rending your heart can be painful. We’re so good and building up walls around it and sealing it off from outside intrusion and attack that it seems contradictory to inflict pain upon ourselves in this way. Remember, that ancient griever was ruining a very costly personal possession when they tore their robes. But it’s only when we look inside and examine our innermost thoughts, desires, shortcomings, flaws and fears that we can see our condition as God sees it. Only when we rend our hearts can we start being open and honest with ourselves and the One who made us.