Back when I was in college, I would spend the summers with my parents in Denver. One year we took a couple short road trips on consecutive weekends. One was an hour’s drive north, the other an hour’s drive south.
The next week a family we knew came to visit for several days. During that period, their two teens and I decided to go to a popular movie they hadn’t seen yet. I told them I knew this particular movie was playing locally because I’d seen it at a theater we’d passed the previous weekend.
My dad helpfully looked up the information and gave me the exact freeway off ramp exit number. I took the directions, though I didn’t think I’d need them. After all, I’d seen the theater clearly from the freeway, so I knew we couldn’t miss it.
Off we went. Before too long, however, I noticed that the exit sign numbers were not advancing toward the particular one I was looking for.
No problem, though, I thought. I knew I was going in the right direction because I’d seen the theater with my own eyes. Perhaps, I reasoned, the numbers would reverse their order once we left the city proper.
My guests were amazingly patient, even as time and miles piled up. Even as the exit numbers continued to flip past in the wrong order. Even when that pattern didn’t change once we left the city. And even when we didn’t see the theater from the freeway.
I couldn’t understand what was wrong. Perhaps the information my dad had found was wrong or maybe he copied it incorrectly or … and then it hit me. I had indeed seen the theater, but not the previous weekend when we had taken our trip north. I’d seen it two weeks ago when we headed out of town going south.
Here’s the point, I learned that day how unreliable I am as a determiner of truth. I had the information my dad gave me, the exit numbers on the freeway signs, and a missing theater, but I still trusted my own idea of what was true. I even rationalized the differences and persisted when every indicator said I was wrong.
I’ve had to re-learn that lesson multiple times, but that one incident stands out as an illustration of how easily fooled my hard, prideful heart can be, and conversely, how much I need the authoritative Word of God to serve as the sign posts of life.
Of course, I have to believe what the signs say rather than rationalizing away what I don’t like or don’t agree with.
Love your neighbor? Sure, I can do that … except, not that family with the really loud, late Saturday night parties and the noisy motorcycles (besides, their kids are probably involved with gangs).
Speak the truth in love? Sure, I can do that … except, I don’t want to offend the people in my office, so I’ll just let slide their Bible-bashing (they probably wouldn’t change their attitudes even if I stuck up for the Bible).
It is so easy to find excuses to trust my own foolish, willful, wayward heart rather than the sure, authoritative, unchanging Word of God.
But you know what God says about my heart?
The heart is more deceitful than all else/ And is desperately sick;/ Who can understand it?
– Jeremiah 17:9
God goes on to say that He knows the heart and He gives “to each man according to his ways.” But here is His assessment of our ways:
We have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”
– Rom 3:9b-12 (the all caps are in the original and indicate quotations from the Old Testament)
Original sin? You bet. My heart so fools me, I’d believe in an instant that I’m good, if I could. In fact I tried. When I was very young, probably in first grade, the Sunday school teacher told us we were all sinners.
Not me, I thought. And I set about proving it. I figured if I could find one, even one person in the Bible who wasn’t a sinner, then I could be like that person. Jesus, I understood was perfect, but He was God, so I needed someone else.
I finally set on Moses and asked my mom if he wasn’t perfect. No, she said, he sinned. How? I asked. For starters, he committed murder.
Then how about David? No, he stole another man’s wife and had him killed. He wasn’t without sin either.
OK, I reasoned, if even the Bible people sinned, then it must be true. All sin, even me.
It wasn’t until years later I learned about my nature to sin, and I actually discovered that myself, when I was reading John 3:18. The problem isn’t sins I commit; the problem is my rejection of God. That’s the nature I have—one that wants to believe in myself, wants to choose my own way, wants to trust me despite the evidence and God’s witness that my heart is deceitful.
This post originally appeared here in September 2010.