a heart divided against itself cannot stand – the parts we play

Appear to be what thou art, tear off thy masks. The church was never meant to be a masquerade. (Charles Spurgeon)

Theologians have long affirmed what Scripture teaches.  Sin wreaks havoc on the human heart.  We are infected by the disease of division.  And I’m not talking about John Piper’s scuffles with Tom Wright.  Rather, a division exists within.

How could Israel want to visit the prison concession stand in Egypt so soon after leaving?  How could the church elder sleep with his secretary when he clearly loves his wife, too?  How could a woman be a nurturing Mom in the daytime and a prostitute by night?  

Cornelius Plantinga’s masterful anatomy of sin calls it a vandalism of shalom, noting that one of the featured characteristics of the sinful heart is masquerade.  Life is like theater, sometimes.  We all wear masks.  

MasksofEmotionsHowever, when we wax theologically eloquent about a divided heart, we often fail to ask the harder question:  What purpose does the mask serve?  Why are we playing this part?  And, even deeper, when did this persona develop?

Bill is an articulate man.  He’s in business, but he has studied apologetics, the defense of the faith.  In our counseling session, he steps in often to clarify what his wife is saying.  “Honey, I’d put it another way,” he says, often condescendingly.  And she lets him.  “Sometimes I think I’m married to a lawyer,” she once told me.  “He could sell ice to eskimos.”

And yet, Bill’s “lawyer,” we later discovered, originated long ago in the quiet of his bedroom, as he quietly and internally recited his defense against an unrelenting father who would verbally assault him.  In tears, Bill would tell me, “I hoped that the next time I emerged from the bedroom, I would be the victor, I would be able to shut him down.”  Yet, alas, he couldn’t.  He’d go mute. 

Part of Bill was The Lawyer.  Part of Bill was The Mute.  The Lawyer spoke powerfully and convincingly, especially in moments when he felt attacked.  The Lawyer, we learned, was determined to never again let The Mute emerge.  The Mute, he once said, is like a scared little boy.  And Bill doesn’t quite like the feeling of being scared.  

The divided heart.

So, who is Bill?  Is he The Lawyer?  Or is his more “authentic self,” as some call it, The Mute?  I’d suggest that neither part of Bill is really Bill.  I’d suggest that Bill’s divided heart is a product of both sin and story, wickedness and woundedness.  But we’ll flesh this out in time.

His first counselor beat up The Lawyer.  His second counselor commended his self-assertion, affirming The Lawyer.  His pastor commended The Lawyer for being such a great apologist of the faith.  His wife’s best friend chewed out The Lawyer for being an “arrogant ass.”  Meanwhile, The Mute remained quietly behind the curtain, dutifully playing its part.

What are these parts we have?  Why the masquerade?  And, has anyone bothered to ask if The Lawyer is tired of playing his starring role?

(to be continued…)

4 comments

  1. Chuck, I’m digging these…I think we often think we only wear one mask (if we truly recognize we wear a mask at all) and the authentic self is somewhere in there, unable to come to our own shalom and unable to help lead others to theirs.

    1. So true my friend. I love the mask analogy, but I’ve often thought of this through a different metaphor: as a shattered mirror. Which of the shards reflect the true me ( or him, or her)? Do any of them tell a true story? Are they true in part, but not in whole? What does it mean when I see multiple, and seemingly incongruous, images of myself at the same time? The Fall has fractured every square millimeter of creation, even to the depths of our persons. Like the dry and cracked desert lake bed, our very personality is broken and divided by sin.

      Keep it up man. I’m loving the new blog.

  2. These are really neat Chuck.

    Screwtape Letter 13 came to mind. When we have given up the “clamor of self will,” God intends that as “wholly his,” we are to be more ourselves than ever.

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