When I read that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9), I often focus on the “desperately sick” aspect, recognizing the darkness of the human heart. But I don’t always consider the rest of the verse. Jeremiah also writes that the heart is deceitful above all things, asking, “Who can understand it?” The heart defies understanding by men. We do not know ourselves like we think we do. Thankfully, as Jeremiah shows, God searches the hearts and tests the minds of men, knowing us better than we know ourselves (Jeremiah 17:10).
The author of Hebrews writes,
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
I thank God for this often painful truth, because I tend to operate with an unrealistic assessment of myself. I may consider my spiritual life without noticing any areas of concern, leading me to assume my intentions are selfless and pure. I notice this most often in seasons when comfort and prosperity abound. Yet if you were to threaten any aspect of my comfortable life, you’d see the hidden Hyde show his face. Trials reveal the roots of sin running beneath the manicured lawn. God uses these trials to reveal the idolatry, the pride, and the selfishness I often forget exist within me. And as I feel afresh my weaknesses and turn to the Scriptures, God cuts through the fog of my ignorance to show me my true state. When I study the word of God, I cannot feign purity; I must admit frailty and accept my inability. All my fancy trappings fall away, and I stand “naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).
At this point, I could easily drift into despair. I could give up hope of improvement as I see the extent of sin within me. But Scripture’s ability to cut deep provides hope, for, while it shows the depths of sin, it also reveals the greatness of the love of God. He opens our eyes that we may see our sin and return to him, that we might rest in his salvation and trust in his sanctification. He, who knows what we do not and sees what we overlook, shows us our needs in order to then meet those needs. He pierces us that he may heal us, discerning our heart’s deception that he might overcome deception with truth. He exposes sin to ultimately uproot and to destroy it. He desires our sanctification, and he will complete his work (1 Thessalonians 4:3; Philippians 1:6).
Don’t misunderstand: the strike of the sword brings pain. When God cuts, he often reveals embarrassing idols. He shows us that we often love sleep or food or temporary pleasures more than we love him. But he shows us our true selves that we might look to him for cleansing, that we might run, broken, to his arms for comfort and for healing. Let us then trust him to use his word to do what is best for us. We may weep, but we do so with joy at what God is working in us.