How to Heal a Human Heart

Hurting heart held by healing handsWhen my children were young, I made them do things, or prevented them from doing things. It was great if they wanted to do the things they had to do, but it really didn’t matter.

If I decided they needed to do something, I made them do it. If they didn’t, there were consequences.

I tried not to be bossy. I’d ask them nicely, and if they didn’t want to do it, I’d try to persuade them. But if they still resisted, I’d power up. I’d raise my voice, which often was enough. I’m big guy. They were puny people. The threat was implied. Sometimes it wasn’t enough. I’d raise my voice louder. If that didn’t work, I’d yell. If that didn’t work…

But at the moment I started yelling, I’d lost. I was never my best self when I resorted to yelling, but even worse was that something diminished in them. They became sad. Or angry. Or scared. Or sullen. Or defiant.

Yes, you can be defiant even when obedient.

Whatever my yelling did to them, it was never what I wanted to see in my child.

At least I got the obedience that I wanted, so that’s a win, right? Except sadness, anger, fear and defiance indicate that something in the heart has been touched, and not in a good way.

That’s the limit of coercive power. It is powerful, but rarely does it touch the heart in ways that build up. It’s touch almost always causes some damage.

In my last post I asserted that there are at least seven major movements or progressions that can be detected as you move through the biblical story, the first of which is the movement from coercive power to sacrificial love. In many ways this is the most fundamental movement, of which the rest are different expressions.

The ultimate form of coercive power is taking another’s life, and the most extreme example of that in the Bible comes from the hand of God himself in the Flood story of Genesis 6-9. Humans had filled the earth with violence—coercive power—and God decided to solve the problem with violence.

He let loose the destructive powers of chaos, represented in the Bible as the untamed sea, and killed everything. Not just the humans who caused all the trouble. Everything. He held a few back in reserve with which to start over again, but other than that, he killed every man, woman, child, rhinoceros, lizard, bluebird, and daddy-long-leg.

And when he realized the limits of coercive power, that it couldn’t touch the heart except in destructive ways, he vowed never to do it again. That was the beginning of the the move away from coercive power and toward persuasive love.

See, if all you want is compliance, coercive power is great. It’s quick, it’s efficient, and the results are pretty predictable.

But if it’s a relationship that you want, if you want to draw a person close to you so that it feels like your souls are bound together (1 Samuel 18:1), then coercive power is the worst.

The knitting of souls together is a matter of the heart, and only love can build up the heart.

Only love can heal the heart.

Only love can make two hearts feel like one.

The prophet Isaiah pointed to this movement toward the heart. Instead of a powerful figure who would save Israel by destroying its enemies, Isaiah pointed to one who would save Israel by leading it to the persuasive power of sacrificial love.

Israel would be delivered through its suffering, renouncing coercive power and embracing an all-giving love. The Suffering Servant figure was something new and unprecedented in the literature of the Ancient Near East.

Isaiah could only point to this figure, but Jesus brought it to life, the first fruits of this all-giving, heart-changing, world-changing love. In his body it came to life.

And in his Body, the church, it comes to full-flower. At least, that’s what the New Testament points to. But this narrative isn’t over. There are chapters to be written; chapters that you and I are supposed to write. To us has been entrusted the responsibility of keeping this movement from coercive power to persuasive love going until all hearts are bound to God.

Photo by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / jc_cards

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3 Responsesto “How to Heal a Human Heart”

  1. David Hadigian says:

    Larry, I appreciate this post, but I do have a question. Why do you say “when he (God) realized the limitation of coercive power…” he vowed never to destroy the earth again? God is omniscient. He knew it wouldn’t solve the problem. Help me understand how you are looking at this. Thanks brother.

    • That’s part of the point of this series of posts. The concept of God in the Bible develops over time, coming to its fullest expression in the Incarnation of Jesus. Refer back to the previous post where I talk about the difference between a static view of the Bible vs. a dynamic, developing view. In a static view God has to be the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and unchanging God throughout Scripture, even though that view only develops late. In fact, it’s really the conclusion of philosophical, abstract thinking about God. But in the Bible, God is rarely abstract; he’s a character in each story, and very humanlike (anthropomorphism). In the OT the Jews wonder if the tribal God Yahweh can be worshiped all the way over in Babylon. And in the Flood narrative the only thing that has changed in the end is that God has realized that curing violence with violence will not work and he pledges never to do it again. But the heart of the human is still evil–that didn’t change. I’m not denying that God isn’t omniscient, I’m just saying that in many of there stories he isn’t. He calls to Adam and Eve, wondering where they are, then he asks them what they’ve done. Again, I find it helpful to make a distinction between GOD (say it in a deep voice), i.e. the reality as we’ve come to know Him, and God as a character in the various stories. But to make any of those conceptual shifts you have to move from a static view of Scripture to a dynamic view.

      • David Hadigian says:

        I went back and read the previous post (as well as the next post on marriage). I see more where you are coming from…still have a little trouble with that particular statement, but I think this is good thought-provoking stuff. Looking forward to the remaining posts in this series. Thanks.

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