“[…]Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through life.”
- Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale from the novel THE SCARLET LETTER
In recent days, I have found myself engrossed in the fictional life of the Reverend Aurthur Dimmesdale. A minister in adultery with the, later, impregnated Hester Prynne. Throughout the story she is ridiculed for her sin never revealing the father of the child during the ridicule. Dimmesdale, in his meticulous way, wants her to reveal his sin even though he cannot do it himself. His convictions weighed on him so relentlessly causing his health to diminish, ultimately killing him. So many times have I wanted to scream out the pain of my deepest, darkest sin but could not. Not to anyone I know. All abominable sins aside, no one would confess the murder or lust in their heart toward the people they encounter daily. It is human nature to feel shame. No Christian person would stand in door way of their church and declare their atrocious acts of lust or hate. Humanity makes it nearly impossible!
I deeply admire the character of Dimmesdale. He, in my opinion, represented a true Christian in deep sin. He hid his sin (as any proud person would) but did not allow the convictions of the sin to escape his conscience. It sounds easy to do, but it is not. Especially when one commits a specific sin repeatedly, it becomes routine and overlooked. One begins to rationalize why they do what they do and do not look at it anymore with righteousness and conviction, but instead regard it as truth rather than the lie it always was.
People get this sort of idea in their mind about suffering for Christ as if it has to be an array of physical beatings, martyrdom, or ridicule; but what about taking hold of the flesh, fighting it and then losing? What about the kind of suffering no one can see but you? The suffering dealt with in the deepest, darkest, most dank corners of your heart. How anyone can put on a Sunday face for so long with no spiritual infirmities is far beyond me! You may not be getting battery acid thrown in your face in the middle of a jungle somewhere or being called a “Jesus fag” at school. However, if you are dealing with pain of regret, asking God daily to forgive you of this sin or that sin, already knowing he throws it out as far as the east is to the west, you are suffering. No amount of apologies, no pool of Bethesda, no laying of hands could take away the guilt if you wallow in it. You will be like Dimmesdale; nauseated to death.
I realize now the approach to secret sin Dimmesdale made was truly the death of him in more ways than just the physical. I admire his convictions and character as I have said earlier but his approach was shameful in the eyes of God. To not allow God to build in him a stronger foundation was wrong. In times of sowing evil, when the harvest of rotten fruit is ready for the picking, just pick the fruit. There is no use standing around staring at it. Pick it. It’s yours.
“…God sent Nathan to David. Note, Though God may suffer his people to fall into sin, he will not suffer them to lie still in it.”
- Matthew Henry
“…let the bones that you have broken rejoice.”
-Psalm 51:8b (ESV)
Fact: There are 206 total bones in the human body.
Fact: These bones are separated into two systems: The Axial skeleton (the trunk of our bodies) and the Appendicular skeleton (the limbs of our bodies).
Fact: When a bone is broken or fractured, after the healing process, it is never quite the same again. Useable, but not quite the same.
One of the most gut wrenching accounts in the Bible is the story of David and Bathsheba. There he was, the man noted as a “man after the heart of God,” lusting for a married woman taking a bath across the way. Bone number one, broken. He then calls to have her brought to his room. Bone number two, broken. He lays with her. Bone number three, broken. Later, she breaks the news to David she has become pregnant. Bone number four, broken. David devises a plan to bring her husband in from war and entice him to sleep with his wife to cover up the mishap. The loyal soldier refuses. Bone number five, broken. David, to cover up his shame, sends the good soldier to the front lines where he is then killed. Bone number six, broken. Nathan comes in and rebukes David and tells him the child conceived in adultery will die. Bone number seven, broken. David repents. Later, the baby conceived in adultery is taken ill, at which point, David begins to fast and pray. Axial skeleton and Appendicular skeleton crushed. In his fasting and praying, David receives news his child died. He gets up, cleans himself off and goes back to life in general. His reasoning:
“While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ “But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” – 2 Samuel 12:22-23 (ESV)
When one finds themselves reading Psalm 51, trying to understand the pain David was dealing with is nearly impossible, unless similar circumstances fell upon the person. David lamenting in Psalm 51 is an obvious attempt at repentance which later proves successful. Based on reading 2 Samuel completely, we also know that God forgave him. David still had to pay the consequences; the death of his child. He says at the beginning of Psalm 51 in verse 8, his bones had been broken by God. Whether it was the nine months Bathsheba was pregnant or longer, we know David had stepped away from his relationship with God for season. He explicitly relates this time to his bones being broken. He doesn’t say an arm, or a leg. He says his bones meaning, every single bone in his body – broken, crippled, helpless. One could call it poetic but, it is rather staggering a man, in such sinful disarray, could still explicate his spiritual bearing on paper; as well as to the One he sinned against. Yet, at the end he tells the Lord, “let the bones you have broken rejoice.“
While in brokenness, being human, feeling pain; it is beyond complicated to try to rejoice. My father, who has many physical ailments to the point of helplessness – depending on the day. Days go by where he groans in pain, if not every day. How does one rejoice in physical pain like this? I have never heard my father, a pastor, thank God for his pain. Could you blame him? Although I am not there in his prayer closet either. The preceding was only a physical example. What about people who are depressed? People whose lives have have spun out of control? Generally speaking, those people are not praising God, they are too worried about themselves to notice God at all.
In the world of Christians, there is this sort of cliche talk about praising God in “storms.” Storms? But what about the bones God has broken? Brothers and sisters, this is not a storm! This is where we have taken a step back from God as David did. In such drastic measures as David? No, not necessarily. I do inquire, are sins of omission not looked at in the same way as sins of commission? A reality most Christians in their “works” based thinking fail to see. The consequence: The longer we are away from Him, the longer it takes to begin mending the fractures. If the fractures are not given the proper attention, they will be set incorrectly, leaving one maimed – forever.
Christians, have you ever heard the other cliche saying, “Just give it to God?” Give what to God? Your weakness or just the results of your weakness? My friends, God is the one who broke your bones, and you give Him broken bones? To do what with? Heal them? David realized in Psalm 51, it was not the broken bones that presented the problem. The broken bones were the gift God bestowed upon David in order to root out the problem. The result was David worshiping God in his brokenness. Of course, the bones God had broken were mended; but David left the situation nearly crippled.
Reader, take a lesson from David. Do not be so blind to your own transgressions. The bones God has broken, let them praise Him. We find ourselves always wallowing in self pity when the greatest gift God could have given us was the very ailment we suffer. And we say in the most naive manner, “God help me!” as though we don’t deserve the magnificent fractures.
“Before he gives strength, we must be made to feel our weakness. Slow, painfully slow, are we to learn this lesson; and slower still to own our nothingness and take the place of helplessness before the Mighty One.” – A.W. Pink
“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
- Romans 6:16 (ESV)
An intelligent man I greatly admire intently listened to the testimony of my life. After hearing every antic, every failed attempt at success, every mistake, every corruptible action I had ever made; he then looked at me and gave me his assessment. I wanted him to. I needed words, his words to resonate deep and my mind. I wanted my mind to swell up like water-soaked timber; even after the words dried up, the marks from the swelling would always remain evident. I waited. After a few minutes, he finally said to me, “It sounds like to me; you’ve given ‘Satan’ some serious hard time.”
It never really struck me that I had been a prisoner my entire life. As a Christian, I have always been familiar with Romans and its recurring theme of being “slaves to sin.” Maybe the whole idea of imprisonment or slavery never really sunk in as deep as it should have. After hearing the phrase, “hard time”, I then realized what being a “slave to sin” truly meant. If one were to pick apart the definition Paul gives in Rom. 6:16, it would seem simple enough to grasp. This is not true at all. It took just two words to be said to me before my life started to make a little sense. I found myself meditating on what was said. Hard time. I felt like a ‘bad-ass.’ All prisoners are ‘bad-asses’ right? Hard time. I was caged because I wanted to be caged. I was sentenced to death by humanity.
People are generally told by the Christian church about how getting “saved” will change their lives. Yes, this is true. But what the Christian church fails to tell its newfound converts is the part where their conscience is made new by the Holy Spirit. Yes. A truly, radically saved Christian will go from no conscience to having one. The things they enjoyed in their sin, they now hate. This truth is discovered in the most excruciating ways. New convert’s lives are destroyed by the lies told to them from the people who, in good mind and heart, meant to save them!
When someone goes to prison, their lives change. The way prisoners live on the inside is different from the way they live on the outside. Everything is different for a prisoner: the food, the beds, the habitat, the environment and the people surrounding them, when they arise and when they sleep, the human pecking order. Everything changes. With this philosophy in mind, what happens when prisoners are taken from this sort of environment for a long period of time and put in one where they get their freedom back? The answer: nothing makes sense. The way the person thought, ate, slept, spoke, etc.; it just cannot go away over night. As a prisoner, what challenge would there be to prove to the world you have been reformed from the mess you once were? It takes time, hard lessons, people who love you. It takes patience. After all, hard time can do a number on us.
Today, and every day, my prison philosophies still linger. I find myself caged and not wanting to leave the cage. Only after a short time do I want out. But the cage constantly attracts me. Like any prisoner, doing hard time did a number on me. I am fully aware my freedom lies in Jesus. I am fully aware that I am free! But it is hard to reform. Like a prisoner, I feel like I have something to prove to the outside world: I’m not who I was. After all is said and done, I am still doing hard time.