Marching along from my previous post, which is fun to do sometimes, I want to talk about layers. I’d borrowed a line from “Shrek” about ogres, onions, and layers and said that people are like that, too. I think people have layers.

One reason I say that is because of I Samuel 16:7b. It says:

man looks on the outward appearance,(L) but the LORD looks on the heart.

That’s pretty plain, isn’t it? God is telling Samuel that there are things about people that aren’t immediately apparent. We get all busy looking at how tall somebody is (or isn’t, in my case), what they’re wearing, and so on, and so forth, but all that is hardly the sum of a person. There’s more to them, like hearts.

Another reason I’d say people have layers is life experience. I’ve certainly lived long enough (I don’t think you have to live very long to run into this, actually) to have experience a misjudging based on outward appearance. For instance, I didn’t like my hair to be long (it wrapped itself into huge snarls) when I was in grade school, and I loved to wear jeans and climb trees. Silly people who didn’t know me often thought I was a boy. Another example would be my age. I’ve never looked it! At 15, I was being given menus for 11 year old children, at 18, people wouldn’t believe I was legally an adult, and now that I’m in my 30’s, I still occasionally have to resort to showing people my driver’s license to convince them that I’m not in my 20’s. This misunderstanding has never been based on my behavior (no, I didn’t act like an 11 year old when I was 15 :-P), but solely on how I looked at the time.

Beyond physical appearance, it’s easy enough to misjudge what someone is saying or doing. I heard a great story about this at work yesterday. A lady was telling me about a large group out camping together with a little boy who went boohooing back through the camp. When he was asked why he was so upset, he told folks that a woman “put her hands on me and told me no!” That was true enough, too. Some lady who cared about that kid’s life did do put her hands on him and tell him no, because he was about to grab a baby rattlesnake! Fortunately the lady telling me the story was able to explain that to the boy’s mother before the mother got too protective. Without knowing about the snake, the top layer didn’t look too good. It’s amazing how that works, how the whole story can look so different than a little part of it.

Personally, I think that people don’t stop at misjudging and misunderstanding each other. I think we get confused about ourselves, too. I know that when I look at myself, I don’t always go beyond the top layer, and that has definitely caused me some trouble. There’s another great verse, Jeremiah 17:9. Here’s the ESV version of it:

9The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?

This verse can be used as a guilt trip ticket or yet another nail in the heart’s coffin, but, man, I think that’s overkill. So God says that the heart is sick and deceitful – fine. That doesn’t mean beat the poor thing and blame it for all your problems. I’ve tried a variation of that, and it doesn’t work so well. What’s interesting to me is the question. “Who can understand it?” or, as the old King James said, “Who can know it?” It’s taken me a while to really accept that I’m not the person best equipped to understand or know my own heart. It’s been sick, and I’m too easily fooled. What’s kinda funny about it is that I knew, like my head knew, that I wasn’t getting my heart. I would get frustrated over my inability to understand what was going on with my heart – with my emotion and motivation and mood and attitude and desires. It was that whole thing Paul had going on where he knew what he should do and couldn’t figure why he couldn’t do it! So I knew, but I didn’t accept that I didn’t understand myself. I kept trying to make what worked parts like my head work for my heart.

“Who can know it?” Surprise, surprise – the next verse tells us.

10(R) “I the LORD search the heart
(S) and test the mind,[b]
(T) to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds.

It’s God, of course. In fact, we already knew that because of I Samuel. God is the one looking at our hearts. At times, that’s been enough to just make me shiver in fear. I expected an Almighty guilt trip, something crushingly powerful. Actually, that’s probably why I fought so hard against accepting that I couldn’t be the best judge of my own heart. I didn’t treat it well, thought it was bad, and I expected God to do the same except worse! More power, right?

I’ve changed a bit since then. For one thing, it didn’t make any sense to me that I should love God with all my heart if the thing was just rotten. Another is that Ransomed Heart Ministries did me a favor by pointing out a couple of passages in the Bible (Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26 are good ones) where God talks about giving us new hearts. Yet another is Psalm 139. It was written by David, a man after God’s own heart. At the end, David writes:

23Search me, O God, and know my heart!
(AG) Try me and know my thoughts![c]
24And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and(AH) lead me in(AI) the way everlasting![d]

For him, the point of being searched and known was to be able to follow God in the way everlasting. It wasn’t about fear or guilt or shame. He didn’t let those things stay lurking in his heart and keep him from following God, and God helped him. That gives me hope.