Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” – Genesis 8:20-22
Mr. Tietz was a Lutheran School Principal at my vicarage congregation in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He had a wonderfully quiet manner and very large impact. During the lunch period, with more than 100 children in the cafeteria, he would walk in and begin speaking. In a very low voice. And the cafeteria would quickly become quiet. It was amazing. I tried to learn from him. Try to out-yell a group of junior-highers and you’d better have a bull horn!
Are you a harsh disciplinarian, or a soft touch? Do you get big and loud to reign in unruly students, or let them run wild? Admittedly there is a time for loud and in-your-face assertiveness. But there is a mystery here: the greater work is done in the quietness of someone’s heart than in the blast of the high-and-mighty voice.
God shows this to be true in his response to the worship of Noah and his family. His response to the sinfulness of us human-types is remarkable: “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”
Is God admitting failure in his diluvian wrath, or is something else at play here? Admittedly it appears that God is – upon reflection – becoming a softy. He’s had second thoughts about destroying all living creatures except those on Noah’s ship. But there is another explanation. And it has to do with the difference between whether you want people’s compliance or their hearts.
God wants our hearts; not just our outward compliance to his laws. Jesus makes this point when he warns us that we can commit adultery simply by looking upon a woman lustfully, or murder by holding hatred for another in our hearts. Sadly, we can be outwardly compliant while inwardly harboring hatred and resentment in our hearts for God. God wants our hearts.
That is made clear by his assessment that, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” This shows God’s tender heart toward us broken and fallen creatures. He could simply determine that his “experiment” of creating man and woman in the condition as he did was a flop. He could decide to start all over from scratch. But he did not. In stead, he reveals a grace and mercy to sinful men and women.
It’s not just that we can’t help ourselves from sinning (though we cannot). It’s that God has a better plan, and has had so all along. I’ve shared the idea before (from Philip Yancey, I believe) that the Old Testament is a giant object lesson of what doesn’t work. Direct communication with God doesn’t work (Adam and Eve). Having a king doesn’t work (Manasseh). Prophets who speak for God don’t work (Matthew 23:29-31).
God want’s our hearts, broken and sinful as they may be. For a heart yielded to him in any condition will be healed, redeemed and made new. God has a heart for us. It’s big, merciful, and full of love and grace. And he shows us that in Jesus who died to free our hearts from our sinful ways.
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