I think that as Christians we are often guilty of reducing the meaning of Jesus’s life to the mere forgiveness of sins. That may sound heretical, but hear me out. I am not suggesting by any means that Jesus’ death on the cross was inconsequential. Far from it. I just think we miss out on the most beautiful part of what he achieved when we see only redemption. Salvation is certainly a beautiful gift, but Christ’s gift was bigger than that, and we should not forget that. When Jesus refers to his mission, he never focuses only on forgiveness:
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)
Jesus talks about more than just salvation, but about restoration. He said: “I have come that they may have life, and have it in abundance” (John 10:10).
I am certain, though, that, like me, you have occasionally had the niggling suspicion that there simply has to be more to life than this. If this is life in all its abundance, then I have been conned. I think it is natural to feel that way. I believe the yearning for something more was planted by God. This world can never satisfy that longing. Any amount of reflection would, I believe, lead to the conclusion that everything that life this side of eternity has to offer is, to quote Solomon from Ecclesiastes, “meaningless”. There is no possibility of life in all its abundance while sin and suffering exist in the world.
So where does that leave us this side of eternity? Solomon links abundant life to our hearts:
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). If we want to taste true living, suggests Solomon, we access it through our ‘hearts’, and thus we need to “guard our hearts”.
There is something very important here: Solomon claims that this should be our primary motivation, our sole priority, “above all else”. This is, you would do well to remember, reputed to be the wisest man who ever lived. I would take heed. So what does it mean? If looking after our hearts is linked to abundant life – which only God can restore – how do we go about ‘guarding’ them until the restoration is complete and Jesus fulfils his promises?
To start with, I think we need a proper understanding of what it is we are charged to protect. I think the Biblical definition of ‘the heart’ goes beyond mere emotions. It refers to the very core of our identities. Solomon is warning against “losing heart”. He is aware that this world will drive us to despair, and will try to rob us of a sense of purpose and worth. It is easy to ‘lose heart’. And when we forget our identities, when we give in to despair, when we refuse to participate in forging the future, evil triumphs. I, for one, refuse to go down without resistance.
My favourite story of all time is The Lord of the Rings. The entire story, I think, is a powerful allegory for the process of guarding our hearts. In my next post or two I will unpack how this paragon of fables can guide us towards a healthier heart. So pack your bags, fellow travellers, and join the fellowship: we’re going to be leaving the Shire.