Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hardness of heart

When I was a teenager, I was in a pretty tight circle of friends.  Five of us had been friends, one way or another, since elementary school days.  But the spring of our freshman year of high school, a formative event occurred that cemented the circle of seven of us:  With our Young Life leaders, we went for a weekend retreat up to a ski resort (well past ski-and-snow season), and spent the night stuck in my family's old maroon and white Carry-all in the snow on the side of a mountain.  When it became clear that we were stuck, snowbound with no help available in the dark and no way out (unless we fell off the mountain side in our continuing attempts), we passed around sleeping bags, and tried to make ourselves comfortable for the long haul of night.  I was fortunate enough to land behind the back seat with two others, lay flat and cuddled up.  Those in the seats were not so lucky.  Two in the front seat made the unfortunate decision to remove their clothes, thinking the sleeping bags they'd been given were down.  One of those not-down-but-appeared-to-be sleeping bags was mine and I know/knew it wasn't, but I was clear in back, and didn't realize what they were doing, having fallen quickly asleep (oh, for the ease with which sleep came in those days).  They shivered all night long, poor things.

Very early the next morning, after making trails up a hill to relieve ourselves (I can see the photographs of the tracks in my head even now!), we walked down the mountain for help.  A man named Dan and his little boy, David, came with a snowplow to rescue us.  I remember even their names clearly because we made up a song about the whole experience that we were apt to break into at odd moments for years afterward!

It was perhaps, THE determinative event in us becoming 'the girls'.  Only one other girl became part of our group after that weekend.  And these girls/women have been my lifelong friends. Even the YL leaders  I still hear from and love like sisters (and oddly, they aren't nearly as much older than they seemed then, when they were all of 19 and 20 to my 15 year old self).

However, sometimes we've hurt each other. Back in high school, there were some moments of what one might have called betrayal.  At least then.  Years have softened the blows of those moments, but they were laced with pain then.  From here, I can't speak to motives, though my guess is that most choices had more to do with having fun than actually wanting to hurt someone else.  But hurt was felt.  There were long seasons when relationships were so strained between two or three of us that very little, if any, communication was possible. This hurt the rest of us, pulled us in to the drama, forced us to take sides.  Lest you think I'm innocent of all of this, you are mistaken.  I wish I could say otherwise.  I'd love to be able to tell you I neither hurt any of my friends, nor was hurt by them. Without question, my actions and reactions fell on both sides of betrayal--the betrayer and the betrayed--at different times.  Mostly though, I think--I hope--our betrayals were small things in the grand scheme of things.  We survived them.  Lived to move on and talk about them.  Lived to love each other more than hold on to them.

But then there's real betrayal.  You know what I'm talking about, doing the one thing that will most destroy another person for the sake of self.  I personally haven't experienced this from either side, though I've read enough books to recognize it.  And while it makes for an interesting plot line, it's hell on earth in reality.  To be betrayed by someone you trusted?  Someone you loved?  How do you survive that?

Judas Iscariot.  The very name conjures the worst betrayal in history, doesn't it?  Even those who don't follow Christ, recognize this name. In Luke it says that "Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve."  But here's the thing:  in other places in the gospels, we've seen Judas stingy and selfish. In the story of Jesus' anointing at Bethany, John tells us that Judas thought the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor. "He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it." (John 12: 6)  Two things strike me about this. First, of the disciples, it was a thief who was given charge of the money.  Doesn't this seem a little odd?  Surely Jesus knew who and what Judas was from the get-go. And right beside Judas in the group was another man used to handling money--Matthew (or Levi), the tax-collector.  Surely Matthew could have done the job admirably, if Jesus had asked him to.  Right?  But I think it wasn't that important to Jesus.  What's a denari here or there among friends?  And Matthew had been changed.  He wasn't interested in getting his hands on the money any longer.  Had Judas actually been changed? 

That's the second thing that strikes me.  Satan may have entered him and pressed him to go to the priests.  But Satan couldn't have entered Peter.  Not essentially.  Sure, Peter slipped the night of Jesus' arrest.  But denial isn't the same as betrayal.  Peter had been changed by Jesus. The gospels tell us enough about Peter's character to reveal that.  He'd fallen in love with Jesus, knew who He was, and, if not what it all meant exactly, at least enough to know he wanted in on it.  But the few things we're told about Judas indicate otherwise.  Judas hadn't been changed by the One he'd spent three years with.  This is a little shocking to me.  I can't imagine it.  All my Christian life I've had one underlying envy, that those men (and women, for there were plenty who also followed with the disciples; see Luke 8: 1-3) lived and ate and got to touch and see and be with the Second Person of the Trinity while He was in the flesh on this earth.  Yes, I admit it, I envy that, as hard as it was.  I know I have it better, for having the whole story in front of me, at my finger-tips, but I still feel it. Always will.  So to think of Judas who had this incredible, only-for-those-few gift and was so hard of heart that he wasn't changed by it, I don't get it.  I really don't.

But it was that very hardness of heart, that very unwillingness to give up self and be changed by relationship with Christ that gave Satan the space necessary to enter him, thereby compelling him to do the dirty, bloody work he did.  It's all well and good to blame the whole kit and caboodle on Satan, or to question whether God knew ahead of time that Judas would be the one to betray Jesus. The answer to the second is yes, of course.  God knew not because He created Judas to be His instrument of evil--if you think that, you miss who God is completely--but because He knew who Judas was.  He saw that Judas was unflinchingly selfish, unwilling to be changed by the Good, the Love, the actual presence of Himself right in his midst.  So He knew Satan could/would use Him.  But this sidesteps the real issue.

The issue is, how hard is your heart?
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called, "Today," so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.  What have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold till the end our original conviction.  As has been said, 
"Today, if you hear His voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion." Hebrews 3: 12-15

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