“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
ALL OF US WANT TO VIEW OURSELVES IN A POSITIVE LIGHT. As a result, we often tell ourselves what we’d like to hear rather than what we need to hear. The human heart is exceedingly “deceitful,” as Jeremiah 17:9 says, and it takes an uncommon measure of honesty for us to see when we are lying to ourselves. Think about three areas where self-honesty is both important and very hard:
(1) What does God’s word teach? Especially when a text calls for a change that would be difficult to make, we reason our way around it, convincing ourselves of the meaning we prefer the text to have. We tell ourselves that we’re “explaining” the passage when all we’re really doing is dodging the inconvenience of obeying it.
(2) What kind of relationship do I have with God? Ideally, we should see our relationship with God exactly as it is, neither overestimating nor underestimating it. But rather than look at the facts honestly (2 Corinthians 13:5), we often allow our hearts to lie to us. We define reality in terms of whatever makes us feel good.
(3) What are my true motives, desires, and intentions? Here is the hardest area of all. If the question is What is the real reason why I want to do this? that can be a painful question to answer. It takes peeling off many successive layers of the “onion” of our hearts to get down to the real, true desires that are driving our decisions.
Edward White Benson remarked, “How desperately difficult it is to be honest with oneself. It is much easier to be honest with other people.” And yet, this harder kind of honesty is also more important than the easier kind. If we’re not willing to see (1) what God teaches us in the Scriptures, (2) the true status of our relationship with God, and (3) the true motives behind the decisions we make, then no amount of external honesty with other people is going to amount to much. It is God who is our Judge, and He knows “the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). We ought to embrace all of what He knows to be true — even about ourselves. Is it not the truth that will set us free?
“Honesty consists of the unwillingness to lie to others; maturity, which is equally hard to attain, consists of the unwillingness to lie to oneself” (Sydney J. Harris).