Nana’s house was a full of curiosities for a ten-year old boy. The old pump organ, with its myriad of stops and swirling barstool seat entertained for hours. The “old trunk” with a torn Confederate $100 bill, my great-grandfather’s powder-horn, and Uncle Charles’ well-worn army helmet conjured tales of bygone adventure. Pictures of pagodas and of Mt. Fuji, sent from Uncle Tommy while in the service in Japan, were windows into a faraway world. And her bolt action .22 rifle and her snuff cans lent an aura toughness to Nana that awed a young grandson.
But most memorable was her Jello-O. We never ate a meal at Nana’s without Jell-O. Lime was my favorite. And the Jello-O was always crowned with homemade whipped cream – a remarkable touch in a day when Cool Whip ruled the dessert scene. Nana’s Jell-O was stiff, like what you find at the Chinese Buffet. So stiff it would stop a bullet. No worries about it melting. No problems cornering it with your spoon. You could carve it into any and it would hold fast. My mother complained that it was too hard, that Nana used too little water, and did not follow the recipe. But we loved it. I still like my Jell-O this way. Hardened Jell-O is the best.
But some things are not meant to be hardened. If our internal organs harden, we have cirrhosis – a dangerous, and ultimately deadly condition. If our attitudes or affections become hardened, we become bitter and alienated from everyone who tries to love us. Of course, it is easy to become jaded, to harden our hearts against all the people and circumstances that disappoint us, reject us, and make life difficult. But we are not meant for cirrhosis in our bodies, our heart, or our spirit.
Spiritual cirrhosis – bitterness against God and unrepentance for our sin — is the deadliest form of hardening. Its effects go far beyond poisoned relationships or a terminal diagnosis. It is a hardening with eternal consequences. From beginning to end, the Bible reveals God as a God of mercy and forgiveness. He provided an escape from the gravity of sin and death, through faith in the finished work of Christ. Christ paid what we could not, so that we might have what only He deserved. It is that simple. Yet many would rather be the Captain of their Doomed Fate than trust Jesus.
I have always been amazed at the story of the serpent in the wilderness in Numbers 21. The Israelite refugees are attacked by deadly serpents in the desert. God provides a strange and gracious anti-venom. He told Moses to fashion a serpent and put it on a pole. Anyone who looked at the serpent would be spared. Yet many died. Why? Because they simply were too hardened to look in faith to a serpent on a pole. How much more deadly to be so hardened by life, so rebellious against God, so enslaved to a fallen world, that you will not simply look to the “Son of Man, lifted up” on the cross?
Often men think of confession and repentance as unpleasant and punitive. But through these means is found grace and mercy. After all, it is “the kindness of God that leads to repentance.” But refusing God’s grace is both the result and agent of a hardening heart and an unrepentant spirit. Revelation 16 is a shocking passage. In this, the final cycle of seven judgments, the bowls of wrath are poured out. They are not revealing, nor announcing, they are enacting God’s righteous judgment against those who have repeatedly refused God’s lavish grace. But even in these judgements, there seems to be a call to turn back.
Revelation 16 reminds men of the completeness, the inescapability, the eternality of God’s wrath against unatoned sin. Yet it reveals something even more dreadful. Those hardened against grace, are hardened even more in judgement. As bowls are emptied, men experiencing God’s righteous judgement express no sorrow, no remorse, no repentance. The penitent thief, standing under judgement declared, “do you not fear God since you are under the same sentence of condemnation, and we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward for our deeds.” But men experiencing the bowls of God’s wrath “cursed the name of God, did not repent and give him glory.” They were hardened. Hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Hardened because they saw only a God of wrath and fury, not the God of grace and mercy.
What about you? Has disappointment with life, or perhaps with God himself, hardened you? Can you feel yourself growing more and more this way? Is hardening in your mind, attitude, and relationships metastasizing into your spiritual life as well? Is God only a God of wrath and fury to you, or do you know him as a God of grace and mercy? Join us this week as we examine Revelation 16 and consider its warning against “spiritual cirrhosis.”