Proverbs 15:11 ESV
Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord; how much more the hearts of the children of man!
Who really understands mankind? Our hearts are obscured even to us, and we all know that we haven’t the faintest shot at completely comprehending those closest to us. There’s always some new factor, some unrecognized tendency, some misunderstood motive that messes our analysis up. When it comes to stranger, we can form ideas, ones that work on a practical scale, but we’re still just making really good guesses. What everybody else is thinking is, in truth, impossible for us to directly perceive, and even if we could we wouldn’t be able to comprehend it; we can only fit one person’s worth of thoughts inside of our heads. Even there we’re blind. Can you really say you know precisely what your response is to every situation, that you understand every nook and cranny of your soul, that you remember more than the slightest fraction of your thoughts? I certainly can’t.
Who, then, really understands the heart (soul, mind) of man? The Lord God Almighty, as this verse declares. The author even reassures us of this truth by showing that He understands Sheol and Abaddon as well. Sheol, of course, is the place of the dead, as the Old Testament authors named it, irrespective of their moral character. Abaddon, on the other hand, is for the wicked, though its precise relationship with the New Testament description of the afterlife is a matter of some complexity. Nevertheless, the author’s meaning is clear: no secrets of the afterlife are hidden from him, and so it would be absurd to call the secrets of this life hidden. For today, let’s consider three implications of this fact.
First, God and His word are the best and only infallible source for understanding man’s nature; they must therefore be believed absolutely, once understood. What does God say of man? “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick,” Jeremiah 17:9 explains; “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind,” states Ephesians 2:1-3. In the eyes of God, man is naturally dead in sin, enslaved to it. As Christ said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin,” and in the words of Paul, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey?” (John 8:34; Rom. 6:15).
Man is therefore a slave to sin. We don’t like that verdict. Man has come up with antinomian solutions that deny the existence or weight of sin; he has some up with legalistic solutions that allow him to overcome sin. These are all very appealing to man’s pride and desire for autonomy, for a will which is as God’s, unbound by His sovereignty, but they are lies. God’s eyes alone see man as he truly is. It is therefore only He who can promise salvation from that estate.
The second implication is this: when God promises redemption and sanctification, He knows that which He says and has the capacity to fulfil His promise. God isn’t promising to fix a problem He doesn’t understand. No, God knows the heart of man, and He knows how to change it. It is on the basis of this complete understanding that He says, “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ez. 11:19, 36:26). His regenerating work is thorough. He is not exaggerating when he likens it to a new birth, to a second birth, for it is a remaking of the whole man (John 3:1-8).
The third implication, which will circle back into the second, is that God is not unjust when He condemns man. Psalm 14 and its doppelganger, Psalm 53, makes no mountain out of a molehill. Man’s sin is a mountain he cannot move and does not desire, in his heart, to move. The crimes of man are great, are without excuse (Rom. 1:20), are without justification. Every man bears the sin of Adam and follows in Adam’s footsteps (Rom. 5:12-14). Thus, the damnation of the reprobate is just, and to protest it as otherwise is purest hubris. Why should man aver his own judgement greater than God’s? We do not understand our own hearts in full, and yet we dare to condemn Him who does for His judgement of us. We should rather bow our heads in repentance, in recognition of our sinfulness (1 Kings 8:47).
It is this recognition of man’s indisputable perversity that underlies the need for redemption. God’s redemption of us is our only hope for life; all other paths are towards death (Prov. 12:28). We have no hope in man, for he is blind (Is. 6:9-10), in other gods, for they are lies and logs (Is. 44:9-20), or in humanity, for the sum of the parts is no less sinful than the parts it is a sum of. God is our hope for redemption, and we can rest easy in Him. More, we must praise Him. He knows our evil and our sin; He walked on this earth among us, and He knows our toils, from without and from within. He knows every sin and evil we have ever done with a certainty we cannot ever approach, and still He gives mercy to us. Still He sacrificed Himself for our miserable selves, took our sins, which He knew as only our Creator could, gave us His righteousness, which we shall ever throughout eternity find new glory in, and He gave to us assurance that though we pass from the valley of the shadow of death into the arms of Sheol itself, into the grave, yet will He still guide us, even beyond the resurrection of the body when the seed springs forth.
Written by Colson Potter
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.