I believe the heart of every man, woman, and child is a deep, deep well. The reason I say this, is that it dawned on me the other day that I only verbally express a fraction of the thoughts that run through my head. There is so much more inside of me that doesn’t come out. I realize that women, in general, are more expressive than men, but I’m confident in saying that the same goes for them too. In fact, I’m confident in making the broad sweeping statement that the majority of what goes on inside of a person never makes it out in words. Interestingly enough, we manage to formulate our opinions of people based on the small amount of words and exterior queues they give us, even though much of who they are remains unseen. I’m burdened by the question whether it’s my responsibility to communicate what’s inside, or someone else’s to truly take the time to know me. Either way, I do know that if we are to have an accurate depiction of ourselves portrayed to the world, the well of our heart must be tapped into.
It’s clear from Scripture that our heart is an extremely important and central part of who we are, and there are several verses that focus on it. One of the most incredible insights about our hearts it is when Jesus spoke these words:
“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45
In other words, what’s built up inside, will be the thing that comes out. Much of this Scripture speaks for itself, but there is an element, or perhaps layer, that I’m not sure is talked about much. At first glance, you many think that if a person is speaking good, there is good in his heart. Or if he speaks evil, there is evil in his heart. I’m not disagreeing with this at all, but is there only good or evil in his heart?
As I mentioned before, the people around me see and hear only a small percentage of my life that is presented publicly. Based on what I’ve chosen to focus my life on and speak about, I would venture to say people would form the opinion that there is good in my heart. However, what about the times that aren’t seen? What about when I lose my temper with my wife or children? What about some of my thoughts towards other people that remain inside and unspoken? Based on the simple fact that I can still have evil thoughts, yet not necessary speak them, tells me that what comes out of the “overflow” doesn’t constitute what’s exclusively in the heart; there is a mixture.
I’m using the fact that good flows out of me, yet I still having evil thoughts to introduce this idea, but I actually want to focus on the opposite scenario. What about those who have evil flowing from their mouths? Is there also good in their heart? With perhaps a few rare exceptions, I say absolutely, and this doesn’t contradict the Scripture we looked at. The “overflow” consists of the majority of what is stored up in the heart, and the ratio can be adjusted easily by what we choose to put in. Even so, our society is so quick to judge and dismiss if a person makes a few off-handed comments in a moment of weakness. Perhaps some of the junk inside leaked out from a small crack, and we immediately demonize and classify them as exclusively evil.
Although this visual may not be the most pleasing, think about a toilet overflowing with sewage. The more clogged it is, the more putrid the overflow. Although it’s disgusting and tainted, believe it or not on a molecular level, the majority of what’s flowing out is still pure water. The carrier mechanism of the filth is good! Think about this for a moment: the language and emotion that flows out of someone in its essence is good. God gave them to us to use for communication and relationship. However, filling your life with content that is dishonoring to God, or evil, will contaminate the purity of the well. Garbage in – garbage out; soon the choice of what language and emotion to use swings toward the side of darkness, and this is where people get into trouble. But again, how can we even make a “good or evil” judgment about someone if only a small percentage of what’s actually in their heart is seen or heard?
You may be thinking that this is just a simple “benefit-of-the-doubt” message and that you’ve heard me speak on this before, but I want to flip the perspective one more time. Taking into account what I’ve already said, it may be easy to understand that although a person may utter an evil word, it’s not all that is in their heart. Continuing this train of thought, I now want to primarily look at how you and I react to people when we perceive them as evil. We’d love it if there was another scripture that says, “Out of the overflow of a man’s heart, his appearance looks,” because that is quite often what we think, and it would validate our tendency to judge.
As I was nearing the end of my run the other day, I was approaching a man I guessed to be about my age who had the appearance of living on the streets. He was dirty, had clothes that were tattered, and certainly looked a bit hardened and worn. As he passed by, I noticed he was eating the last few bites of a burger from Dairy Queen. I knew its origin because I saw the wrapper as he took it from his mouth to nod and utter a brief “Hello,” to me. I returned the gesture and continued on a few more feet before noticing more Dairy Queen wrappers littered on the ground. The garbage trail was capped off about 20 feet farther by the entire bag everything came out of. At this point I had several thoughts going through my head and a few theories as to what I had just witnessed. We will get to that in a minute, but I want you to pay attention to the opinion of this man that you’ve already formed in your mind. Upstanding citizen, or disrespectful thug? Good, or evil?
There is a story in the Bible that makes God’s opinion on outward appearance crystal clear. Prior to anointing the future king David, Samuel examined each son within the family of a man named Jesse just as the Lord instructed. In the midst of the process, Samuel made the classic mistake of thinking he knew what was inside a man based on external appearance. In one case he thought height and good looks meant that one of Jesse’s sons, Eliab, would make a good leader. In response to this mistake, God said to Samuel,
“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
This is not a stretch to relate to because I think we’ve all come to the conclusion that someone is good based on what we see the first time we meet them; only later to find out there is darkness in their heart. Once again, what I’m more interested in is how we react to the one that gives a horrible first impression and has the appearance of evil. Do we automatically file them in the “evil” category? How do we distinguish this if they haven’t yet opened their mouth and there is nothing “overflowing”? Yes, the Bible is clear that evil talk is certainly evidence of some of the filth that resides in the heart, but I can’t find a single Scripture that equates the appearance of evil with an evil heart. Plus, what even constitutes the appearance of evil? Isn’t this something that is in the eye of the beholder? Some think tattoos are evil; I on the other hand, don’t think they are at all. Some translations of the Bible say to “Abstain from all appearance of evil,” which is sound advice, but it doesn’t make any connection to the heart (1 Thessalonians 5:22).
At this point, you may be wondering about the man I passed and why I used him as an example. You may have thought I was going to use him to draw a conclusion on how we are quick to judge people, even their heart, based on appearance. That’s part of it, because after all, he said nothing to me to suggest there was evil in his heart. In fact, he was quite nice. However, my main purpose is to turn the tables and place each of us in his shoes, but first, we have to find out how we judged. Based on the story I shared above, did you place this man in the good, or evil category? Here are the two scenarios that went through my mind when I saw him:
One is that this man himself purchased the food from Dairy Queen and decided he would simply throw his trash to the ground when he was finished with it. The other is that he was at such a low point and so hungry, that he spotted a discarded food bag on the side of the road, and as he walked by it, he checked its contents to see if anything was left. Upon finding a partially eaten hamburger, despite wanting to cling to any dignity he had left, he responded to his bodies cry for nourishment and began to eat what was left.
I had no concrete evidence either way, but God made it clear it was the latter. I know how I initially reacted upon seeing him, but what about you? This is not even remotely an attempt to shame anyone who may have viewed him as a menace. The world we see around us proves that the majority would have done so. Instead it’s to prove this point: If those of us that appear good can have evil in our hearts, those that appear evil can have deep wells of goodness in theirs. I also believe that even those that have an overflow of evil coming from their mouths have goodness to tap into as well!
So how do we find the goodness of a person’s well? Or better yet, purge out the evil altogether? Have you ever seen what happens to a glass of dirty water if you continue to pour clean water into it? The contents and the overflow eventually become crystal clear. Very simply, the love of God, either from Him directly or through His people, has the ability to cleanse the heart – the only thing God looks at. This answers my original question of whether it’s a person’s responsibility to communicate what’s inside, or someone else’s to truly take the time to know them. Christ always went the extra mile, sometimes literally, in order to pursue the truth of what was in a person’s heart. He did this no matter what they looked like, what came out of their mouth, or even what went into their mouth; like scraps from a Dairy Queen meal. We need to do the same.