Ki Tavo
For the week of September 5, 2009 / 16 Elul 5769
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 26:1 - 29:8
Haftarah: Isaiah 60:1-22

Only God Can Change Our Hearts

But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 29:4; ESV)

As Moses is nearing the end of his time as leader of his people and prepares them for their new life in the Promised Land, he expects that they will not remain faithful to God. He is well aware that even though they had been recipients of God's goodness and witnesses of his power, they had never undergone the change of heart necessary to keep them in right relationship with him. While the consequences of their inadequate spiritual state is made clear, this statement is the ultimate reason for this: "But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear (Devarim / Deuteronomy 29:4; ESV).

One of the most difficult and perhaps most controversial issues in the entire Bible is the relationship between God's sovereignty and human responsibility. While the Bible claims that God is master and king of the entire universe, we human creatures will be held accountable for our actions. People through the ages have grappled with how both of these truths can be true at the same time. Some insist on emphasizing one over the other, thinking that either God is limited in his sovereignty or we have no actual control over our actions.

But is it necessary to resolve this tension? If the Scriptures teach both and we can't figure out how they work together, then perhaps we don't have all the information we would need to know to sufficiently resolve this difficult philosophical problem. This approach may not easily satisfy you, but don't we regularly hold certain things to be true without working out all the logical inconsistencies between them? I accept that this issue is a most difficult and important one, and that the acceptance of one of these truths challenges the reality of the other. But the humility that comes from accepting that we don't have all it takes to know everything, might enable us to live with the tension (and the blessing) that arises from holding both God's sovereignty and human responsibility to be fully true at the same time.

Rejecting either of these two basic truths cuts us off from the reality of life as God created it. Instead of striving for philosophical comfort, we would be much better off to learn to live with the tension. These words of Moses we have read are a wonderful opportunity to do this.

According to Moses, the people's inability to follow God in the way they should is because God had not given them that ability. As each one of us accepts how we have failed to measure up to God's standards just as the people of Israel of old, we need to realize that our spiritual inadequacy is ultimately due to God's leaving us in our natural sinful state. To be what God designed us to be can only become a reality as God himself graciously grants changes in our hearts. Human striving will never overcome our spiritual inadequacies. We need God's transforming power.

This is why God's remedy for Israel's ongoing waywardness was that he himself would cause the necessary changes we so desperately need. Many years later, through the prophet Jeremiah, God said that he would one day bring about what Moses said had not occurred in his day - a permanent change of heart: "I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33; ESV).

To be what God wants us to be requires the work of God in our lives. Does this mean therefore that there is nothing we can do with the spiritual inadequacies in our lives? If God hasn't changed us, then is there nothing we can do about it? Yes and no. While we cannot by our own efforts make us what we are not, we can submit ourselves to God and look to him to affect this change.

But isn't this circular reasoning? Is not our inability to rely on God due to God's not changing our hearts sufficiently so that we can rely on him? This is where not accepting that we don't know everything gets in the way of reality. While it is true that we need God's work in our hearts to rely on him, we don't see the evidence of God's work until we rely on him. As we submit to God's sovereignty we may just find that he has changed our hearts.

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