The Courtroom

corte-di-cassazione-2
Hope is very important to me, which is why I always try to point back to the hope of the gospel in every blog post. This post dives into the discouragement we can face as Christians when we daily deal with our sinful selves and a confusing, sin-infused world. If you identify with my struggle below, I pray you will also identify with my powerful, joy-giving hope. It is an anchor for our souls.

 Every morning, I wake up up to preside over the courtroom of my soul.
I don’t mean to say that I am the Law for myself. I most certainly–first and only, body and soul— belong to my Lord and Savior.
But each day I climb up to the bench and try the cases of my heart, one by one.
I like knowing. I like certainty.
And sometimes facts and feelings plead their cases, memory and intuition wage war on the courtroom floor, prayers and fears duel on the witness stand, and I sink down behind the bench in dismay.
Because sometimes I can’t figure it all out. And when I do figure it out, often I, the judge, am implicated by the testimonies of my own courtroom.
Either way, the result is the same: my soul is left with a choice, to either despair or trust.
Despair, because I can’t figure out or fix myself.
Trust, because today I see more of my flaws than I could see yesterday—but I can also see more of my God’s goodness than I could see a day ago.

Coming Up Empty

As a child, it worked.
I could analyze all the pieces of my life and see how they fit together. Things were more black and white, people were more stereotypical, and my eyes saw through the rosy tint of childhood.
In my courtroom now, I have more evidence than ever. My storerooms are filled with interpretations, weights, measures, gauges, preconceptions.
And life takes on ever so many more shades.
Before, I could hold up the six stripes of the rainbow and match the color. Now, people and events are painted with shades I never knew existed and shadows I dared not imagine. Ever mixing tones on their own life’s palette, each person colors in their existence with shades of their own making, each creating never-before-seen hues.
The dazzling variety hurts my tender eyes. I don’t know the difference between azure and sky blue. I can’t discern between apricot, coral, and salmon pink.
I can’t even, often, decrypt the colors of my own soul.
So this judge cradles her aching head and sometimes has to leave the bench. And I’m learning that…it’s okay to lay down the gavel. Sometimes, I just have to find out how far God’s Word addresses the situation, pray for wisdom, ask questions, and–every once in a while–suspend judgment.
Sometimes swift and firm decisions are needed. I’m happy to bang the gavel on such occasions.
But others? I’ve worried my soul into a tizzy, pressing it for suitable evidence and arguments. I’ve harried my heart into tears, because I can’t split the fine hairs of my own thoughts.
In these times, I have to recognize my calling. Am I called to read my own mind and discern my own intentions, to the nth degree? Or is my utmost call the glory of God, as I rest and quiet my soul in Him?
Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this [love for one another] that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” 
 – 1 John 3:18-20, NASB –
It is so beautiful, so quiet, to finally lay aside my judging robes and commit my soul to “Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).

Coming Up Guilty 

Sometimes, I am my own worst critic.
And, many days, I am everyone else’s worst critic too.
Comparing, weighing their opinions against my own, sizing them up with my own peculiarly-developed standards—I am learning the unloving and selfish ways of my own heart when it is left to itself.
Not to say that I let it wander unchecked.
If you could step into my mind, you would hear the daily dialogue I have with myself. I raise criticisms and bash them down in a breath. I mutter and complain, following up with a “but you should really thank God for all the good things that happened today.” Then, the selfish part of me argues back.
I critique the behavior of those around me…then inform myself that I do the same things. Why should I hold them to a standard I don’t hold myself to?
And back and forth it goes.
So very often, my internal courtroom resounds with my own guilt. As I learn more and more of Christ’s worthiness and my own failures, I have to go back to the same place as I go when I cannot figure out things at all:
Quieting my soul at the foot of the cross…or, perhaps, restoring my soul at the door of the empty tomb.
“O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
From this time forth and forever.”
 – Psalm 131:1-3, NASB –
My faithful God sent His Son for the mess of me.
My resurrected Savior conquered death so I might live in His victory.
My heart is daily renovated by the Divine Comforter, the Holy Spirit that dwells in His children.
While defeat and imperfection raise their voices in my courtroom, they do not get to rule. Although confusion and mystery chase me around the bench, they are not judge over me.
I have only one Judge in the end, and He is making me new, day by day.
How I long to be new!
I believe that’s just what I’m becoming. “New, fresh, with no mistakes”—as Ann says.
One of these days, I’ll get there. One of these days.
I know it.
“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.”
 – 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, NKJV –
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Tattered Children

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“No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home, but the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us: it is the very sign of His presence.”

– C. S. Lewis –

I feel like a child who forgets she’s had a bath.

I rub my hands together, still mentally covered in the mud’s slime and the sand’s grit.

One film called “The Robe” depicts the journey to faith made by the centurion who crucified Jesus. At first, his guilt haunts him. It nearly drives him mad. In moments of frenzy, he rubs his hand frantically, trying to get the long-erased stain of Jesus’ blood off his fingers.

I feel like that centurion, haunted by stains others have forgotten or never saw at all.

Chased down by guilt that was forgiven in an instant. If only I could stop my flailing long enough to actually see what Jesus has done.

In those stomach-twisting moments, I am Simon Peter, pleading for my head  and my hands to be washed as well as my feet (John 13:9). All of me feels desecrated.

Like C.S. Lewis, I feel the “despair of overcoming chronic temptations,” a Fatal slipping back into the wallow.

Relief is foreign, in those moments. They stretch on and on, a desert where refreshing can be seen just over the next dune, only to vanish when weary feet stumble up to the mirage.

Bogged in such a moment, I vacillate between a frantic, gasping desire for the old peace and a slithering despondency that by trying harder, working up more memories of things to repent of, I will only slip farther into the pit, the steep-sided slough.

I struggle for balance, grasping one moment at a shining thread of truth, seen through the fog like light seeping under a closed door. The next moment, I miss the strand and plummet farther into a ceaseless reel of my failures. I play them over and over to myself, each bout ending with a tighter feeling in my chest before I once again shrug off the feeling.

I talk myself into guilt, then try to convince myself that I am innocent. I lay awake conjuring up memories. Did I say that in a cutting way? Should I apologize to that person? What about that one time years ago when I did that? Maybe I should try to ask that person’s forgiveness. Oh dear. I think my annoyance at someone crossed my face. Maybe I should say I’m sorry?

And then the other side battles back. “So and so” probably didn’t think anything of your tone. They didn’t seem offended. Good grief! That was years ago–and your mom said not to worry about it, that it was fine. No, I don’t think you showed your annoyance. Snap out of it. It’s not a big deal. Just ask God to help you and get on with living! Yes, repent if you’ve really offended someone. But you’re making yourself miserable over a basket full of nothing!

But by the time these two pieces of myself have battled, the spirit of pseudo-spirituality has worn me thin and praying seems distasteful. I edge into sleep with only a few obligatory lines murmured, afraid that at His feet too I will be rejected. If I can’t even reason myself out of the hole, if I can’t find an end to my own fault-finding–why on earth should I expect to be clear of guilt standing before a Holy God?

There is, undoubtedly, a vital, soul-cleansing place for repentance in the life of the Christian. Just as much–or more–danger lies in failing to repent as there is in hypersensitivity. Failing to see the deadly ugliness of sin is an opposite “ditch” that we just as often fall into.

From time to time, there will be an awakening. We children will look down and “come to ourselves.” We will realize that the clothes that were just laundered are now mud-caked and full of rotten stench. We are Prodigals, seeing where our pleasure hunt has led us at last. Then, it is good to see the sewer for what it is. It is good to smell it for what it is–a place of decay, disease, death, and dissatisfaction. There, our eyes finally open and we see how very tattered we have become.

This itself is a good thing, even “the sign of His presence.” Only opened eyes can draw the contrast between blindness and true light. Only opened ears can begin to hear the difference between the world’s unsettling clash and the joyous harmonies of glory. Only the children that notice the dirt can continue to fight against the sins that cause it.

What is vital is that we believe.

That is the problem, I discovered.

As I mulled over my recent sin-struggle, I wondered if there could be some connection between the far-apart symptoms of self-satisfied unrepentance and self-destroying oversensitivity.

Lying on my bed in the dark, I finally saw. Thank God, I saw.

Saw that my problem has been, all along, that I am not really believing God. That whether hard-hearted or too anxious, the disease is unbelief in what God says He will do. One person does not believe God actually abhors sin and will punish it; the other does not believe in His breathtaking promise to forgive.

Overscrutinizing my expressions, replaying memories of my failures that no one else recalls, scrutinizing every moment for the tiniest flaw for which I need to grovel–in these I doubt Christ’s power.

Yes, I need to repent.

But once I have repented, I am free.

Free!

The Bible declares forgiveness in such simple, clear terms. If we confess our sins, the faithful and just Savior will forgive (1 John 1:9). There are no added conditions, no fine print that to our confessions must be added a certain measure of despondency, a certain number of penances, and a time-out period.

Amy Carmichael wrote,

“If I cast up a confessed, repented, and forsaken sin against another, and allow my remembrance of that sin to colour my thinking and feed my suspicions, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”

Though she speaks of having unforgiveness toward another person, this same truth applies to ourselves. We sin. We fly to the throne. Through tears, we cast it away into the corner and plead forgiveness from the One who died that we could be reconciled. Then, we run off before we hear the forgiveness announced. We hurry back to our places and begin to “cast up a confessed, repented, and forsaken sin” against ourselves, words flagellating the bare, raw backs of our souls as much as ever did a monk’s penance whip.

“Forgiven!” He shouts it from the heavens, but we are so transfixed in repeating over and again our own self-declared guilt sentence that our ears do not hear his voice. It is amazing how easily God’s clear proclamations can be drowned out by our own muttering.

For me, it took until Communion Day to finally receive the message of His pardon. My soul felt whipped into shreds, my desire for Him scarred by imaginings that He would be even more stern with me than I had been with myself. I could only beg His forgiveness for not loving Him more. But sitting there, about to receive the bread, I still felt no pardon.

But I believed. I had been reading The Screwtape Letters and read this devilish advice: ” Teach [Christians] to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling.” So I realized that the battle was one of faith. I didn’t have to feel some great Heavenly wave wash over me. I just had to cling to Jesus’ blood and righteousness–like Harriet Tubman’s constant prayer in her work to free slaves: “Lord, I’m going to hold steady on to you and You’ve got to see me through.”

There are two ‘courts’ we must deal with: the court of God in Heaven and the court of conscience in our souls. When we first trust in Christ for salvation, God’s court is forever satisfied. Never again will a charge of guilt be brought against us in Heaven. Our consciences, however, are continually pronouncing us guilty. That is the function of conscience. Therefore, we must by faith bring the verdict of conscience into line with the verdict of Heaven. We do this by agreeing with our conscience about our guilt, but then reminding it that our guilt has already been borne by Christ.

– Jerry Bridges, emphasis mine –

 And, as it so often happens, when I believed, He granted me more than I could have asked.   

As I trusted, sitting there holding a small piece of cracker, a picture formed in my mind.

I could almost see a child, a little girl, clothed in a white dress that had been spattered with  mud and ripped at the knees, knocking timidly at a cottage door. I knew the child was me.

And I could feel the thrum of the guilty little heart, after her forbidden excursion.

But then the Father threw open the door. The little girl ran into His arms. Both eyes were full of tears–the girl’s of penitence, the Father’s of joy.

It took my breath away. It was no vision. I have no spiritual illusions that it was anything more than a God-granted thought.

But it was as if I were in the arms of my Abba Father in that instant. All the Kingly declarations of forgiveness, the celestial shouts –these, by my own fault, I could not hear. In that moment though, when in my mind I was the little girl in her Father’s arms, I could hear the still, small whisper. “Forgiven, my child. Forgiven.”

“There is no thirst of the soul so consuming as the desire for pardon. The sense of its bestowal is the starting-point of all goodness. It comes bringing with it, if not the freshness of innocence, yet a glow of inspiration that nerves feeble hands for hard tasks, a fire of hope that lights anew the old high ideal, so that it stands before the eye in clear relief, beckoning to make it out on its own.”

– Charles H. Brent –

The old joy began to return, the lightness of  freedom (Galatians 5:1).

When I received that hug from God, I knew the Prodigal was home.

Behold, what manner of love is this, that Christ should be arraigned and we adorned, that the curse should be laid on His head and the crown set on ours.

– Thomas Watson –

Thanks to Sonita Lewis and Public Domain Pictures for this post’s photo!