“Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from truth and we will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do condemn us, we have boldness before God, and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.” (1 John 3:18-22)
What does John mean when he writes that our hearts can condemn us? In short, it is the internal feeling that I am not right; that something is askew. Our hearts can tell us that we are wrong, leading to shame, and that we have done wrong things, leading to guilt. So how does this work?
First, our hearts can condemn us for who we are. We can feel condemned because of our race or our gender. We can feel it in our unhealthy body image issues or an unrealistic view of our physical appearance. We sense it in our lack of income. We don’t have the right clothes or the right cars. Or we didn’t get the right degree because we weren’t smart enough. It is the essence of dissatisfaction and being somehow incomplete. Or, “I am not good enough, therefore, I am not good at all.”
Another way that our hearts can condemn us is for where we are. We live in the wrong suburb, neighborhood, or kind of house. We have the wrong job or career. We went to the wrong schools. It can even be that we were born into the wrong family or married the wrong person.
A third way that our hearts condemn us is because of what we do. This includes our sins, but extends to our mistakes and failures. It can even involve the opportunities that we’ve missed or didn’t take complete advantage of. It comes when we make the wrong decision or waited too long to make the right one. We made a purchase creating debt when we should have been patient and paid cash. Our actions condemn us actively and passively.
Isn’t it fascinating that John’s first century audience struggled with the same kind of contemporary issues that we wrestle with today? His encouraging word that lifts us from guilt and shame and sets our feet on hope is that “God is greater than our hearts.” Those committees that live in our heads that condemn us do not hold the majority opinion of who we are, where we are, or what we’ve done. God has the last word on that. It is important for us to remember that he loves us, accepts us, and cares for us in spite of everything. We are valuable because God says we are valuable. Nothing we can do can compete with that!