on Erasers and Wrecking Balls

There’s a certain feeling of accomplishment that comes with watching a house come together from the ground up. To see a bare patch of earth become the site of a foundation, then watch that foundation become the support for the skeletal frame of a brand new building, and then again as those walls are filled with wires and pipes and ducts, and finally as those walls are covered up and trimmed out—to be part of shaping a patch of emptiness into a finished product brings a sense of fulfillment.

What’s mildly less fulfilling is when the customer inevitably decides, midway through the construction process, that one particular wall should probably be moved about five feet to the left, or that maybe they would like a closet in that room after all, or that it would be really terrific if that set of stairs faced the other direction and had a landing in the middle. I’ve helped wire dozens of new construction houses, and this happens almost without fail. It’s not that I blame the customers for wanting to fine-tune their homes; I just wish they’d make those decisions before we put all that work into doing it the other way. Because moving a wall or adding a closet doesn’t just mean ripping out the studs and moving them somewhere else—if there are wires or pipes in that wall, they need to be relocated as well. Sometimes that means reworking an entire circuit and ending up with a lot of unnecessary waste.

Frank Lloyd Wright once famously said, “An architect’s most useful tools are an eraser at the drafting board and a wrecking ball at the site.” In other words, there are two opportunities for an architect to make a change in how his project is to be built: before its construction, and after. The fact that one stage requires only an eraser and the other requires a wrecking ball should give you some idea about which one lends itself better to tweaking.

Your drafting board

The Bible speaks at length on the role of the heart in the human condition. Time and again it resurfaces in the word of God as the core of our being; a descriptor of who we are when every façade and wall of pretense is torn down and our deepest thoughts and feelings are brought to light. It’s who we are when we think no one is watching—and it’s also our drafting board.

The heart is where we tweak who we are. It’s where we make changes to the blueprint of our being. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ taught that murder (Matthew 5:21-22), adultery (Matthew 5:27-28), and by implication every act of disobedience contrary to God’s law, begins not with a physical action, but with a desire from within. When we harbor hatred for another human being in our hearts, we’ve already taken the first step toward ending their physical existence. When we lust after another human being, we’ve already taken the first step toward fornication. In God’s eyes, both the action and the desire are unacceptable—because He knows that the unchecked desire will eventually lead to the action.

It’s why Christ, in chastising the Pharisees, explained that “a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:43-45). While no one but God can perfectly know someone’s heart (Jeremiah 17:10, cf. Acts 1:24), certain hearts will inevitably produce certain fruits. A corrupt heart will produce a corrupt person; a Godly heart will produce a Godly person.

Eraser or wrecking ball—choose carefully

As we noted earlier, there’s a time when making changes in a construction project are relatively easy—and a time when they are an absolute nightmare. To erase one line on a set of plans and move it five inches over is worlds away from ripping out a physical wall and relocating it. Correcting the blueprint before it’s used to build a house saves time, effort, and money.

The same is true of us in a spiritual sense. Through the words of Paul, God calls us His building (1 Corinthians 3:9), warning each of us to take heed how we build on the foundation of His word (1 Corinthians 3:10). We are a spiritual construction project, and we can either seek to correct problems while they are on the blueprint of our hearts, or after our actions have built them into the world around us.

There is no better or more tragic illustration of this truth than the story of David and Bathsheba. You know the story (and if you don’t, it’s worth your while to read 2 Samuel 11 – 12:23). David saw Bathsheba bathing on the roof. Instead of looking away, he brought her to the palace and committed adultery with the wife of one of his greatest and most faithful soldiers. When pregnancy followed and a cover-up failed, he effectively had Uriah murdered and then kept Bathsheba as his wife.

Whole chapters of the Bible—and perhaps the history of Israel itself!—would have been rewritten if David had just looked away on that rooftop. His problem was still on the drafting board, but when he chose to continue looking, he started building from that flawed blueprint. If he had just looked away, if he had just confessed to Uriah his sin, if he had just, if he had just, if he had just…but he didn’t. By the end of this story, David broke almost every one of the Ten Commandments, lost a son, and tainted his entire kingdom. He would later be plagued as his own children committed acts of rape, incest, murder, and even attempted coups against the throne.

What would have been different if David had redrawn the blueprint instead of building?

Mending the heart

It’s not as easy to fix a flaw in the heart as it is to move a line on a blueprint, but I think we can all agree that overcoming a sin with which we struggle internally is preferable to trying to repair the damage caused by a combination of adultery, deception, and murder. David chose the route of the wrecking ball—constructing a faulty building and then struggling to tear down the flaws. There was much damage (to himself and to others) that even his best efforts could never amend. Uriah remained dead, Bathsheba’s purity remained violated, and David’s son remained lifeless.

The story of David and Bathsheba reminds us how vital it is for us to fix our blueprints before we build. We can never fully repair the damage an act of sin causes, but we can keep ourselves from the act itself. The prophet Joel writes:

“Now, therefore,” says the Lord,
“Turn to Me with all your heart,
With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”
So rend your heart, and not your garments;
Return to the Lord your God,
For He is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger, and of great kindness;
And He relents from doing harm.
(Joel 2:12-13)

When we find a problem on our drafting board—a problem in our hearts—the proper response is to rend our hearts and seek God’s forgiveness and aid in fixing the problem. It won’t happen overnight, and it will require a great deal of work (and probably the occasional failure) to get right, but with God’s help, we can fix our hearts before they result in an action we can’t take back.

The great construction project

We are each of us part of God’s building, the Church—and each of us responsible for building a meaningful part of that building. Paul reminds us, “if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

In other words, there’s a smart way to be building, and a not-so-smart way. You can plan ahead and fix your problems with a spiritual eraser before they turn into gigantic nightmares, or you can stumble blindly ahead, cause damage to yourself and everyone around you, and then spend an immense amount of time and energy trying to fix things with a spiritual wrecking ball. God gives us the perfect blueprints in His Word, and the assistance we need to make them a reality through His Holy Spirit—but we’re under a deadline, and every day that passes is one less day to work on our part of the construction project. Eventually, the day will come when our work is put to the test and judged by our Creator.

With that in mind, let us each seek to not only build a quality finished product, but to build wisely along the way. An eraser can do a lot more good that a wrecking ball ever can.

Until next time,
Jeremy

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