The Dynamics of Change: Understanding - #2

Dr. Brian Allison

Ted Bundy was executed in the electric chair in 1989 at a Florida state penitentiary for killing a twelve year old girl. He had reportedly killed some 30 young women. Many believe, however, that he killed over one hundred women. Bundy was very cruel and violent in the killing of these young women. He would batter and smash their bodies, and then he would bury them. In an interview before his execution, Bundy claimed that he had a dark side that he could not explain. The dark side would overcome him. He could not control it, but rather it controlled him. Bundy confessed that he had a desire to kill, but that he did not know the reason for this desire. He apparently had no desire to change. Over the fifteen to seventeen years in which he engaged in these brutal murders, he had no desire or motivation to change. He received satisfaction in knowing that the surviving friends and family members would experience disappointment over the brutal slayings of their loved ones (Bundy himself experienced loss and deep emotional pain in his early years). He did remark, on one occasion, that he felt some guilt for what he had done, but not strong guilt which would make him stop or make him change. He was motivated by anger, by hatred, by revenge, and by perverted pleasure. In Biblical language, Bundy had a 'bad heart,' and this bad heart prevented him from acquiring the right understanding which would have brought about a change for the better. The moral character or disposition of one's heart (i.e., the rational mind of feelings, thoughts, desires, and will) determines the nature, and hence the behavioural results, of one's understanding.

Understanding is a precondition for change, that is, a certain understanding is required before one is even ready to change. Before significant personal change can occur, one must understand his situation, himself, and his God. Now this three-fold understanding can be either good or bad. With good (or Biblical) understanding, the resultant change, of course, will be for the better. Good understanding naturally arises from a good heart. With sinful (or unbiblical) understanding, the resultant change, of course, will be for the worse. Bad understanding naturally arises from a bad heart. As Ellen Glasgow (1873-1945), the American novelist, writes, "All change is not growth; all movement is not forward."

Understanding precedes change

The dynamic of understanding which leads to change is clearly seen in the story concerning king David's heinous sins (2 Sam.11, 12). David committed adultery, and then perpetrated a murder. He tried to ignore and cover up his sin, but his sin was eventually exposed. Now there are two movements of change in this account of David. First, David changes from a state of denial and indifference to one of confession, humility, and self-abasement. Second, he changes from a state of confession, humility, and self-abasement to one of acceptance, submission, and peace. This second movement of change will be the focus of attention in this article. Thus we read, "David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and wept and lay all night on the ground" (2 Sam. 12:16). The humility and self-abasement (which followed confession - 2 Sam. 12:13) of David is obvious. Yet, after this humility and self-abasement, David accepts the death of his son, submits to God's will, and thus is seemingly at peace. So, we read, "So David said to his servants, 'Is the child dead?' And they said, 'He is dead.' And he arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he came to his own house, and when he requested, they set food before him and they ate" (2 Sam. 12:19a,20). Let us consider this second movement of change in reference to the three focal points of understanding: the situation, the person, and God.

David rightly understood his situation

David realized that his religious exercises which were designed to appease God and thus turn away His wrath from the child were all in vain. His praying and fasting did not achieve the anticipated religious ends. The child died. We read, "Then it happened on the seventh day that the child died...And he [David] said, 'While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, "Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live." But now he has died; why should I fast?'" (2 Sam. 12:18,22f.). David realized that the judgement of God had been fully exacted; a judgement which had been prophesied through Nathan the prophet: "However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die" (2 Sam. 12:14). In realizing his situation, David was prepared to change. Again, he changed from a condition of confession, humility and self abasement to one of acceptance, submission, and peace.

David rightly understood himself

David apparently realized that he was a man of limitations, that he could not determine his own destiny. He realized that he was a sinner who had received the just reward for his immoral deeds. Thus he realized that he should not rebel in defiance against God. He realized that he was to submit. He said, "Can I bring him [the dead child] back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me" (2 Sam. 12:23b). David realized his true position before God, and thus he was prepared to change.

David rightly understood his God

David realized that God is a God of truth, that He fulfils His Word – God promised judgement (2 Sam. 12:14) and made good (2 Sam. 12:18). He realized that God judges impartially – a hitherto faithful king is not exempted. He further realized that God remains God, and regardless of what He does, God is always worthy of worship. We read, that David "came into the house of the LORD [after the death of the child] and worshiped" (2 Sam. 12:20). Again, with understanding, David was prepared to change – from a state of confession, humility, and self-abasement to one of acceptance, submission, and peace.

Good understanding versus bad understanding

David had good or right understanding, and because he had this kind of understanding, he changed for the better. Now, conceivably, David could have understood his situation, himself, and his God from a self-centred and sinful perspective, rather than from a God-centred and Biblical one. So, for example, as David sought to understand his situation he might have drawn this conclusion: "This situation is unfair; it's unjust. God has gone too far; what is he doing?" As he sought to understand himself, he might have drawn this conclusion: "I am a victim. I innocently slipped. I really didn't mean anyone any harm. I had a mental lapse. I am not really a sinner deserving this kind of punishment." As he sought to understand his God, he may have drawn this conclusion: "God is cruel. He sits in heaven with His club ready to beat down upon me. God delights in afflicting and bringing me pain." This kind of understanding is bad understanding.

This past week, I was speaking to a Christian lady who was very distressed because her son had almost beat her to death. Apparently the son 'flipped out,' and he began to punch and kick her. She became unconscious. When she regained consciousness, she ran out of the house and telephoned the police. Now in talking to this woman, she was in great confusion and consternation. She said, "Why did this happen to me? Why is God doing this to me? Where was God when I needed Him? I have trouble believing that God cares for me, that He is here for me." Because this woman experienced this unfortunate event, her faith began to wane. This dear soul certainly requires compassion and sympathy, but, to complicate matters for herself, she was interpreting the situation wrong; there was bad understanding (e.g. God is unloving) and, as a result, there was bad fruit (e.g. a turning away from, and not trusting in, God).

Good understanding is beneficial and profitable, and results in good behaviour or fruit. Again, good understanding is understanding that is God-centred and God-honouring; it is understanding that is shaped and informed by God's Word. On the other hand, bad understanding is unprofitable and destructive, and results in bad behaviour or fruit. Again, bad under- standing is understanding that is self-centred and self-exalting. Again, a good heart produces good understanding, which leads to good fruit; a bad heart produces bad understanding, which leads to bad fruit.

David basically had a good heart. His Psalms reveal the vitality of his spirituality. The historical records reveal his consecration to God. He was rightly related to the Lord. He had a healthy fear of God. He had a desire to keep the Lord's commandments. David's problem, however, was that he had a 'moment of blindness' (though still culpable). It is possible to have a good heart which possesses a healthy fear of God; which desires to keep the commandments of God; which is rightly related to God; and yet have a moment of blindness, a moment where you stumble and sin. In a moment of weakness, the temptation can become too great, and unfortunately one may have to live the rest of his or her life with the consequences and fallout of that one moment of blindness.

David sinned through a moment of blindness. His eyes were taken off the Lord, and he saw and lusted after the beauty of Bathsheba. He had sexual relations with her and then he tried to cover up his sin (sin produces sin) by having Bathsheba's husband killed; and for the rest of his life, because of that one moment of blindness, David experienced the judgement of God. On the one hand, we have encouragement: you can have a good heart and yet experience a moment of blindness; on the other hand, we have a sober reality: that one moment of blindness can reap years of pain and sadness.

The pastor that was used of the Lord to bring me to a saving knowledge of Christ was a very fervent preacher who loved the doctrines of the Bible. It was through his ministry that I decided to go to seminary and prepare for the pastoral ministry. During my last year of seminary I was told that he had committed adultery. How do you explain it? He had a moment of blindness. He had to resign from the ministry. He received reproach, scorn, rejection and no doubt he still feels it today. He is ministering the Word today, but not as a pastor. He has been living with the consequences of that moment of blindness. Does he have a good heart? I think so, but how painful are the consequences of the moments of blindness.

A test case for good understanding: bereavement

Before you will be prepared to change for the better, you need good understanding. Let us consider the case of bereavement to observe how this dynamic may work itself out. (For that matter, we could consider the case of rejection or of being abandoned because the dynamic is the same – the experience of loss and disappointment.) Your life partner, with whom you have spent many years, suddenly dies. There is the experience of crisis in your life. You try to make sense of the situation and you find that you are confused, filled with pain and sorrow, and wondering how you can on from here. You are filled with the thoughts that he or she will never be around again. Life is going to be very different, and you realize that you are going to enter a long period of aloneness. At first, the death seems make-believe; you say, "This is not happening, this is not true. I cannot believe that he (or she) is never going to come through the front door again. I cannot believe that I will wake up in the morning and turn over and not find my mate." You realize that there is a sense of finality – no more conversations, no more embraces, no more fun times.

Now, I would imagine that one of the supposed changes, the desired behaviour, that you would want is simply coming to grips with the loss and 'getting on' with your life. With this scenario of bereavement, what is your response? Now you can respond to this scenario in, at least, one of two ways: you can respond with bad or wrong understanding which arises from a bad or wrong heart, or you can respond with good or right understanding which arises from a good heart.

a. Situation

Let's consider the three focal points: situation, self and God. With respect to the situation, you may have a wrong understanding, that is, an understanding that arises from a sinful, self-centred heart, and the understanding consists of something like this: "This is just not fair. Why was my mate taken? Why must I live alone? What did I do to deserve this? Why did he (she) have to leave me now?" You interpret everything as being against you. You say something like this: "Well this is typical; everything happens to me. There is always some problem in my life that I have to deal with. Why is it always me?" The result of that understanding is a change for the worse – bad fruit. For instance, you may begin to react with hostility and aggression because you are really angry with your mate for leaving you behind. You may become angry with life in general. You may become quite critical of the doctors, wondering why they could not do more. You may become depressed and discouraged, and thus begin to withdraw. You may begin to push people away. You may begin to reject people. The bad fruit results from the bad understanding; you have misinterpreted the situation.

With respect to the same situation, however, you may have a right or good understanding, that is, an understanding that arises from a righteous, God-centred, God-honouring heart and the understanding consists of something like this: "This death did not happen by chance." Yes, the experience of the loved one's death is incredibly painful; it is ripping you apart, and you are wondering how you are going to persevere, how things are going to return to a state of normalcy. You grieve to be sure, but you know that God has ordained it. You may not know why He has ordained it, but you accept He has. It may not make sense to you, but you know that God has allowed it, and you confidently say as father Abraham, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right." The fruit, the change, that results from that kind of good understanding is that of acceptance and peace.

b. Yourself

What about understanding yourself? With respect to yourself, you may have bad understanding, and it consists of something like this: "I am a victim." Do you know how many people think that they are victims? They say, "I feel utterly helpless. I cannot be held responsible for my actions and my behaviour." The fruit or change of this kind of understanding is that you may learn to become dependent, unable to fend for yourself, always looking for someone to be there because you have difficulty coping. You may lose the sense of confidence in yourself, the sense of healthy independency. Your confusion may become full blown depression. The result is that you learn to live in a world of escapism, being very self-piteous.

With respect to yourself, you may, however, have good understanding, and it consists of something like this: "I am a saint being sanctified by the Lord. This really hurts, but God is doing something eternal in my life. He wants to sanctify me. God is bringing me through the fires; He is making me more like His Son, that I might bear His character. I am being sanctified by the burning fires of the Lord, and blessed be the name of the Lord." This is good understanding, and the fruit or change that flows from this understanding is joy, hope, and faith. You recognize that even in the midst of your struggles and your problems, your bereavement and your alienation, that God still loves you and that you are a child of the King. This loss is not an expression of His lack of care, His lack of concern, but, to the contrary, a demonstration that He loves you all the more, and He knows what is good for you. You are a saint being sanctified, even through the tragic death of a spouse.

c. God

What about understanding God? With respect to God, you may have a wrong understanding, and it consists of something like this: "God is cruel to me. God is unloving. Can this be the God whom I worship and serve? Can this God be the one who has made my life sour? God is cruel." The fruit or change of that understanding may be an anger toward God. You may say, "Lord, what are you doing? I have served you all these years. I have tried to be faithful to you and this is what I get." Other fruit that may result is that you will become cold in your devotions. You may not fully understand it, but deep down inside you will experience a low grade, seething anger; and although you might not actually say it, in one way (through the distortion of the mind) you are trying to get even with God. The level of your commitment will fall off; you will not want to attend Church as much, and prayer will bother you.

With respect to God, you may, however, have good understanding, and the understanding consists of something like this: "God is wise; God is sovereign. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, but blessed be the name of the Lord." The good fruit or change which shall result is worship. When you recognize that God has ordered all things according to His good pleasure; that what He did was indeed just and good (even though you do not understand it), and you clearly realize that He remains God – wise, sovereign and good – you will worship Him.

Motives underlie understanding

A bad heart is ruled by bad motives or desires. With respect to bereavement, the motives or desires may be: 1) I want to be happy always and have no suffering in my life (but God has ordained suffering in order to mature us); 2) I want someone to look after me and to meet my needs (but God wants us to trust in Him alone and to rely on His provision); 3) I want someone to be responsible for me, and who needs me (but God wants us not to seek to control and to live in pride, but rather to live in spiritual poverty of soul and be humble).

A good heart is ruled by good motives or desires. With respect to bereavement, the motives or desires may be: 1) I want God's holy will to be done in my life, regardless how painful it may be (for God's will is always good, acceptable, and perfect); 2) I want to count it all joy when trials come into my life (for God is using these trials to mature me and fashion me into the image of His Son); 3) I want to commit my life and circumstances into the gracious and merciful hands of my heavenly Father (for God is ever faithful and good). When the heart is good, the fruit will be good, similar to that expressed by David – acceptance, submission, and peace.

Good understanding practically applied

As you have addressed the various issues of your life, issues that you know require change, how has been your understanding? Understanding is essential, but it can be good or it can be bad, and which one you evidence will make all the difference in the world. Has your understanding been God-centred, God-honouring, and God-exalting or has it been self-centred, self-honouring, and self-exalting? When you address the situations in your life, when you know that something needs to change, do you say something like this: "What do you want me to do, how do you want me to respond, Father God?" Or do you say something like this: "This is what I want. My feelings and needs are primary?" When that marriage relationship becomes shaky, what is your response, your understanding?" Do you say, "What do you want, Father God? What does your Word say?" Or do you say, "This is what I want; this is what I say. What do I get out of this? What do I want him (or her) to do for me?" When you are struggling with that sexual habit do you say, "What does God want? What does His Word say?" Or do you say, "What do I want?" Maybe the reason you have continued in that habit is because you are asking the wrong questions, portraying the facade of following God, but deep down inside you are doing what you want, and you are not ready to give it up.

When you realize that your angry attitude is destructive, and a change is required, do you say, "What does God want? What does the Bible say? What does God expect of me?" Or do you say, "What do I want? I have a right; I am justified." Again, when you address that matter of stealing, whether you steal software or time from your employer, do you say, "What does God want, and what does His Bible say?" Or do you say, "What do I want? What am I going to get out of this? How does this advantage me?"

It is a simple truth, but a critical one: good understanding arises from a good heart, a heart that is rightly related to God, a heart that fears God and desires to keep His commandments, and one that desires to do what is right in His sight. Bad understanding arises from a bad heart, a heart that is self-honouring and self-exalting. Do you have a good heart or a bad heart? Be honest. The character of your heart will determine the nature of your understanding, as well as the fruit of that understanding. You will be prepared to change for the better or for the worse, depending on the nature of the understanding. God gives good understanding. His understanding results in abundant life. As the Scriptures teach, "Understanding is a wellspring of life to him who has it" (Pr. 16:22). Are you enjoying this life?