I recently read this passage from an excellent novel. It presents a man who has come to understand his heart’s depravity and the anguish that causes him. I wonder how you might respond to his lament?
“For a while he sat in silence, not knowing what he should say. Then words came to his lips, he hardly knew from whence:
‘I wish you God’s peace, God’s eternal peace and blessing.’
The sick man shook his head.
‘Not for me! Not for me! Eternal damnation, punishment according to the measure of my sin, the judgment of wrath, and the everlasting flames – that is for me. To me he will say, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into the everlasting fire!’
‘But God is good,’ said Savonius quietly.
The sick man looked straight up at the ceiling.
‘Yes, God is good, very good. It is just for that reason I am in such a bad way. Pastor you do not know how good God has been to me. He has sought my soul and bidden me walk in the way of life. But I have not done so. He has shown me heaven’s purity, but I shall never win it. I sat in Ravenlunda church and heard the angels sing. Then I saw my mother in the women’s pew and I thought: Mother has aged, this winter she may die; then I shall inherit the farm. And heaven wept, for I saw that more than I loved Mother, I loved the filthy dollars. Then the pastor came to the pulpit. Potbelly, I thought. You can play cards and fish for trout, but you cannot feed God’s poor little lambs with the Word. But I had not prayed for him. Was that love? I walked along the road and saw the rye in full bloom. Then I thought: Rye as thick as this is never to be seen on the crofter’s stony field. But the captain has taken all the good ground for himself. He is rich in this world, but he will burn in hell. Was that love, Pastor?’
Johannes had suddenly turned his fever-reddened eyes toward the pastor and looked penetratingly at him.
‘That is how it is with me, Pastor. Day after day, moment upon moment, it is sin added to sin, and nothing but sin.’
‘But God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ were the words that came from Savonius’ lips.
‘But that he should turn from his way and live,’ said the sick man, completing the passage. ‘That is why there is no hope for me, Pastor. For thirty years God has given me the opportunity to turn and repent. Thirty years I have been on that way. But I shall never reach the goal. Have I turned from the evil way? No! I have lamented and called upon God. But the heart is just as evil. Falseness and darkness within, pretense and hypocrisy on the surface.’
‘But confess your sins, and God will forgive you.’ Savonius tried to give his voice the ring of authority.
‘Confess?’ said Johannes, and his head fell back with infinite weariness. It was not terror that showed on his face now, but a dying despair that seemed almost more unendurable. He started upwards with a lifeless yes.
‘For thirty years, as Thou knowest, Lord, I have confessed my sins. And Thou didst forgive everything, the salt I stole, the grouse I snared, adultery and profanity, all was forgiven. It was like the singing of the larks that day in the church, and it was Thy voice, O Lord I heard when the pastor read the absolution. That day I knelt in prayer at the gates of Borsebo, and blessedness and peace lay like sunshine on the grass, Lord, all this Thou didst for me. I believed then that I was Thine. But the heart of stone remained. The uncircumcised, adulterous heart continued to be just as evil. I wept and confessed, and Thou didst forgive afresh. I came with new confessions. Thy grace was great, Lord. Twenty times, fifty times, I came; but I was still no better.
Then the door of grace was shut. He who repented and believes will be received into the kingdom. But I did not repent.”
From The Hammer of God by Bo Giertz