Yesterday afternoon, our oldest son asked me a question. Laying on the floor and putting his small hands over his chest, he said, “Daddy, why does Jesus live in our heart? What does he do in there?” Good question.
I can only imagine what that looks like in his preschool mind; plus I wonder what continuity exists for him between baby Jesus, grown up Jesus, and in-heart Jesus. I tried my best to explain how when someone says Jesus is in their heart it means that he is always with that person. He then said a girl in his class pretended to be a monster on the playground.
Obviously, a tiny Jesus is not literally inside one’s heart. It’s a metaphor grasping at something bigger and a bit more mysterious. In fact, using the heart in that way is a bit of a metaphor itself. Yet there is still something profound in that question. What does Jesus do in our hearts?
I don’t want to ditch my son’s imagination quite yet because I think it can help give a different perspective to this question. But first let me take a little detour and borrow an image from one of my favorite Superman stories to explain.
One of the best Superman stories of all time is All-Star Superman, a twelve issue series that tells the story of the Man of Steel’s final days. The story ends (spoiler alert for a comic that is six years old) with the sun dying thus putting all life on Earth in peril. Being irradiated with solar energy, Superman’s final act is to fly into the sun to save it and billions of people. The final image of this hero is of him building machinery in the sun’s core so that the sun can live again. I know it sounds all kinds of comic book goofy, but trust me, it is a phenomenal story.
That image is what I imagine when I think about Jesus being in one’s heart. Our hearts are dying and badly in need of repair. So when one comes to belief in Christ, Jesus stops our heart from dying and then begins the process of building the machinery that gets our heart running properly; running in a way that brings life to those around us. Yet we still have agency in this matter. Though Jesus is in a person, she or he can still exhibit the behaviors of a dying heart. One can still choose to mess up.
The question is: What is that still in repair heart supposed to look like? One of the few things that I have the utmost of confidence in is that if we look at the heart of Jesus then we are looking at the heart of God. We can look at Jesus and see where our hearts ought to be going.
We look at Jesus and we see a heart deeply connected to and dependent on God. That love of God brings about a corresponding love for all of God’s creation. The new heart is one that protects the most vulnerable and the outcast. It seeks justice and righteousness with intense passion. It is a humble heart. Though it doesn’t reject religious laws, it clearly sees where some of those laws can hijack the heart.
That last mark is something that I want to touch on briefly. Lots of digital ink has been spilled over the World Vision fracas this past week. When the relief organization announced earlier that they would allow married homosexual Christians to be hired, several thousand people reportedly decided that they were going to stop sponsoring children in need through the organization (World Vision’s decision was reversed a few days later). Regardless of what one believes about homosexuality, this response was an enormous black eye for American Christianity.
Again, some people were going to stop giving money to these impoverished boys and girls with names, hopes, and dreams to make a point. With World Vision, you sponsor a specific child. Many people write letters to those children and have a picture of their sponsored child. There is a relationship with this child yet people pulled aid from these very children.
And I know most of those people said they were going to support other children through other organizations, but lives are not interchangeable. Withdrawing meant a kid could stop getting needed support that went towards food or education. When one’s religion keeps him or her from protecting the poor and vulnerable, that’s a sign that the new heart has been hijacked.
Yet I should be very quick to point out that there are many, many times that I don’t look like Jesus. All the more reason for us to let him repair us, to reorient our hearts toward God and the ways of life rather than death.
There is not a literal tiny Jesus fixing gears and pulling levers in our heart. But I think using our childlike imagination sometimes to see that might help. It can help us remember that we need to let Jesus show us how to work the new machinery so that our hearts will look like his. I need him to fix the broken down parts of my heart. We all do.