Rend Your Heart
Katherine Thomas Column Writer Set to Appear in May 2021 Edition
“Rend your heart, not your garments,” writes the prophet Joel.
Anyone purposely ripped their clothes recently? I doubt it, I think you all like your clothes. (Except maybe your mask.)
Here’s another question: Have you ever felt like hitting yourself? Have you ever been so frustrated with yourself that you want to physically lash out at yourself? Have you ever felt so crushed by your sin – and maybe even with your complacency to sin, or “insensibility” – that you want to slap yourself to make yourself “wake up”?
“Rend your heart, not your garments.” What does that mean?
Do we destroy the heavy veil over our sleeping love for God in our hearts, or make some outward demonstration?
Nearly everyone has felt out-of-control to some extent at some point. Fr. David Alexander once said that we make ourselves spiritually drunk. This isn’t the good kind of drunk, like being drunk on the Holy Spirit and ready to punch a heretic in front of a whole council of bishops. This is the kind of drunk that feels like a weighted blanket over our spirit, our brain, our motivation, our emotions, our ability to control ourselves, and our burning love for Christ. Sometimes it’s like an overabundance of panicked nothing.
“Get sober, you who are drunk from your wine, and weep, mourn all you who drink wine… For a nation strong and numberless came up against My land” (Joel 1:5-6). The numberless armies of self-reproaching thoughts flood our mind, and we may reach out for the wine of distraction, or we may choose sobriety, no matter how initially painful it is to face our sins. What if you feel no pain in facing those sins? Maybe your mourning would look like strict fasting rather than tears.
Joel paints an image of God uttering mighty words before the face of His army. It is a very triumphal image of God: “Who shall resist?” (2:11). God is roaring at us to follow Him. He is sending armies to conquer us. He is wrestling with us as He wrestled for hours through the night with Jacob (2:14). God cries out to His people in the prophecy of Joel to cry out to Him, not outwardly, but with inner wailing. “Return to the Lord your God, for He is merciful and compassionate, He is longsuffering and plenteous in mercy…” (2:13). God only allows us to be tempted by things He can conquer. That list includes losing the will to even want to conquer our temptations. God sends these terrible and numberless armies from the book of Joel to us in order to kill us. He wants the fake, drunk self to die so the real self can live.
“Rend your hearts, not your garments.” It’s all well and good to freak out at myself and squeeze my hands into fists as tight as I can out of frustration, but it doesn’t get me anywhere. The prophecy of Joel reminds us to turn back to God with our whole hearts. If God told us to forgive our brother infinitely, He will infinitely forgive us, and give us infinite chances to come back to Him. When we give up wanting to be in control of our situation, and instead give our anxiety and overwhelmedness to God, He is strongest in us. He sends His armies to conquer us and lead us to repentance.
The book of Joel ends with a beautiful prophecy of God’s comfort. “And it will come to pass in that day that the mountains shall drip sweetness, and milk shall flow from the hills…” (4:18). God wants to comfort us when we mourn for our sins. He wants us to discover the beauty of facing fears and temptations for the sake of giving them to Him.