In my last column, I wrote about the deceptiveness of the human heart.
Many times we experience that deceptiveness in ways that are pretty innocent. For example, we convince ourselves to buy an expensive item that we know we don’t need or can’t afford, and then we regret it and wonder why we ever made the decision in the first place.
Other times the decision to self-deceive can become deadly. A person convinces themselves for instance that a certain habit that they have seen destroy others, won’t destroy them. Or a person may decide that a relationship that everyone else keeps throwing up warnings to them about, isn’t that bad and can be managed, only to find themselves in a destructive relationship.
A young person makes a decision he or she knows is wrong, but they convince themselves that they can get away with it, and then spend the rest of their lives living in regret.
Let me introduce you to a real flesh and blood example of this concept: Manasseh.
Manasseh was a really bad king who by comparison makes Adolf Hitler look like a choir boy. Manasseh is so evil that the prophet Jeremiah lays the blame for Southern Israel’s collapse squarely at his feet.
Let me tell you a little about Manasseh. Besides setting up idols to false gods right in Solomon’s Temple, he instituted a practice that was so horrendous that when you get over to the New Testament, Jesus uses the site of Manasseh’s “worship” as the imagery for hell. What follows is not for the faint of heart.
Manasseh erected idols to Molech at the Valley of Ben Hinnom. These idols were huge statues with holes in the back and arms of metal.
The whole Valley of Ben Hinnon would be set on fire, becoming this huge fire pit. Babies were put in the hands of the idol of Molech, and then fire would be put into the statues and the arms would heat up until the hands these babies were laying in were glowing orange with the heat.
As the hands heated up, the babies would begin to squirm as they were being burned and eventually would fall into the fire of the valley below. Because of the agonizing screams of these tiny victims, loud music was played to cover up those screams.
Manasseh made Molech worship mandatory in Israel, which meant that every first born child had to be offered in this manner. Ezra, the author of 2 Chronicles we believe, writes, “The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention” (2 Chronicles 33:10, NIV84).
Some of us can identify with that can’t we? We know what we are doing isn’t right, that relationship we are in is not a righteous one, or we indulge in some sinful or shameful habit, and we’ve been warned, but we just keep going on full speed ahead thinking that somehow we are immune to any negative consequences (because we are self-deceived).
That’s what Manasseh did so God brought Nebuchadnezzar who took Manasseh prisoner.
Then, look at what Ezra says, “In his distress he sought the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the LORD was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD is God” (2 Chronicles 33:12–13, NIV84.
He’s just like us isn’t he? “God, let me alone, let me do my own thing, whoops, I’m in big trouble now, God how about helping me out here?”
You know what? God does. Manasseh gets back to Jerusalem and tries to set things right. He gets rid of all the idols, restores the Temple to its original condition, offers sacrifices to God and then tells his people to serve the Lord, the God of Israel.
But the damage is done. He returns to faith, but the people he misled don’t follow him. Our self-deception unfortunately many times leads not only to our destruction but to the destruction of others as well.
No matter how bad we may be, God is willing to forgive and restore. Why not try to listen to Him this coming year?
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.