Examine me, O Lord, and try me; test my mind and my heart.
For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes,
And I have walked in Your truth. – Psalm 26:2-3
One of the hardest things we may ever attempt to do is to examine ourselves objectively in the light of truth. Truth, of course, is reality as God sees it. It is difficult for a number of reasons. One of the chief of these is the fear that such an examination will bring us pain, especially the pain of shame or guilt feelings. God created us with a desire to be good which, through our sin and consequent avoidance of God, often degrades into a desire merely to appear good, to ourselves and others.
This is well illustrated in the history of our first parents. They were created pure and holy. They enjoyed close fellowship with God. But when they bought into the lie of the serpent, doubting God, they disobeyed Him and partook of the forbidden fruit. Instantly, “their eyes were opened and they knew that they were naked”. Their guilt and shame became focused on their awareness of physical nakedness and so “they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (Genesis 3:7) Such coverings are a perfect illustration of our psychological attempts to hide our need for repentance and spiritual renewal. Instead of owning up to our need for a major transformation of character and behavior, indeed of our whole perception of reality, we convince ourselves, and sometimes others, that we are, on the whole, pretty good and certainly not as bad as some others we could mention. Our clothing of fig leaves, our self-righteousness, is not sufficient to give us confidence before God. So when we hear God approaching us, as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden, we quickly hide ourselves. In essence, we are unwilling to face ourselves or to face God.
God found Adam and Eve, despite their attempts to evade Him, and then listened to them as they made excuses, implicitly blaming God for their failure to follow His instructions. Adam said to God, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” (verse 12) Having heard her husband blame her for the debacle, Eve swiftly passed the blame on to the serpent: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (verse 13) In other words, “This creature of yours, God, was too clever for me!” What she was ignoring is that we don’t have to be cleverer than any deceiver. We just need to trust the infinite wisdom and love of God. Keeping simply to what God said was their only and the greatest possible defense. Not even the cleverness of the highest of the fallen angels, whether in the guise of a serpent or speaking through the Apostle Peter (Matthew 16:23; Mark 8:33), can overcome the heart that simply takes God at His word and refuses to doubt Him.
We see that the Psalmist, David, was not afraid to be examined by God. And why was this? “For Your lovingkindness is ever before my eyes, and I have walked in Your truth.” This is the very thing that Adam and Eve failed to do. Their fear of God was not the healthy kind, as defined by the Bible: “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.” (Proverbs 8:13) Rather, theirs was the fear of the Lord that still loves evil and so fears to encounter God who hates it. But had they kept in view God’s lovingkindness, they would have repented of what they had done, owning full responsibility for it, trusting that His love for them would find a way to restore them to His righteousness and favor. Many have seen in God’s provision of animal skins to clothe Adam and Eve as He sent them out of the Garden, a hint at the way God would provide a way back for them: through the death of an innocent victim, namely, his Son Jesus Christ. In fact, God gave to Eve the first promise of that Savior’s advent as the Seed of the woman. (3:15)
David said he had walked in God’s truth. The truth is that God loves us, that it is safe to trust in Him and come to Him. His examination of us will not be like that of a judge in order to find us guilty but like a doctor who wants to heal us. Many people do fear to be examined by a doctor lest he or she find some serious illness requiring drastic treatment. They would rather just ignore the symptoms they experience and hope that it isn’t anything serious. In so doing, they sometimes let an illness progress so far that medicine cannot help them. The truth is that if we fail to come to God in a timely manner to present to Him our sin-sick souls, that most terrible of all illnesses will render us even beyond the power of God to save us. That is to say, lest we become so deeply entrenched in sin and so completely deluded by it that God cannot remove it from us without violating our free will. We cannot be saved from sin against our wills for the simple reason that love can never be coerced. If it is coerced it is not love. “Love is the fulfillment of the Law” says the Bible. (Romans 13:10) The Great Physician of our soul is well able to save us from sin, from both its guilt and its power, but we must open up our hearts to His examination.
And how does God examine us? He uses His Holy Spirit to bring to light the things we have been hiding, even from ourselves. This He does, not in a threatening and accusatory manner. That is the way Satan “examines” us, for He is, as the Bible says, “the accuser of our brethren.” (Revelation 12:10) Remember how he accused Job of selfishness in his service to God: “Does Job fear God for nothing?.. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” (Job 1:9, 11) These accusations were made to God but Satan also makes them to us. His accusations always come with the element of despair. “You are hopeless! God cannot forgive you! You can never change!” But God’s examination of us, though sometimes difficult to take, always comes with the promise of renewal and a fresh extension of His power to give us victory. “He will lift us by His love, out of the angry waves” as the hymn writer said.
God also uses circumstances to bring out what is already in us. Sometimes those circumstances are good ones that will test our ability to remain humble and faithful to God in the midst of material prosperity or even spiritual successes. Sometimes those circumstances are vexations or hardships that reveal the depth of our commitment to God and our trust in His wisdom. When such circumstances do reveal a stronghold of sin or an area of weakness in our character, the thing we must not do is give in to despair. Rather, we must conclude that God in His lovingkindness has allowed these circumstances to reveal our need for an even deeper abiding in Him, an even greater knowledge of Him, an even more thorough surrender to His will for us. Let the discovery of our faults be a driver toward the discovery of God’s amazing grace!
And finally, God’s examination of us is not always in order to reveal our sins or short-comings. In fact, He delights in revealing to us what His grace has accomplished in us. To be sure, He must do this in such a way as will not tempt us to pride in supposing that this is something we achieved through our own goodness. Nevertheless, God wants to encourage us by showing us the progress of our healing so that we will continue to entrust ourselves to His care. Let us not be afraid of God’s examination but submit to it readily, being eager to know in what way we have been healed or continue to need, His saving power.