In his book A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders, Reggie McNeal tells of a trip he made to the Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy. After standing in line for hours, he finally passed beneath the towering main attraction: a 14 foot, white marble statue of King David sculpted by Michelangelo between the years 1501-04.
The statue depicts Michelangelo’s interpretation of King David as he prepared for his famous showdown with Goliath as told in 1 Samuel 15. The shepherd king stands tall. His weight is shifted to his right foot. His head is turned slightly, and his eyes look confidently out in the distance somewhere to his left. Over his shoulder hangs the sling, and in his right hand, hidden to his side, he holds the stone that he would end Goliath. This statue made such an impression on McNeal, that, when the first edition of his book was published in 2000, the head of this statue appeared on the front cover. It makes you wonder: what was it about this statue that made such an impression? In McNeal’s words:
“To commemorate the original release of the book, my wife bought for me a full-scale plaster of Paris reproduction of one of the eyes of David from the British Museum in London. We made a wonderful discovery in the process. The pupils in the eyes of Michelangelo’s David are heart-shaped! (Considering that these eyes are over fifteen feet off the ground in the museum, this detail has obviously escaped many people.) This was the artist’s application of the scriptural description that David was a man ‘after God’s own heart.’ David, looking for God’s heart, became himself a work of heart. (XVI, emphasis added)”
What struck Reggie McNeal was the fact that Michelangelo carved “hearts” into the pupils of King David. What strikes me now is just when David had his eyes on the heart of God. It wasn’t while he was leading the sheep in the green pastures, by the still waters; it was when God had prepared a table before him in the presence of his enemies. In the thick of the battle, the battle that belonged to the Lord, David’s eyes were on the heart of God.
That thought strikes me as a word on target for our day, more than 500 years later. Fighting and mudslinging seems to be the new national pastime, and as anxiety rises, sister finds herself at the throat of sister, and brother at the throat of brother, which reminds me of our Lord’s words in Matt 24:12. We end up fighting for all the right causes but in all the wrong ways—and for all the wrong reasons. And in my experience, this description is “one size fits all:” it fits no matter what the issue is in question.
Reflecting on McNeal’s description in light of this context, I find myself left with a probing question: what if I approached every cause, whatever it is, like Michelangelo’s David approached Goliath? What if, in facing whatever giants God has placed me before, I asked myself: “How would this look through the eyes of my God’s heart?”
God shares his heart in his own words in Exodus 34:6-7.
“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (ESV)
Looking through the eyes of God’s heart would not necessarily mean giving up a cause—God is a God of truth and justice, as Exod 34:6-7 implies, and so should we, his people, be. But I submit that it potentially could change entirely the manner in which we pursue truth and justice. How, you ask? Perhaps by restoring to our relationships attributes such as “compassion,” “kindness,” “humility,” “meekness,” “patience,” “bearing with one another in love,” and “forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you,” for instance (cf. Col 3:12-13). And what relationship could not do with a little more of these?
As God’s people, I want to encourage us all to remember who we are; to remember whose we are; to remember where we came from; and to remember where we are going. I want to call us to never, ever forget to look through the eyes of God’s heart.
Matt Burleson is Minister at Choctaw Church of Christ