A few weeks ago, an Instagram influencer mentioned how her husband had recently developed a curious fixation with The Weather Channel. Every morning, she would come downstairs to find him preparing breakfast with one eye on the forecast. “Hey, honey, check out these storms over Texas,” he would say. And that’s exactly what she would find on the screen–storms over Texas. She didn’t bother to remind him that they lived in South Carolina.

After three weeks of Weather Channel binging, it finally dawned on her that her husband’s obsession was filling a void in his life. He needed to root for something, to hope for an outcome and for the consequences to not be too tied up with his own personal life. In other words, The Weather Channel had become his favorite sport. With SportsCenter having a tremendous dearth of material these days, her husband had to find a placeholder. Wind patterns changing or temperatures falling a few degrees had suddenly become just as thrilling as an interception or a half-court buzzer beater.

For me, this story came as sweet and humorous relief. Many people considered the beginning of quarantine a chance for a life cleanse. Finally, here was an opportunity to rid one’s life of the clutter that had built up over time. To a considerable extent, things have changed, but it’s more like rearranging the furniture than a full renovation.  Rather than choosing to listen to the news, a mindfulness app, or something more culturally or spiritually enriching, this man decided to watch The Weather Channel. Quarantine life hasn’t changed us so much as we’re wearing sweatpants more often. 

This is true to my own experience. If my wife should ever go away for a night, I will instantly become the person I used to be before we were married. I will devour an entire frozen pizza and watch the first fifteen minutes of four different movies. While I thought that I had matured–that the angsty, lethargic days of my 20s were in the past–I eventually come to the brutal realization that I am still the same person I have always been.

External forces (i.e. my wife and children) may have shaped me into a more responsible person out of necessity, but once those forces are removed, I am quickly subject to backsliding. My environment may influence my surface-level behavior, but it doesn’t always change the deep recesses of my heart. 

Jesus is no fool when it comes to distinguishing between our surface-level selves and our interior lives. To him, the human heart is not a blank canvas, but a sin factory: “For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander” (Mat 15:19). This list of sins is not presented as a group of external forces that warp our innocent minds, but things that come naturally to us. Left to our own devices, these are a few of our favorite things (apart from rain drops on roses).

If the problem with humans is the human heart, how can a human being actually change? Forgetting the depth of our sin, we too often forget that telling someone to change is not enough to get them to do so. There may be initial change, but it’s more like painting over a mold-stained wall. If there’s going to be any inner transformation it has to happen all the way down to the heart. To make matters worse, this is not something one can do on one’s own terms. I’m no doctor, but I don’t think you can give yourself a heart transplant no matter how well-intentioned you are.

In life, we often find that the diagnosis is consistently the starting point of effectual, lasting change or, as Alcoholics Anonymous wisely acknowledges, “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.” This is true, that pain is almost always the agent of change. We are seeing this firsthand in our country in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Crowds of people are devoted to real transformation, but only after a great price has been paid. As the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt once said, “Great historical transformations are always bought dearly, often after one has already thought that one got them at a bargain price.” Indeed, if any lasting change should come out of Floyd’s death–and I hope it does–it will only come at the cost of this man’s life and the lives of many others before him.

In Jesus, we find that one particular man willingly gave himself as a ransom for all. The Bible clearly states that we were not bought at a bargain price, but at a great cost (1 Cor 6:20). Through his death that defeated death, God set forth a new creation, one in which the world is now reconciled to Him in Christ. Within God’s unconditional love, there is space for people to change–to stop drinking, to save their marriage, to become a kinder and gentler person. It is the love of God alone that unlocks a person from the forces and patterns that bind them. It is the gospel message–that, before there was any transformation (inner or outer), Christ died for the ungodly (Rom 5:8)–which frees a person to see the world in a new way. It is a change that comes from the outside and works within the heart before it is ever expressed in response. 

I long for the church to be the first place someone goes when they discover a problem within themselves. Hopefully, they will hear the good news–that all is forgiven, that all will be made well, that no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor human mind conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him. For those of us who desire change–whether it’s for ourselves, for others, for the nation or the world–we can take heart in knowing that, if there’s one thing that will never change, it is the love of God.