Friday, November 7, 2008

Hardened Heart

The other day I was visiting with my daughter about our respective Bible studies. She's been working in the Old Testament while I've been in the New. She had been reading about King Saul. She asked about the time that God sent an evil spirit to trouble Saul in 1 Samuel 16:14.

My understanding of this is that this "evil spirit" is likely a mood rather than an either an angel or a demon. Regardless the effect is that Saul becomes tormented and depressed. Later he finds relief in David's music.

That led to a discussion of those events where it is translated that God hardens hearts. So I've been thinking about it.

I have not done any kind of systematic study but there are several persons whose hearts are hardened: Pharaoh, the Egyptians, Sihon, Canaanites et al, Nebuchadnezzar, Israel in general, and a few others probably.

In quite a number of places it talks about God hardening hearts. I wondered how I would harden someone's heart if I wanted to do so. That made me think of "brainwashing" techniques I learned about from various sources. Brainwashing was a big thing back in the early 1950's which is when I first recall hearing about it. It was big because some of our Korean War veterans had been brainwashed and there was this big controversy about whether it was truly possible.

But then I realized that brainwashing wasn't really the correct issue because brainwashing is all about tearing down someone's self and replacing it. Just to harden someone's heart you don't really need to destroy the ego.

I think hardening a heart means to make someone emotionally insensitive to some influence. For instance when someone ignores the suffering of another we might say that person has a hard heart. On the other hand when someone sees another person suffering and stops to help then we say that person has a soft heart.

I think it is not the same as when we "steel" ourselves to do something difficult or unpleasant. For instance if you are going to do something that hurts someone else but you have to do it for the person's overall well being. I had to do that a lot with my dad. One time I had to forcibly take him to a hospital to get his diabetes under control. Other times I had to perform a blood stick and then give an injection of insulin. It is really hard at first to give someone else an injection. You have that with children and pets, too. You have to make decisions for them that can hurt them for a little while but in the larger context is beneficial.

Or you have to do things that are hard like put down an animal or serve in the Army or protect your family or testify against someone that might kill you or any number of things.

But I think that is hardening the will rather than the heart. Because the emotional struggle still exists. It is just that you go ahead and do it anyway. Hardening the heart to me means that the emotional struggle no longer exists.

I realized that I knew pretty much how to harden the heart of people I knew well. Not everyone is the same when it comes to heart hardening. I know one person whose heart would become harder and harder if I poured on constant criticism. I know another who would be more or less untouched by criticism but would become hardened if I withheld praise. I'm pretty sure physical pain would probably harden some and maybe isolation and deprivation might work on others. Then there are undoubtedly drugs that could be helpful.

That led me to think more about Mr. Pharaoh some more.

Here's a guy that is in control of everyone and everything in his entire world when we meet him. It is hard for me to even imagine that kind of control and power. We are so accustomed to democracy that monarchies are hard for us to imagine I think. Anyway back to Egypt and here comes along some guy who is even lower than a slave and demands that Mr. Pharaoh give up a bunch of his property (slaves that is).

It would pretty much be like some homeless guy walking up to the King of Saudi Arabia and telling him he had to give up about half of his oil. Or walking up to me and telling me I had to give him most of my parents' land.

In Mr. Pharaoh's case then things happen that he absolutely cannot control nor can he even explain.

In other words in Mr. Pharaoh's case I think the best way to harden his heart is to attack his sense of control and ego.

He is certainly not alone. We all have our own egos and our own little kingdoms whether we admit it or not.

In school I remember overhearing teachers talk about some kids having teachable spirits. What was unsaid was that there were others who did not.

That's when I realized that you could do something that was perfectly good and reasonable that would also harden someone's heart.

I see it with the horses quite a bit. We have this one horse that the harder you try to get her to do something the harder she resists. We aren't doing anything bad to her and, in fact, we are trying to do something good for her. But she doesn't know that. She just knows we are trying to make her do something and she resits with all her might.

I am really amazed and humbled by both of my children and their amazing growth in studying and living the truth of Scripture. It is such a pleasure for me to listen to them talk about the Scriptures and have then tell me what they are learning and hear the excitement in their voices when some new insight comes alive.

I love discussions that continue to stimulate my mind and spirit long after the conversation has ended.

1 comment:

Lori1955 said...

Interesting post. I suppose when I think of people whose hearts are hardened, I equate that with selfishness. Those who put themselves above all others and think only of themselves.
I can't even imagine what it would be like to not feel the pain of others. What brings people to that point?