Today’s Question: A friend asked me, “Bob, is it okay to harden your heart?”
My Answer: Now, that’s a fascinating question – thanks for asking! The answer, as you might expect, has a few layers to it. Let’s start by taking a look at some biblical examples.
Example #1 – God hardened Pharaoh’s heart
The first passage we’ll look at is found in the Old Testament, in the story of Moses and the Exodus:
“But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said to Moses.”
(Exodus 9:12, NIV)
Well, that’s interesting! I mean, after all, if God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, then it must be okay that his heart was hard, right? But of course, we know that’s not true. It was a most unfortunate circumstance that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened after each of the first nine plagues. I don’t remember who said it, so I can’t give him or her the appropriate credit, but I remember hearing this profound statement: “The same sun that softens wax hardens clay.” God was just being God. He knew that his actions would result in a hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, but ultimately, that hardening was a result of Pharaoh’s own nature. Someone else may see God’s activity and find their heart warmed and softened in his presence. But not Pharaoh.
Example 2 – An example of God having a hardened heart
In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter quotes from King David in Psalm 34:
“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
(I Peter 3:12, NIV)
In this passage, which has the affirmation of both King David and Peter, we are told that God sets his face against some people. So then – if it’s okay for God to have a hard heart, then it must be okay for us to have a hard heart, too, right? Well, not so fast; there’s more to consider before we come to a final conclusion.
Example 3 – Court judges are to have a certain hardness of heart
In a rather famous Old Testament passage that prescribes the death penalty for murderers, we find these words given to court judges:
“Show no pity. You must purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood, so that it may go well with you.”
(Deuteronomy 19:13, NIV)
Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. There are circumstances that call for justice, not mercy; for punishment, not a free pass. There is a time to balance the scale, to right the wrong, to defend the weak, to stop the tormentor.
Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that one of the most important wisdom passages in the entire Bible is found in the writings of Solomon, in the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. Solomon wrote, “There is a time for everything.”
Relevant to our question here are the following excerpts:
a time to kill and a time to heal
a time to love and a time to hate
a time for war and a time for peace
So, Friend, to answer your question: Yes. There are times when it’s okay, even wise, to harden your heart. There are times when you must set your preference for mercy aside. There are times when you must demand, or administer, justice.
But wait – there’s more to consider…
I wish I knew why you asked your question. It would help me to answer you clearly if I knew what prompted you to ask. Because, you see, the passage I referenced from Ecclesiastes says there’s a time to hate, yes – but it also says there’s a time to love. There is a time to kill, yes – but there is also a time to heal.
May I suggest a more accurate question? One that is, in fact, a much more difficult question? With your permission assumed, here is the harder question:
When is it okay to harden your heart?
Ah. There’s the rub. This is what you’re really after, isn’t it? You have been hurt. Betrayed. Misled. Lied to. Deceived. Hit, battered, bruised, and broken. Your trust has been held in another’s hands, and those hands have cast your trust, forcefully and heartlessly, to the ground, where your trust, and your very heart, now lay shattered and broken.
And all your life, in every church, you have been told that Jesus said you are to forgive. Not once, not twice, not even three or seven times – but over and over again.
I’m going to try, with one sentence, to set you free from your dilemma. Here it is. Here’s my declaration of your freedom:
Forgiveness and trust are not the same thing.
Do you see? You never have to trust the betrayer again. You see them now, and you understand: they are not trustworthy. You can forgive, without going back. You don’t ever have to enter that room again. You don’t ever have to walk that path again. There is a fork in the road, and from this point forward, you and the Harmer will not be walking on the same path.
There’s one more concept you need to grasp, by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, so that you can be as powerful as God intends you to be:
A hard heart does not rule out forgiveness.
Dwell on this. Meditate on it for a while. Do you see? You can forgive, and still have the judge’s hard heart. You can still demand justice. You can still testify to the truth. And yet, even while requiring justice, your heart can hold forgiveness. Not trust. Forgiveness.
Pharaoh’s hard heart is wrong. Pharaoh is willing to hate others, to use others.
The judge’s hard heart is right. The judge is willing to restrain evil and protect the innocent.
Jesus is both Judge and Savior. He is our example of the perfect combination of a hard heart and a forgiving heart.
Books by Bob Young
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