On my journey through the bible, I’ve now passed the plagues that came upon Egypt. A striking aspect in the drama is Pharaoh. He acts with total disregard for his nation in pursuing the Hebrews. It says 15 times that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. In half these verses it’s clear that the LORD himself hardened the heart of Pharaoh.
With so many repetitions, it got me thinking. It’s thematic, really. And I realize this is not the first time I’ve seen the phrase “hardened heart.” In the gospel according to Mark, Jesus himself asks whether his disciple’s hearts are hardened. Jesus has twice multiplied loaves and fishes for a multitude of people but his disciples ask while traveling with him in a boat: We’re out of bread, where are we going to get some? Jesus responds saying: Don’t you get it? Is your heart hardened?
So hardened hearts apply to a great range of people: from great kings to notorious gangs of disciples. But what does it mean? Does it mean you don’t get it? Does it mean it’s plaguing your country and you’re ignoring it? For me, I think Gary Haugen described it in the first page of “Just Courage” saying:
Writing in 1859, Mill was trying to explain the process by which words lose their meaning, and he casually offered that the best example of this phenomenon was Christians. Christians, he observed, seem to have the amazing ability to say the most wonderful things without actually believing them.
What became more disturbing was his list of things that Christians, like me, actually say — like, blessed are the poor and humble; it’s better to give than receive; judge not, lest you be judged; love your neighbor as yourself, etc. — and examining, one by one, how differently I would live my life if I actually believed such things. As Mill concluded, “The sayings of Christ co-exist passively in their minds, producing hardly any effect beyond what is caused by mere listening of words so amiable and bland.”
For Lent, I have chosen to give up pessimism. As I journaled yesterday morning, God reminded me of the resurrection, the climax, so to speak, of this 40 day journey. Suddenly, I found optimism. My God lives. Death could not keep down Jesus. He has risen from the tomb. The tomb is empty. So this Lent I’ll choose to remember the resurrection each day and see if it will soften my heart.