Monday, June 09, 2014

Two Kinds of Hard Hearts

“And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” (Mark 6:52)
I’m thinking about all the times I’ve failed to respond to something in the word of God that should’ve been obvious to me.

See, I don’t believe every reference to a “hard heart” in Scripture means precisely the same thing.

The pharaoh of Egypt in the book of Exodus had a hard heart. He wanted to keep Israel in slavery, and was prepared to continue doing so no matter what miracles he saw. He was a man who put political expediency and ill-gotten profit ahead of justice, fear of God or even his own five senses.

That’s one kind of hardness.

But the disciples in the verse above showed a different sort of hardness. The only thing their “hardness of heart” had in common with Pharaoh’s was their disbelief of their own senses. They saw the Lord walking on water and refused to acknowledge what was right in front of their eyes. And Mark associates their hardness with this observation: “… they did not understand about the loaves”.

See, for a man who can turn five loaves and two fishes into a meal for 5,000-plus, walking on water shouldn’t really seem all that outrageous, should it? The disciples saw and acknowledged the miracle of the loaves and fishes. After all, they were the ones who gave out the bread and fish, and they were the ones who picked up 12 baskets of leftovers. And only a few hours had passed since they had seen the miracle take place.

Nobody could claim it was a hallucination or a fabrication; there were 12 of them there, along with thousands of others consuming the food to substantiate the truth of what they had witnessed.

Still, they failed to apply the lesson of the loaves when the storm came.

Their sort of “hardness of heart” did not involve moral depravity, cruelty or greed. It involved the inability to apply one spiritual lesson to the next spiritual test. It involved a sort of intellectual and emotional sclerosis elsewhere described as “dullness” or “slowness”.

I think that type of hardness is extremely common, is it not? Even today.

The sort of synaptic cement we’re talking about comes from unquestioned uniformitarian assumptions similar to those made all around us: “I have never seen it, so it can’t be”. It is a failure to make logical connections; to be unable to project from what has been seen to what might be. It is a failure to apply reason to the things of the spirit.

The Lord accuses the Pharisees of a similar obduracy when he says to them, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” 

He’s saying, in effect, “You see something happen in the physical realm and you are able to reason your way to the obvious conclusion. Yet in the realm of the spirit, you refuse to see the obvious.”

Faith doesn’t have this problem, does it? The centurion who asked the Lord to heal his paralyzed servant had no difficulty making the necessary logical connections at all, because he understood who the Lord was. So he reasoned, “If he heals by the power of God, then there’s no reason he has to heal at close range. He can surely heal from a distance.”

Turns out he was right. No hardness of heart there.

Abraham, likewise, when asked to sacrifice his son, had no difficulty making logical connections. He considered “that God was able even to raise him from the dead”.

God had a different solution in mind, but the point is … he had one. But no sign of hardness of heart on Abraham’s part, regardless. No dullness, no slowness to believe.

We might think Abraham exceptionally sharp, or the centurion especially perceptive, but the clear vision and ability to reason that comes from exceptional faith is not the issue: faith as small as a grain of mustard seed can move a mountain. You don’t need to be able to reason a spiritual issue all the way through to benefit from the blessing of God.

Noah, we read, “being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household”. We’re not told that Noah reasoned his way through anything. We’re simply told that his “reverent fear” for God caused him to obey. When Noah’s storm came, he was ready and fully equipped because he, like the centurion, had a clear picture of the God he served.

In Noah’s case, simple obedience was just fine. So I’m thinking that leaves not a whole lot of excuse for a hard heart.

When your storm comes, how do you respond?

1 comment :

  1. Great post, Tom.

    You wouldn't believe the number of people I've met who think "I personally have not seen God (or perhaps any evidence of God), therefore none exists."

    This is on the intellectual par with a child playing peek-a-boo behind her hands and claiming, "You can't see me!"

    It just does not rationally follow.

    Consider: I've never been to Montana. I'd like to go, but I never have. I guess, according to Atheist "logic" this means I have to disbelieve in the existence of Montana. For I have neither seen it nor have solid evidence it exists (maps being merely conspiracies of credulous cartographers).

    It's hard to believe anyone could imagine that argument has any teeth. But an astonishing number of people are depending on a version of it.

    I think the reason that so many otherwise-sensible people live under the assumption that this argument "works" is that they really don't want to think it through. It's a heart problem, not a head problem. This bad logic is their refuge from conviction of their need to deal with God, so they'll take any sense of refuge they can get.

    We can do them a favour (at the cost of momentary discomfort) by pointing out that it just doesn't make simple sense. We can cure their logic; but the hardness of heart, well only God cures that.