I noticed a phrase in a gospel the other day. To say it is troublesome would be to understate the case. The phrase is “hardness of heart”.
We usually associate hard hearts with death row criminals, drug dealers, Isis fighters, or you fill in the blank. One has to have a hard heart in order to commit violent crime, right? In Mark 3, Jesus interacts with the Pharisees and is angered at their hardness of heart. They are not violent criminals at all.
What I would like to do is explore that phrase. Here is why. Hardness of heart is a precursor to, well, not good things. What does it look like to have a hard heart? Then, I would like to lay out some steps for anyone that would like to have a hard heart. It really isn’t difficult. You will find it as easy as drinking a glass of water.
Ready? Let’s first look at some demonstrations of hard hearts.
- God granted Israel the ‘right’ to get a divorce because of their hardness of heart (Matt. 19). The implications here are bothersome. God didn’t want to grant the right to divorce but he did. He did because they wouldn’t go along with his ‘better’ plan? What drives divorce in the 21st century? Could it be the same as the 1st century?
- The disciples saw Jesus multiply bread and fish in order to feed the crowds. Their inability to translate this miracle to adjusting everyday life and belief is attributed to their “hardness of heart”. They saw the miracle but didn’t connect the dots. What? Let’s try again. Jesus comes to the disciples on the water. He gets into the boat, the wind dies down, and they were utterly astounded. Their incomprehension was due to not taking the miracle of the loaves seriously enough. Their hearts were hardened.
James Brooks says this is one of the “harshest statements about the disciples’ lack of understanding. Even so they were still followers of Jesus and not enemies. This is Markan irony at its boldest.”
- Those who are alienated from God are alienated because their hearts are hard (Eph. 3:18). The root cause of their non-regenerate status is personal. They do not want God. Therefore, they are ignorant, alienated, and darkened in their understanding.
There are many more examples of people having hard hearts but that is for another time. Let’s get to the bottom of it. What do the dictionaries say? Literally, hardness [of heart] means “state or condition of complete lack of understanding” (BDAG). When semantics are considered we get more specific, “stubborn unwillingness to learn” (Louw-Nida).
There you have it.
Someone with a hard heart is steeped in willful ignorance. As in, they consciously decline additional light. Hard hearts can be disguised by victimhood, ignorance, race, deceit, and about anything else.
How would I obtain a hard heart if I wanted one? We speak in jest of course. I would like to give you some guiding principles to obtain a hardened heart. Here goes.
Prefer your own comforts first and foremost. Your comfort and preferences are foremost in any decision.
When confronted with truth, relax, no need to respond. Plead the fifth, take it into consideration, do anything but implement it. What is really helpful here is to affirm the reality of that truth, only. Mental affirmation will suffice, application is no good.
Be offended that someone implies that you need instruction. Who are they anyway?
Be dogmatic in your opinions. Do not seek or heed counsel. They are only jealous of you anyway. You are right and no need to be shaken in that estimation.
Do all of these things and your world will get smaller and smaller. As you grow older, bitterness will coil itself around you. Less and less will you understand why things happen the way they do.
Let’s be of another mind. “Lord, soften my heart, enlighten my understanding. Give me grace to respond in obedience, to live, to love, to grow and develop. Give me love and help me to do good to other people.”