There was a strange story the other day about a girl going to college who had blown through her entire college fund in the first year by spending the money on expensive trips and clothes and shoes. When asked how she could be so stupid she blamed her parents for not teaching her about a budget.
So we have been going on quite a while about the idea of the hardened heart. Do we harden our own hearts or does God harden for us, and does it make a difference? This is an important question because it really cuts to the heart of theology. It cuts to the very definition of who we are. One of the problems we have today as preachers, and those people who listen to them preach, is that in America we have come to see
God as something that he is not in the Holy Scriptures. When one really gets into the Bible and delves into some of the things that go on, God is much more mysterious, strange, and frightening than we want to admit. There are strange things written about and by Him that we might not of want to think about too hard.
In the book of Ecclesiastes chapter 7 verse two we read the strange words of the preacher,”It is better to go to the house of mourning, then to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart”. The thrust of the passage is that a funeral service is better than a wedding, because people have their attention fixed on the fact that all of us will die. For most of us to go through life believing that we are all kind of like gods, and that we have control of our own lives. The strange reality of what God is, and what he sometimes does, can be frightening. But the reality about people is just as strange and frightening. It can be frightening for preachers too. Standing up and telling everyone that they don’t have free will, and that they have no choice in how they deal with God, can be nerve racking. The truth is that until we can get most people to the “house of mourning” we have no chance to get to them at all. Most people hearts are hardened to the Gospel precisely because it is Gospel, and the very means that God wants to use to turn their hearts makes it harder.
Let’s try to think about the idea of hardening hearts in terms of parents and their children. Let’s say mom and dad raise their children, love them, care for them even before they were born, and do everything possible to see to it that their life would be set on the path of righteousness, and that they would be brought up in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord. Now let’s say, as is so often the case, as the children get to be a certain age, they are not just rebellious, but they seem to be adamant in their disbelief. Not only do they “forsake the assembling of themselves together”, but they use phrases like “that might be your morality, but it’s not mine”. Perhaps they rebel to the point where they can’t hold down jobs, or seemingly function in the civil society. At some point many parents simply say, “they have made their choices; there is nothing else I can do except pray for them”. Now my question would be, whose hearts of been hardened? Is it the young people because they refuse the admonition of their parents, and in fact that admonition and concern drives them further away and makes them angry, or is it the parents heart that has hardened because they simply admit they can’t do anymore? We can ask all kinds of other questions as well. Is it the very fact of the parents love them that drives these children away? Is it the love that a parent has for a child that claims the child as its own, that makes the child angry and frustrated because he or she believe that love can never let them be what they are? Can we question the parents love? In other words can we ask where the parents really loving, or were they controlling because they were worried about their standard in the community, in the church, or in society at large? Did the children really make the wrong choices, or did they do what they were bound to do by genetics, society, or forces that we might never be able to understand? As you can see these kinds of questions take us on an emotional roller coaster ride, but may not be helpful, and certainly will probably never develop an answer.
When we try to ask the same questions about God, we get into a terrible conundrum. Luther said “we have to argue in one way about God or the will of God as preached, revealed, offered, and worshiped, and in another way about God as he is not preached, not revealed, not offered, not worshipped. To the extent therefore, that God hides himself and wills to be unknown to us, it is no business of ours. For here the saying truly applies, “things above us are no business of ours”. The questioning of hardened hearts, and the force of our wills, resulted in one of the most important books written during the period of the Reformation. I would go so far as to say it might be one of the most important books, after the Bible of course, and we will continue the discussion.