We have talked about all the frustrating and strange and interesting facets of Mark 6:44-52 for a while now and it is fascinating that the thing that bugs most people more than anything is the very last verse – And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. 52 For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.”
The scary part for a lot of folks who wrote to me can be summarized in one sentence – “I can’t understand why God hardens peoples hearts?”
Well first of all the text doesn’t say that.
It says that their hearts were hardened – it doesn’t say that God did it.
There are places in the Bible where it is explicit that God hardens hearts but not here. The disciples hardness here it seems to me goes all through Mark. Here is God in the flesh, the disciples seem to believe, and yet he does not want to do what they want and vice versa. They did not understand about the loaves because they wanted to stay on that piece of land and like the others wanted their God to be a bread King. All the way along, especially when Jesus reveals that the way to salvation is the way through suffering and death they get frustrated because that is not the kind god they want. Jesus had to “drive” them into the boat because even these men chosen by Him to be disciples would have made an idolatrous exhibition of Him if they could have. One of them ultimately makes the fateful choice that this is not the kind of Savior he wants either and he chooses to betray Him. The Bible will view that as a hard heart too and indicate that Judas had no choice. WE can harden out own hearts when we don’t want a Savior who bled out and died on a Cross so that we can be free to love God and serve our neighbor. We have entire church bodies that have hardened their hearts because they have turned Jesus into a counselor and life coach who wants us to be all we can be. We have an entire generation that has hardened it’s heart and admits it. The representatives will tell you that they believe in Jesus they just don’t go to church. They have hardened their hearts by denying the very means that Jesus uses to help them believe and to help their unbelief.
Here is the rub. Do we have a choice? All those who are troubled by the hardened hearts passage are really troubled by a very existential (having to do with our existence) question. Did Pharaoh, who the Bible says had a hardened heart because God hardened it, have a choice? Did Judas? Do we?