“So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen. Well then, you might say, “Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?” No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?””
Romans 9:18-20 NLT
Paul puts himself in the shoes of his readers. He asks the question – if God has hardened people’s hearts, can they be blamed for not responding to Him? A follow on question might be, if God wants everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) why would he apparently prevent most people from responding to His grace and mercy?
The place to start is probably a scene in a Garden with three actors – Adam, Eve and a serpent. The introduction of sin into a sinless world automatically included a hardening of hearts, as selfish and godless thoughts grew a layer of callouses around hearts that were previously soft and attentive to God. And the same condition has afflicted all of mankind, up to the present day. Has hard-heartedness been a condition caused by God or by sin? I’m reminded of an oyster, a shellfish that deals with an irritating grain of sand by depositing layers of calcium carbonate around it to mitigate the irritation. A human being will allow callouses to build up around a sinful heart so that the voice of the conscience within becomes increasingly quieter. The thing is, God allows it to happen because He has granted to mankind free choice. Human beings can choose to sin or not to sin. But perhaps God has hardened hearts in judgement for the sin that came through Adam.
Happily, hardened hearts are not a terminal condition. Through God’s grace and mercy, hearts can be softened – that’s why Jesus came to this world. Heart surgery was, and is, His speciality. The layers of hardness are peeled back to expose the softness of a repentant sinner’s heart, open and pliable in God’s hands.
But there is hope for a hard-hearted people. We read in Ezekiel 11:19-20, “And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God”. In the context of Ezekiel’s day, this was when the exiles were returning from captivity, through choice. Many of course stayed behind. And the same will apply to those exiled in their sins, and who make the choice to turn or return to God. Through God’s grace and mercy, He will do what is necessary to turn a hard stone into a “tender, responsive heart”.
So today we pilgrims once again follow the advice of a psalmist, who wrote in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life”. That’s where we start when we have perhaps found ourselves exiled away from our home with God, into the darkness of the societies around us. It’s a dangerous prayer to pray. We might find stuff within us we rather not have known about. Painful to consider and deal with but God has our future at heart. There is no room for hard hearts calloused by sin in Heaven. God is in the business of softening hearts, – if we let Him.
Dear God. Thank You for Your grace. You are so concerned about each one of us that You never stop loving us and forgiving us when we confess our sins. Thank You. Amen.