“But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart . . . he will not listen to you.” (Exodus 7:3-4)
There are some very smart people out there who don’t believe in God. I don’t why that surprises me, but it does. More than that, it annoys me. Their unbelief isn’t benign and quiet; it’s hostile, tightly reasoned and very articulate. These folks are getting plenty of press these days with book titles like The God Delusion (Richard Dawkins) and God is Not Great (Christopher Hitchens). At the same time there are some very competent Christian scholars who, skilled in apologetics, have exposed plenty of error in these works.
I don’t have the fire-power to handle Dawkins and Hitchens in debate, but I wonder if debate alone pulls attention away from the real arena of this conflict. We give the doubters a great deal of power when we engage them on their terms. The real fight isn’t waged with evidence and reason, premise and conclusion. At some level this is a battle for the heart. Yes, I know . . . heart and mind are connected; belief need not violate reason. But it seems that argument alone rarely ignites spiritual zeal in a person. A heart captured by God, however, always seems to transform and renew and energize the life of the mind. The real fight is for the heart.
God unleashed ten different manifestations of his power against Pharaoh. With nearly every one we read that Pharaoh’s heart was made hard. Nahum Sarna notes that the metaphor of the hardened heart is basically a way of speaking of “the numbing of the soul, a moral atrophy.” Within the scope of chapters 4-14 of Exodus, the theme of Pharaoh’s heart being hardened appears twenty times. Interestingly, the hardening is attributed to Pharaoh himself ten times. There are ten times that speak of God hardening the heart. Pharaoh’s hard heart raises plenty of questions, but this much we know with certainty: the heart is heavily defended territory, and only God has power to bring down those defenses.
Some of you ache to see a change of heart in another person. For a while you tried reasoning and talking and persuading, using every rational argument, giving them a copy of the book that moved you so deeply. Nothing. Their hard heart was the wall you kept pounding your head against. Some hearts are calloused, made thick and unresponsive by negative religious experiences and off-putting religious people. Some hearts are layered with scar tissue simply because life has been hard. These are things that you cannot overcome with a book and an earnest plea. The citadel around the heart will only be brought down by God’s power.
So what can you do? Remember, there is great power in both truth and love. Speak the truth when you can – and love always. And be very patient. Pharaoh reminds us that hearts are not easily and quickly changed.
Lord Jesus, you came to us full of grace and truth. Fill me with grace and truth that I may know when to speak to the hard-hearted; let my words convey your love. Forgive my own hardness of heart and help me to trust in your power, knowing that you alone search the heart and examine the mind. Amen.