Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Does God Harden Hearts?

On Facebook where we regularly post articles, discussion topics, and ministry announcements, Chris has this two part question: If God wants all people to come to Him, why does He in both the Old and the New Testaments harden their hearts? Or, as 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 says blind the minds of unbelievers and veil the Gospel to those who are perishing? So in essence Chris is asking: Why does God blind people’s hearts? Why does He veil the Gospel? Why does He harden people’s hearts, after all He wants people to come to Him, why would He do that?

Well, first of all, hardening—the first part of the question—is interesting in that if you read the Word of God, you will see that mercy from God becomes the occasion for hardening. The quintessential case in point is Pharaoh. Every time God showed mercy to Pharaoh, Pharaoh responded by hardening his heart (Exod. 3-15). So God’s mercy is the occasion for hardening, but as the text explicitly tells us, Pharaoh also hardens his own heart (cf. Exod. 8:15).

With respect to the second part of Chris’ question: context, context, context! 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 does not say that God hardens the hearts of people or veils their hearts or blinds them; rather, this passage says, “the god of this world” does those things (cf. v. 4a). For example, Paul says the Gospel is not veiled but the Gospel is set forth plainly in the very verses that precede the passage that is noted by Chris (cf. 3:12-4:2). So the Gospel is not veiled, it’s plainly revealed. That’s what the text says. And then the text goes on to say that even if it is veiled, it is not veiled because God is veiling it, but it is veiled because “the god of this world,” or Satan is veiling it. It is he who blinds the minds of unbelievers. And then, says Paul, Satan becomes the de facto ruler who all who willingly subject themselves to his masterful deceit.

If we don’t belong to God, the God of the ages, then we belong to the god of this age. If we don’t belong to the Sovereign of the universe, we belong to Satan. There are only two kinds of people in the world—those who love darkness and those who love light. Jesus said to Nichodemus, “Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). In other words, they want darkness, they don’t want light.

Good question by Chris, but once again, it is not God who veils the Gospel, it is not God who blinds the mind, it is the god of this age, which is precisely what Satan is called.

13 comments:

Kara @ KSS said...

I don't understand this part:

"Well, first of all, hardening—the first part of the question—is interesting in that if you read the Word of God, you will see that mercy from God becomes the occasion for hardening. The quintessential case in point is Pharaoh. Every time God showed mercy to Pharaoh, Pharaoh responded by hardening his heart (Exod. 3-15). So God’s mercy is the occasion for hardening, but as the text explicitly tells us, Pharaoh also hardens his own heart (cf. Exod. 8:15)."

The Bible does actually say that God hardened his heart, correct? Not that God gave him mercy and then he hardened his own heart.

Just trying to understand.

John Tucker :: Follower of The Way said...

Great exegesis and explanation. Thanks be to God and to those who serve Him at CRI!

THE OLD GEEZER said...

I added myself to follow your blog. You are more than welcome to visit mine and become a follower if you want to.

God Bless You ~Ron

Matt McMains said...

Kara...I agree; the tension here seems to be avoided in this post. God hardened Pharoah's heart AND Pharoah hardened his own heart;

In Matthew 13 Jesus speaks in parables "so that" his unbelieving listeners might remain unbelieving.

The Bible affirms this, as well as the responsibility of those who reject the gospel. The crazy thing is, the authors of Scripture do not seem interested in explaining this paradox, but are content with the tension...I think we should be too. God is sovereign in salvation...people are responsible for the decisions they make. How? That is not something that is explained..perhaps because our minds can't grasp the inner workings of an infinite God.

Steve Finnell said...

you are invited to follow my blog

Lightning Baltimore said...

Hank's exegesis leaves a lot to be desired. He states:

Every time God showed mercy to Pharaoh, Pharaoh responded by hardening his heart (Exod. 3-15). So God’s mercy is the occasion for hardening, but as the text explicitly tells us, Pharaoh also hardens his own heart (cf. Exod. 8:15).

Hank mentions only one, specific passage that supports his argument; he has left out all that conflict with it.

Firstly, God states his intention to harden Pharaoh's heart before Moses and Aaron have met with him even once.

Exodus 4:21

The LORD said to Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.

I see no mercy here, but, rather, a stated intent to prevent Pharaoh from freeing the Israelites. In a court of law, this would be evidence of malice aforethought. He does this for the first time after the sixth plague, boils.

Exodus 9:12

But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.

After the next plague (hail), however, Pharaoh hardens his own heart once again.

Exodus 9:34

When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts.

After this, God reiterates and expands upon the vow in Exodus 4:21.

Exodus 10:1-2

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these miraculous signs of mine among them that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the LORD."

Here, again, I see no mercy. In fact, God has now stated it is his intent to punish all Egyptians for the deeds of Pharaoh. This would be taken in a court of law as making terroristic threats.

The plague of locusts follows, and Pharaoh summons Moses to seek forgiveness.

Exodus 10:16-20

Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, "I have sinned against the LORD your God and against you. Now forgive my sin once more and pray to the LORD your God to take this deadly plague away from me."

Moses then left Pharaoh and prayed to the LORD. And the LORD changed the wind to a very strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea. Not a locust was left anywhere in Egypt. But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.


We do see God's mercy here, in the removal of the locusts. This is followed immediately, however, by God hardening Pharaoh's heart for a second time, in order that he not free the Israelites.

The next plague is darkness, and Pharaoh states afterward that he will let the Israelites leave to worship.

Exodus 10:24

Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, "Go, worship the LORD. Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind."

God, however, hardens Pharaoh's heart for a third time.

Exodus 10:27

But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he was not willing to let them go.

It is once again explicitly stated that the Lord has hardened Pharaoh's heart at the end of the next chapter, after Moses has warned Pharaoh of the plague on the firstborn.

Exodus 11:10

Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.

Following the plague on the firstborn, God does not intervene and Pharaoh finally allows the Israelites to leave. God is not done controlling Pharaoh, however.

(to be continued)

Lightning Baltimore said...

(continued from previous comment)

Exodus 14:5

And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD." So the Israelites did this.

Exodus 14:8

The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly.

God hardens even the hearts of Pharaoh's soldiers, when they are pursuing the Israelites.

Exodus 14:17-18

I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen."

God then slaughters Pharaoh's entire army, that he himself caused to pursue the Israelites.

Exodus 14:23

The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh's horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea.

Exodus 14:27-28

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the LORD swept them into the sea. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.

Not only has God visited pestilence and death upon the people of Egypt, to show he is powerful, he has now left the country with no defense from outside attack. He has punished the entire country for the sins of two men: Pharaoh and his father, who first enslaved the Israelites when he was in power.

There is no mercy here. None.

[all quoted scripture comes from the NIV, as it appears to be CRI's favored translation]

Anonymous said...

Another instance of God "hardening hearts" (although only partial) was after Pilot say to the Jews, "let His blood be on your hands and your childrens". That partial hardening is gradually being lifted as we near the last days - which is one of the surest signs we are nearing Chist's return. I'd love to hear from Hank regarding this occasion too.

Anonymous said...

I heard an interesting explanation concerning this question from Doug Batchelor, "Amazing Facts". Exodus does indeed say that God will harden Pharaoh's heart, but that statement is preceded by instruction for Moses to perform wonders. In fact each time Pharaoh's heart is hardened it is in response to the word or action of the Lord. Compare this to the action of sunlight on two substances, clay and wax. One will harden the other will become softer. But this is due to the characteristic of the substance not the choice of the sun.
I think Calvin has had a little too much influence on our thinking. The fact that God knows beforehand what Pharoah's response is going to be, is not the same as causing Pharoah's response.

Lightning Baltimore said...

God states that he will cause Pharaoh's response. The assertion that God merely knows what Pharaoh's response will be is in direct conflict with what Scripture says.

Also, your analogy is faulty. Unlike humans, clay and wax are neither capable of thought nor the ability to choose whether to harden or soften.

Bill B said...

What a precious thing to understand the tension belongs and not have to run from this seeming paradox. That the God of Creation would even have the mercy to communicate with a people, much less show His grace upon them that others might come to know Him is beyond anything human love is even capable of expressing.

God created and placed Pharaoh in power, hardened his heart indeed for the benefit of his people, that His power and might would be shown. That is the plain reading of Scripture on the subject to which one would be best served to visit Romans 9:18-24 to get a clear grasp of why the Sovereignty of God according to Hank perspective (which bleeds into his explanation here) is simply sub-Biblical:

(be blessed)
Rom 9:18-24
So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?"

On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?

The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it?

Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?

What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?

And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.

Lightning Baltimore said...

God created and placed Pharaoh in power, hardened his heart indeed for the benefit of his people, that His power and might would be shown.

You view the death of thousands, if not millions, of Egyptians as a benefit to them?

Would you say the same of a man who tortured his own children to death, to show them "his power and might?"

Bill B said...

LB You assume that there is a righteous man and that man, the created one, has the ability to judge the righteousness of the actions of the Creator God. That is simply not plausible.

It is often said that the if God allows evil, then He caused it, or that if He caused it then He is evil because He has done what is evil and that entirely misses or avoids or ignores the point of all things which is that all things that come to pass, regardless of how they might appear to us, finite human created beings, come to passs in the manner they do to ultimately and most powerfully glorify God the Father.

Look, rape is a horrific thing as is the torturing of children as you tossed into the discussion, but what you fail to acknowledge is that these things do not happen to infinitely innocent human beings.

That same God you would charge with responsibility for the evil of mens sinfulness has demonstrated His love towards us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, came of His own free choice, lived a perfect life, that we could not live, and as the ONLY EVER innocent human being who never sinned but was the victim of the most wicked act of humankind upon any individual so that the perfect plan of redemption established before the foundation of the world according to the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23) - that those who repent of their sin and believe in Him or put their faith/trust in Christ (Mk. 1:15) might not perish but have everlasting life.

People would be well served by allowing passages like Romans 9:18-24 to resound in their minds for a while and allow God to be God and see themselves as the benefactor with every breath of the grace and mercy of God. That He has not taken their life for the unrepentant sin that should have consumed them were God not gracious towards even the most vile of sinners is the most powerful display of control and unrequieted love that is ever with us.

For your benefit I will post that passage:
Romans 9:18-24
So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.

May He awaken you to the truth of His word that you may fully understand the boundless breadth of His Amazing Grace towards us all.