Hardened hearts

Christian apologists make much of God’s gift of free will, especially when attempting to solve the problem of evil. But it’s worth noting that God sometimes overrides this gift – it is not sacred to him. Here are the examples that arise from a simple Bible search of the word “harden”:

But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses. (Exodus 9:12)

In this example, God deliberately coerces Pharaoh’s ability to make decisions because he is intent on punishing the Egyptians within an inch of their lives – it will not do to have Pharaoh capitulate too early.

Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time. Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. For it was the LORD himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses. (Joshua 11:18-20)

Here, God affects the free will of entire nations, deliberately making them antagonistic so that they can be completely destroyed. God’s such a nice guy, isn’t he?

Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

“He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.” (John 12:37-40)

In this example, God meddles with the free will of the crowds listening to Jesus: they are deliberately prevented from believing in him.

It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? (Romans 9:16-21)

Here we have Paul espousing a blatantly anti-free will theology, using the example of Pharaoh. And, when he anticipates his readers’ obvious response (why does God still blame us for our decisions if they’re not freely made?), he doesn’t give them a real answer, he simply berates them for challenging God. In other words, if it doesn’t make sense to you, that’s just your tough luck, keep it to yourself.

My impression, after reading through these passages, is that the deity of the Bible is (accidentally) portrayed by the Biblical writers as someone who is ultimately playing games with his people: he has no real commitment to a fixed (or just) set of moral principles, he has no sense of following through. He has no scruples about influencing his people’s thoughts.

This impression undoubtedly arises from the conflicting views and agendas of the various biblical authors. Their narratives, when combined, give rise to a capricious, unstable picture of God. Too bad most Christians don’t recognize this.

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3 Responses to Hardened hearts

  1. It’s really interesting that you bring this up. For a long time, even though I didn’t “practice” Christianity by going to church and abstaining from “sinful” activities, I still considered myself a Christian because the one thing that I KNEW about [God] from experience was that it was love (1 John 4:16). As I read my Bible though, I stumbled across scriptures about the God of the Old Testament hardened the hearts of men in order to destroy them. I just thought that the idea of THIS God was so different from the Jesus that I had been raised to love and accept, which confused me because God was supposed to be “the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow”. I concluded, like the Gnostics, that the God of the Old Testament and Jesus could, indeed, not be part of a Trinity as one God. After some time, I did some soul-searching and wondered “If Love (my God) was personified, would ‘He’ reject ‘His’ creations in their ‘sins’ and damn them to hell, where they would be TORTURED forever?”

    After some time, I concluded that there couldn’t be a hell if there was Love as our guiding force and that our guiding force couldn’t be a personified “Judge.” I did not believe in the necessity of Jesus’ sacrifice; therefore, I was not a Christian. I still charish the Christian values of personal sacrifice, love, giving, and forgiveness, and while these values are exhaulted by Christians, I will support their belief in Christ, even though there are some clear contradictions in the Bible.

    The End.

    (haha sorry, I didn’t really mean to tell you my whole story here. It just kind of happened.)

  2. kpharri says:

    ourpuzzlepeace

    Interesting story, thanks. You’ve obviously thought about these issues a great deal.

    I take a certain ascetic pleasure (stemming, no doubt from my love of the elegant parsimony of science) in realizing that love can stand very much on its own as a powerful force, without needing to be explained by supernatural theories!

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