Harden Not Your Hearts

“If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” These words struck me today, while preparing a Bible study on Hebrews 3. The author of Hebrews is quoting Psalm 95:7b-8. What are the dangers of a hardened heart?

Aristotle notes that virtue and vice are the fruit of repeated actions. Our actions form who we are. Even our mental activities do – the kinds of thoughts and emotions we allow to occupy our hearts and minds. If I do something good repeatedly, I form a habit of virtue. If I do something evil repeatedly, I form a habit of vice. For example, if I train myself to wait until the other person is finished speaking before I do, or I make a habit of not complaining about slow service at a restaurant, or a too-lengthy sermon, I eventually become patient. If I repeatedly make snap judgments about people’s motives, assume the worst about them, and indulge habitually in cynicism, I become an angry and harsh person.

The Catholic distinction between venial and mortal sin expands on this. All of us sin. Some of our sins are occasional, while others are habitual. For example, I can occasionally be sarcastic in a hurtful way, but not usually. Mainly through my wife’s prompting and example, I have generally eliminated hurtful humor from my communication.

But rigidity is another story. I tend to form my opinions quickly and hold them strongly. I dislike reviewing them, or even more, modifying them. I’m not talking about matters of faith and morals. “Rigidity” in certain matters is actually faithfulness to one’s convictions, formed by the teaching of Scripture and the Church. But other topics and areas are far less clearcut. The danger in rigidity about the latter is that I can get so hardened in my views that, eventually, I can’t modify them. That is a morally dangerous place to be. I need to be vigilant lest my rigidity so hardens my heart that I slide into mortal sin. Jesus’ harshest words were for the Pharisees. In their arrogance, they said, “We see.” Yet their rigidity had utterly blinded them to God’s presence in Jesus. (Jn 9:41).

So I need to form a habit of listening to the Holy Spirit, Who can make my heart soft and my will pliable. Someone may express an opinion I find objectionable or obnoxious. Is the Lord leading me to consider the merits of the opinion? Do I need to see if it, or at least parts of it, holds water? Even if the opinion is objectively wrong, can I express my disagreement in such a way that still respects the person? “Harden not your hearts.”

Like all couples, Mary and I get into tiffs from time to time. This Sunday, I was putting on my coat and jarred a fragile holy picture on the table by our entryway. She asked me to be more careful. I reacted irritably. “Mary, I know I have to be more careful after knocking something. I’m not 12 years old.” Etc. Eventually I paused long enough for the Holy Spirit to get a word in edgewise. It was something like, “Sean, you’re being a jerk. Admit it, and move on.” So I did. Ironically, later in the evening, I knocked over and broke a gold-rimmed wineglass of Mary’s grandmother. I had to laugh. “I guess I am a bit clumsy.” And Mary, graciously, laughed with me.

But it didn’t have to go that way. Sometimes I take longer to recover. I could have – and sometimes have – gone down the road of, “She’s so demanding! She wants everything to be perfect. What if I talked to her that way?” Etc., etc. Reviewing another’s faults – “taking somebody else’s inventory”, in AA terms – is always destructive. “Love…does not keep a record of wrongs” (1 Cor 13:5, NIV). For us to keep a record is a sure way to harden our hearts.

If we continue keeping that record, we may write the person off altogether. “I’ve tried and tried, and I’m just done.” How dangerous that is! Amidst my many faults, I do have a heart for reconciliation. Sure, I’m tempted to go with, “He’s a *#@!%; she’s a %$#@&”, and cut that person off for good. But there’s that pesky “…as we forgive those who trespass against us” – Jesus’ own words, central to His teaching. I can’t get around that, as tempting as that is. “Your Love Is a Song’, by the Christian band Switchfoot, has the line, “I’ve been keeping my heart wide open.” I’ve got to do that. How can I call myself a Christian if I do not? “Harden not your hearts.”

It’s possible to harden one’s heart not only against our neighbor, but against God Himself. Difficulty trusting the Lord may stem from difficult experiences with untrustworthy humans, or  bad encounters with professedly religious people. But to harden one’s heart against God is to refuse even the possibility of belief.

C.S. Lewis, in The Great Divorce, imagines how people in Hell, if allowed to visit the outskirts of Heaven, might respond to one more chance to choose Heaven. But the visitors he portrays are so frozen in their rejection of God that all but one reaffirm their choice of Hell. One character is asked to let go of her anger at God for her son’s untimely death. If she does, she’ll eventually enter Heaven and meet her beloved son there. But she refuses “on principle”. To let go of her anger would be condoning God’s injustice. She “just couldn’t” get herself to do so. If being in Heaven means being with Him, she’d rather do without her son as well.

Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Unless we progress, we regress.” Our hearts are getting softer, more docile to the Holy Spirit’s leading, more open to God’s grace, freer to love and be loved, as we journey toward eternal blessedness. Or they are hardening into the frozenness and utter lack of freedom, grace, and love that is Hell. Through Jesus Christ, Heaven is ours for the choosing. “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”

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About admin

I am a Catholic clinical psychologist with a solo practice in Omaha, NE. In the Franciscan seminary, I completed about 2/3rd of an M.Div./MA in Scripture. In my 3rd year of temporary vows, I discerned a call to the married life. My lovely wife Mary and I have a son, Michael, as well as a number of children preceding us to Heaven through miscarriages. We are delighted to be in the Omaha archdiocese and love the Heartland.
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