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Posts Tagged ‘heart of stone’

stubborn muleWhy did God choose plagues? In Exodus chapters 7-10, we read about liquid plagues, hopping plagues, flying plagues, buzzing plagues, animal dying plagues, skin plagues, weather plagues, lighting plagues, and finally, the straw that broke the Pharaoh’s back, people dying plagues.

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it. [Exodus 7:3-5]

A cursory look at some commentaries indicates that many of the ten plagues appear to correspond with a particular “god” the Egyptians worshiped and in this way, Yahweh was demonstrating superiority over these gods. And certainly, if these miraculous plagues were intended to make a point, an indelible memory, they certainly did that. Although we may not remember all of the types of plagues or how many there were, most people have visceral reaction to one or more of the manifestations. (I’m glad he didn’t choose rats or spiders as I would be forever frozen at the thought of a teeming swarm of either. I barely recovered from the story of the Pied Piper as a child.)

But perhaps the most important aspect of these plagues to point out is that the plagues were explicitly devised to change the mind of Pharaoh and extract repentance. In this case, it took ten times.

How many times does God act to change me, to draw my attention to poor and selfish thinking, inappropriate behaviors, or simply, to sin? Am I equally stubborn?

In Pharaoh’s case, the letting go of the Israelites would alter Egypt’s way of life dramatically because slaves were cheap labor and there was plenty of it, in essence, the bedrock of that economy. He wasn’t just resisting God’s will, he was resisting change.

I just want to pay attention, that’s all. I don’t want to be a hard heart.

Plus, a hard heart can have collateral damage. In Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, during the course of the two families bickering and fighting, it is Mercutio who is mortally wounded:

No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a
church-door; but ’tis enough,’twill serve: ask for
me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I
am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o’
both your houses! ‘Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a
cat, to scratch a man to death! a braggart, a
rogue, a villain, that fights by the book of
arithmetic! Why the devil came you between us? I
was hurt under your arm.  [Mercutio, Act 3, Scene 1]

Such family quarrels continue in our modern world and who suffers? Stubbornness has no victor.

In Shakespeare’s tale, many more die, but in particular, both Romeo and Juliet lose their lives, choosing out of misplaced loyalty, somehow taught by their feuding families. In Pharaoh’s time, he lost his firstborn son, before he let go. But even that, was not the end of his stubborn, single-minded story.

God works in mysterious ways to bend the earth and its peoples to God’s will. For the best. And unfortunately, it appears we, as a human race, are feeling some of those plagues today. How many more tragedies and how many more deaths will we endure before we respond humanely to one another? Or will we continue to blame one another because of the color of our skin or history of our faiths or the geography of our land?

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The hardening of the heart is a spiritual condition. In our culture, we think of it as someone who is cruel and unfeeling. While in scripture, the hard heart can still feel but only through the body, hence, the tendency toward violence and pain or sensuality and lasciviousness. It is the spirit encased in stone.

Ephesians 4:18-19a
They [unbelievers] are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality . . .

For teenagers, we see hardened hearts manifesting in eating disorders, cutting, and other abusive behavior because they are trying to “feel” something. When and how did their spirits lose touch with God? Youngsters usually experience a sense of God through the parents first. If they are absent, uninterested, or hardened themselves, the foundation is laid for walls of protection to rise. Our culture is another layer of bricks and stones in this process: the constant exposure to violent stories, abuse, horror, and the “objectivity” of women and men through pornography. Loss, grief, and disappointment are additional bricks. Unrelenting poverty, hunger, and deprivation can also build layers of stone, particularly in our culture where privilege, comfort, and luxury are dangled before us every day.

There is no human remedy for a hard heart. I know, because I have been there. Isolated as an immigrant family, the death of my father at an early age, a working mother who was mentally unstable, the ingredients were all there for steeling the heart. I hurt a lot, I cried a lot, I defied authority, I self-medicated, I lied, I cheated, I dabbled in the occult: all of it in the name of searching for something I did not understand.

Only God and the Spirit of Christ within can break through the hardened layers of the heart. It is a process and not a singular event. Becoming a follower of Jesus is only a starting point. At my decision, I was able to shut down some of the 3-D sensations and realize there was another way to reach Spirit.

Sensitivity to the Spirit of God is sweet and as the heart melts in God’s Presence, other “feelings” are not as powerful, there is less striving. This is the journey of peace.

A Christian can go through all the motions of being a Christian and still have a hard heart. I did that too.

It is the best work of the Holy Spirit and I am reminded this day to invite the Counselor within, to keep my heart sensitized and soft and tender towards God. Love comes from a tender heart.

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Acts 16:33
At that hour of the night the jailer took them [Paul and Silas] and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.

When the jailer accepted the word of God that Paul and Silas shared with him, his eyes were opened and with those open eyes came compassion. Paul and Silas were no longer just prisoners but injured men who needed attending. Before that, the jailer had been complacent.

I wonder how often I have missed human need and suffering because of a callous heart. I drive the same streets every day. I walk the neighborhoods. I go to the same grocery store and eat at the same restaurants. Am I looking and not seeing?

Martin Buber spoke eloquently of man’s ability to look at “the other” without seeing in his book, I and Thou. Am I looking at other as “object” … as an “it,” or as a person … a true “thou.”

William Shakespeare captured this idea slightly differently (but effectively) in the Merchant of Venice through one of the speeches of Shylock: “I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?” [Act III, sc 1] Replace the word Jew with “the poor” and you get the idea.

The jailer could not do much. He couldn’t free Paul and Silas, he couldn’t change their circumstances, but he could give a small comfort: he could wash their wounds.

When I see poor and wretched souls, I become numb with the enormity of their deprivation. What can I possibly do? Perhaps it’s only the small act that needs doing in the moment…. washing wounds by listening, touching, asking, engaging, feeding, sharing. Perhaps I should stop worrying about what I cannot do and simply do what I can do.

I have heard it said that we can never “out give” the poor. Their need will always be greater that our ability to meet it. This sentiment reverberates in Jesus’s own words: “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want…” [Mark 14:7a]

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John 19:11b
“…Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” [Jesus speaking to Pilate]

Although Jesus knew that one of his followers would betray him, the suffering was still heavy to bear. Imagine, in this scene, Jesus tells Pilate that Judas, who betrayed him, has committed a greater sin than Pilate who would be condemning Jesus to death. I believe the chief priests, who brought Jesus to Pilate, were also betrayers. They twisted the truth to achieve their own goals. As leaders of the faith, they betrayed the people.

I have experienced betrayal and I can testify to the depth of such pain. To give someone trust, to open the heart and expose it willingly to someone, and then have it crushed through betrayal is a misery like no other.

Love is a contract. Relationship is a contract. Friendship is a contract. It may not be a written one, like a marriage vow or certificate, and yet, as the onion layers of our hearts are removed in order to love more deeply, we are placing more and more trust in that contract. Contracts of this kind are strengthened by our transparency and destroyed by lies and deception.

And yet, love requires that we accept the possibility of betrayal. This is the greatest challenge of all. Once injured by betrayal, the tendency is to protect the heart from another incursion. But love is anemic without trust and vulnerability. It is not love at all.

Jesus loved Judas despite the eventual betrayal. Jesus loved all the disciples, knowing they would fail him and flee. Jesus loved Peter who denied him three times in a single night.

Our only safety in loving others is Christ. He is the healer of betrayed hearts. Without his presence within the heart, we will develop a heart of stone. It all starts innocently enough, a protective shield from the disappointments and betrayals we have experienced over the years, but eventually, if left to our own devices, the protective layer begins to soak through and our hearts are hardened. This is the highest cost of betrayal.

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart…” [Psalm 51:17a] The heart of stone must be broken in order for healing to begin. [Ezekiel 36:26]

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