The human heart is something we frequently discuss because there is so much we need to learn and to overcome about ourselves. The heart in this context is a term that simply means what is at the center of a person, who we are, what motivates us and what drives the conditions of our relationships with one another.
The spirit in man was given to humans by God enabling them to think and reason and therefore have dominion over the rest of creation (Job 32:8). It also enables a human mind to hurt, and to have certain important characteristics such as emotions like joy and grief. Understanding, reasoning, personality, even belief can come from the heart. It allows us to have very complex relationships then with each other.
Jesus said in Luke 6:45 that the heart is a repository of good and evil and that what proceeds from us in word or deed begins in the heart. Jeremiah 17:9 describes the true nature of the human heart when humanity has rejected God’s way and chosen its own way under the influence of Satan. Therefore, it has become wicked and desperately sick.
But our heart is not supposed to stay that way. It’s a reality statement but it’s not supposed to be a crutch or excuse either, especially for those who are called by God to live a new way of life.
Besides the human mind deciding for itself what is good and evil, and that condition being set at the center of a person, the Bible often describes the heart as being in one of two other opposing conditions and that is either hard or soft. Human hearts can grow in either direction based on several factors. However, being hard-hearted is not a healthy condition. The problem is that even with the Spirit of God working in a person it can be very difficult to see our condition, to see the levels of hardness that can exist and continue to fester and grow.
We are inherently vulnerable to hardening and to numbness of mind creeping in. It is safe to say that the more hurt, setbacks, pain, and disappointment that we have in life, the more we tend to become hardened. Especially if those situations involve people who were or are close to us in some manner or those who cause setbacks in situations that are near to our heart. When something goes awry, we can become hardened as a protection mechanism to try to guard ourselves against future pain or mistreatment. Often without realizing it, we build this shield to make sure we won’t get hurt again.
However, there are ways to overcome, and the Holy Spirit can certainly help change our perspective if we use it. The problem with building a wall, if it’s not dealt with and recognized, a mind can become hardened to the point where it becomes totally self-consuming. Closing off our mind to others is actually a mind that is extremely prideful. It thinks it’s right all the time and it refuses to listen to correction, and therefore it’s very difficult to change directions.
Many have very difficult, long-lasting relationship problems and that can produce hardness. Some allow some kind of disaster to make them hard such as the loss of a loved one or maybe the loss of valuable possessions. Many let social injustices like economic oppression or racial prejudice harden them. Then they begin crusading as if righting these wrongs was the most important thing in life. Or we can feel betrayed by someone who is supposed to live by faith and have love towards others. A common reason why some let their hearts become hard is the misuse and abuse of power and authority.
Sin, in general, hardens hearts, but one of the greatest mind hardeners is that of our own sins. The law is designed to keep a mind soft and open to living a godly way of life but breaking the law hardens it, especially continual and unrepentant sin that leads to pride which causes a mind to become hardened.
There are many stories in the Bible about individuals who are hard-hearted, and it also talks about their pride and arrogance, so we see that they go hand in hand.
Considering all this, it is easy to see how a hardened mind can dull a person’s ability to perceive and understand, and to see the needs of others. We need to give people space and benefit of the doubt, seeing the potential in people and loving them as God loves them. All of that is at extreme risk if you’re not constantly on guard against hardness creeping in. Anyone’s mind can harden.
So why not build a barrier? Why should we care about the evils that are going on around us? It could just be me and God, right? Why should we care about that person that has used us and persecuted us?
The reason that we should care is because that mindset has the exact opposite as its intent. Rather than protecting the mind, it actually harms it further. Not only that, being hardened toward someone does not help them either. It only makes the situation worse. God does intend that we all “. . . encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15).
Essentially being hardened toward others amounts to rendering injury for injury instead of turning the other cheek. We should always avoid things that tear down. If for no other reason than you cannot tear down someone else without also tearing down yourself.
Further, by letting ourselves become hard, we have set ourselves up as judges to those against whom we harden ourselves. It is acting presumptuously. We are told not to avenge ourselves. If we let ourselves get hardened, we are avenging ourselves, at least in thought. Eventually, that leads to overt and usually wrong action.
Permitting ourselves to become hard is also unloving. It violates the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. How can we understand all the reasons for certain actions in others? We can’t read their minds. Only God can do that. A hardened heart makes it difficult to see the good things that God gives every day which makes it difficult to see the good in others and to love them.
Suffering evil should soften us. Not toward sin itself. But it should make us more sympathetic to others. If we let evil harden us toward others, then we are taking the side of Satan himself because it’s permitting that evil to turn us away from God and from each other. That is exactly what Satan wants
What can be done? It’s very difficult because the human mind is geared toward survival at all costs. We’re talking about breaking down defenses. It usually can’t be broken down through logic or even punishment. You know that old saying, “The beatings will continue until morale improves”. Do we believe that God is going to break the hardened heart of humanity through extreme punishment?
From what I read in the Bible, it would appear that the more punishment that comes upon humanity, upon the earth, the more people shake their fists at God. Don’t get me wrong, punishment is part of the plan, and it has its purpose, but as we see, humanity is becoming even harder, more resistant until they are ready to annihilate themselves. The only thing that melts these defenses, these walls, is the warmth and caring of others, especially of God Himself.
The heart can only be softened with the cultivation of safe and caring attachments. It is relationships that offer someone the promise of safety and warmth and dependance. It’s attachment that is the antidote. When emotional defenses are no longer needed, the human heart spontaneously recovers. It is able to experience vulnerable feelings again. Through that, amazingly, the hardest hearts can be softened. It can’t get there with a pill. It can’t get there with prodding or even punishment and rewarding but only through the warmth and comfort of another being.
What I just described is what God is like and that is what He offers humanity. How do we get to that point? The large step to take that is the cure for this “heart disease” is simply to recognize the problem and the effect that it has on us. If we do that, we will realize we need help. That’s why we, then, should ask God Himself to show us our condition. He can and does work in people’s lives to produce minds that are not only soft but are resistant to becoming hardened (Psalm 139:23-24 NIV).
Something else to help is studying God’s word (Psalm 119:9 ESV). Both points of staying close to God in prayer and studying His word are all about relationship building with God who can both heal us and prevent future infections. Having the Holy Spirit available to us and using it is an essential key to seeing our condition and doing something about it. Not just initially but continually as we grow and mature. It’s a spirit of power that can change our perspective.
Humility is another great aid when having difficulty with hardness as it actually softens us. Humility makes us soft and yielding, able to bend. Evil makes a proud person hard so that they can’t bend but they crack and break under the strain. Evil robs proud people of all joy of living. The humble, on the contrary, appreciate that life is worthwhile even with evils and trials. They pursue the wise course of making the best of circumstances. They are gentle, mild-tempered, and submissive.
Cultivating the fine qualities of patience, endurance, and long-suffering will also help us keep soft despite evils. Consider for a minute how long-suffering God was with humanity before the flood or with the nation of Israel or with the world as it is now. God who has the power to end all evil right now if He wanted to. Sin grieves Him far more than it does us, but He is willing to put up with it for a time. Surely, we should seek to cultivate that same kind of patience, endurance, and long-suffering.
Above all, love is needed if we are to have evil soften instead of hardening us. Love for God will lead us to willing submit to whatever experiences come our way. Love for neighbor will cause us to make allowances for ways they may have harmed us.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. . . . So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:4-8.13 ESV).
This is what love looks like.