Monday, July 20, 2009

A hard heart

"If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts." This is one of my favorite scripture passages and responsorial psalms. It is one of my favorites because a few years ago I heard it differently and it made all the difference in the world. For years I understood it to mean that if today God happens to speak to you, don't harden your heart, rather, listen, and obey. However, on that particular day I finally understood it to mean that if you hear God speak to you today, because He will, listen and obey. There is no doubt that He will speak to you today, as He does everyday, however the emphasis is on you listening.

The difference is subtle, I know, but there is a dramatic difference between thinking that "God might speak to you today" and "when God speaks to you today."

In today's first reading we read that God "hardened Pharaoh's heart." I know many who read this have a problem with this passage and similar passages. They ask, "why would God harden His heart? Why couldn't he make Pharaoh have a soft heart and let the people go at the first request of Moses? Was this hardening just part of God's elaborate story line so He could part the waters?"

When we read that a person's heart was hardened in Scripture we must not think that God used some unseen force to make that person obstinate, hateful, or evil. Rather, it is the person reacting to what God has done in his or her life.

A priest I once knew used the illustration of mud and ice to teach this concept. It is the same sun that shines upon the mud and ice but there are two dramatically different effects. The ice softens and melts while the mud firms up and hardens. Likewise, it is the same love of God that shines on us all but depending on our disposition, attitude, or life view our response can be completely different than that of our neighbor.

We see this every day. We see similar things happen to people and we see opposite reactions. An unplanned pregnancy, for instance, would be a good example. One couple willingly accepts this unexpected gift from God while the other refuses the gift even to the point of murder. Some people see suffering, in all it's many forms, as a gift from God meant for our good while others see it as something to flee from and even use it's existence as a way of arguing there is no God.

God will speak to you today. It may not be a word that is particularly pleasant but He will speak. The question is, "will you hear Him" and "will His word find a soft or hard heart"?

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