This is an obstinate refusal and coldness of thought and response to God or a lack of concern for others. Other terms used to describe this condition are: selfish or tight fisted; stubborn; stiff necked; having an unbelieving heart; without love or concern (Deut 15:7,8; Mk 3:5; Act 7:51). After he had killed his brother, Cain was asked by God, “Where is your brother Abel?” His heartless response was, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9).
Is my heart tender and compassionate to others? – Ephesians 4:32
been buffeted by the events of life, being hurt and taken advantage of by others. However, our response to the very real plight of others determines whether we have a sympathetic, pliable heart or are unconcerned, indicating a hard heart of stone, only caring about self.
Life’s unwelcome, painful events can cause us to withdraw and become insensitive to the needs of those around as we are grappling with our own struggles. We should process our own experiences of wounding so we can minister effectively to hurting people. The Bible asks ‘can the love of God dwell in such a heartless person if they don’t meet the pressing needs when it is in their ability to do so?’ (Jas 2:16; 1 Jn 3:17). Job, in the midst of his own intense personal suffering, ministered to his friends and it was then his situation dramatically changed (Job 42:8-10).
Because of their stubborn attitude in the wilderness – continually resisting God’s will and sinning – the older Israelite’s hardened their hearts and they did not enter the Promised Land (Num 14:22,23, 32:11). David warned his readers, “Don’t harden your hearts” (Ps 95:8-11). This can be interpreted as ‘don’t be rebellious, don’t disobey’ or simply “Don’t resist the Spirit” (1 Thes 5:19). Submission outworked as obeying is the path to victory and blessing. The picture is of plowing up the hard soil of our hearts to provide the ideal conditions or else the good seed of God’s Word won’t be able to take root and produce the desired results (Jer 4:3; Mk 4:14,15).
God did not harden evil Pharaoh’s heart or override his free will yet He foreknew the determined approach the Egyptian ruler would take by failing to let the Hebrews go. Pharaoh made his mind up and in stubbornness hardened his heart, with God strengthening the resolve he had already formed in his own heart. The Bible records these terms; “he would not listen…unyielding heart…did not take even this to heart…he hardened his heart…stubbornly refused…” (Ex 7:3, 9:12, 10:1,20,27, 11:10, 14:4,8). It was only after the sixth of ten plagues that it is recorded, “But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart”, giving him up to his desires – in a similar manner to those who “Do not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind” (Deut 32:19,20; Rom 1:26,28). Pharaoh had increasingly reinforced his attitude and resisted the grace of God, now he was reaping the consequences of that decision he had been sowing. God’s way prevailed, yet at a huge loss to the whole nation of Egypt.
People who refuse to believe despite the evidence are so set in their ways – their hearts are permanently hardened by stubbornness and resisting God – that it is almost impossible for them to change (Isa 6:9,10; Jn 12:40; 2 Thes 2:8-10). A heart becomes hardened when the voice of God (either through the Bible or the inner conviction of the conscience) is ignored and not acted on; this is the deceitfulness of sin, and sinful, unbelieving, rebellious hearts turn away from God (Heb 3:7-19). There comes a time when God will cease to reason with people and He confirms the prideful decision that rejects the truth and conviction of the Holy Spirit (Gen 6:3; Prov 29:1). Ultimately God will get through to such people that He is God, that He should have been listened to and obeyed but it will be too late for them to responded correctly (Ex 7:4,5, 9:14, 14:4,18; Rom 2:5).
Those who reject God are unaware of the life and wisdom that is available in Him (Eph 4:18). Satan endeavours to keep humanity spiritually blind or ignorant so they can’t see and enter into the victory and blessing that is available in Christ (2 Cor 4:4; 1 Jn 3:8). What we do with the knowledge is the vital question. Even as Christians we need to increase in our knowledge and experience of the life He gives so we can enter into it more and more (Jn 10:10). If we are hardhearted towards the voice of God, we will also be towards the lost for whom we should have intense compassion when we consider their eternal destiny.
As a hard, stony heart doesn’t submit to God’s will, why not regularly pray, ‘God, please give me the grace to respond correctly to you and my fellow man’ (Ps 51:10; Ezek 18:31; 2 Cor 5:17). He says, “I will give you a heart of flesh [responsive, gentle, and vulnerable] in place of your heart of stone” (Ezek 11:19, 36:26). David was such a man who, when he had done wrong, repented (even though the consequences remained). Knowing God and His ways intimately, with corresponding obedience, is the key to having a tender, flexible heart that responds to people’s reasonable requests, fulfills one’s duty and is concerned about others (Ex 12:36; Mal 4:6; Mt 25:40).
The steps to remedy and protect from this potentially serious hardhearted condition include; humbly admitting and confessing the stubborn, independent attitude of the carnal nature as “A broken and contrite heart God will not despise” (Ps 51:17). God will show mercy when sinful people turn back to Him (Jdg 10:11-16; Jnh 3:10). A soft, responsive, tender heart hears and obeys what the Holy Spirit says. Therefore, be quick to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. This often comes through the conscience and being other-focused by doing what is best for them, as the golden rule suggests.
See also: heart, heartless, rebellion, response, stubborn.