A non-believer posed this question to me once, and she was angry as she posed it.Â The fact that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart confirmed what she suspected already: that God is really just a bully.Â
Yes, if you picture God as a cosmic Nice Guy, then this scripture will definitely ruin your faith.Â God is not nice in dealing with Pharaoh.Â I do wish this lady could have hung in there to discover the real God, but I could tell she wasn’t really interested.Â Sometimes the questions we ask about God aren’t really questions â€“ they’re missiles launched at heaven.Â Â Â
Despite her false motives, her question raises a relevant concern: “Aren’t IÂ the one who’s in charge of my heart?”Â In other words, am I a puppet or do I have free will to choose my own path?Â
Consider this.Â We often hear things like “she stole my heart” or “I fell head-over-heels in love” â€“ implying one’s heart is in another’s control.Â And negatively, at every AA meeting you’ll hear step 1 of the 12 steps recited: “We came to admit that we were powerless over alcohol”.Â So the idea that we’re not in charge of our hearts is common in pop culture.Â
Let’s make this question personal.Â Have you ever lost your temper?Â At the moment of your anger, would you say you were in control of your heart?Â Doubtful.Â And what about depression, which lasts much longer than a moment â€“ are you in charge of your heart then? Â See, we can dig ourselves an emotional hole that we’re not easily able to climb out of.Â How do we dig that hole?Â One shovelful at a time.Â Pharaoh’s greed is the same way.Â He chose it so consistently that it became stronger than his will.Â If unresisted, moods like anger, self-pity, and greed get a grip of us.Â Some people don’t rouse themselves to fight off their moods and as a result they become enslaved by them.
Â Interestingly, Exodus mentions that the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart a total of nine times (see 4:21, 7:13, 9:12, 10:11, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10, 14:4, and 14:8).Â But Exodus also mentioned that Pharaoh hardened his own heart a total of eight times (in 7:13, 7:22, 8:15, 8:19. 8:32, 9:7, 9:35, and 13:15).Â So which is it?Â Did God harden Pharaoh’s heart or did he do it himself?
Â Both!Â Here we see how sophisticated scripture actually is.Â Scripture sometimes presents a paradox in order to provoke us. Â Pharaoh, by his own persistent choice, indulged the sin of greed; and God, by his sovereign choice, removed his grace from Pharaoh so that he could no longer repent.Â Under his own power Pharaoh walked into a room called greed, and God closed the exit door.Â
Think of your own deepest desires, whether sinful or virtuous.Â Your will is strongly activated in those desires, of course.Â But â€“ to say it clumsily â€“ you are not alone in your own heart.Â The spiritual realm also interacts there, both for ill and for good.Â Often we are too close to ourselves to see these forces clearly.Â The wisdom of others, and prayer, are therefore crucial.Â
Take note: it’s only by grace that we are enabled to admit our sin and resist it. If we give up resisting, we simply drift down the river our hearts have chosen – until that dread moment when we come to the waterfall, and we realize too late that we have consented to our own ruin. The wages of sin is death, says Paul in Romans 6:23. In other words, the closer you get to that waterfall the more the current sucks you down. And as the addict knows, there’s no coming back after that point.
Fear that moment.Â And be glad; unlike Pharaoh, you still have the grace to turn this thing around.Â