The hardened heart – Femi Aribisala
On one occasion, Jesus used just five loaves of bread to feed 5,000 people. Then on another occasion, he used just seven loaves to feed 4,000. Nevertheless, the Jewish leaders still did not believe in him. The Pharisees still asked him to do for them “a sign from heaven” in order to prove he is who he says he is.
However, Jesus refused to oblige. He said to them: “Why does this generation seek a sign? Assuredly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.” (Mark 8:12). But why not? No sign would be given to them because, if in spite of all he had already done they still did not believe in him, more signs would not make any difference. They still would not believe.
They would not believe because to believe would entail costs they were not prepared to pay. At its most fundamental, it would require them to repent of sin and pursue righteousness. But since their hearts were hardened against righteousness, they were not inclined to believe and repent.
The cliché is true that God helps those who help themselves. Paul says: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13). We are expected to work out what God has worked in. However, those not inclined to do God’s will, receive no help whatsoever from God in doing his will. As a matter of fact, God “helps” them to be even more disobedient.
Therefore, when Jesus’ disciples asked him why he spoke only in parables to the people instead of speaking plainly to them, Jesus told them he spoke in parables because he did not want them to understand what he was saying.
If God speaks to you in your native tongue and you refuse to understand him, he will then speak to you in a foreign language he knows you don’t understand. If he sends a compatriot to preach to you at home and you refuse to understand, then he will send you into exile and send a foreigner to preach to you. So doing, he will ensure that you understand even less.
Jesus explains this dynamic in the following manner: “Whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”
“Therefore, I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.’” (Matthew 13:12-15).
This was the predicament of the Pharaoh. Since he was determined not to let the Israelites leave Egypt, God made sure he would not let them go. God did no less than nine devastating signs in Egypt designed to impress on Pharaoh that he had no choice but to let the Israelites leave.
But with every sign that God did, he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, ensuring that he would not let the people go. This continued until the purpose that God had purposed was fulfilled: the Egyptian army perished with their horses and chariots in the Red Sea.
I had an assistant for many years called Ernest. He did not believe in God and maintained it was foolish to say God answers prayers. Therefore, one day, I decided to do an experiment with him. I said to him: “I want you to desire something in your heart; without telling me what it is. Then I will pray that God will provide the thing. When he does, you will know that God is real and not just a figment of our imagination.”
So, I prayed for Ernest. Immediately I finished praying, a lady called Mrs. Giwa came in. She was glad to see that Ernest was with me because she had something for him. She reached into her bag and gave him a wristwatch. Ernest was flabbergasted. He admitted that he had asked God for a wrist-watch when I offered to pray for him.
But did Ernest believe in the existence of God as a result of this? No! After he got the wristwatch, his heart was hardened and he still insisted that God does not exist. Mrs. Giwa giving him a wrist-watch must have been a coincidence, he argued.
That is the problem with miracles. Miracles have a limited shelf-life. They wow us initially but, soon thereafter, we rationalise them out of existence. Those who are of the truth and are truthful believe the truth. Those who are of the lie and are given to falsehood believe lies. They consider the truth to be one big lie.
Word of God
In effect, faith in God does not come by miracles. Often, we try to bribe God by promising: “Father, if only you would do it for me, I will know conclusively that you are God.” No, you won’t. After he does it, you would need another miracle; and then another one.
This is what happened to the Israeli church in the wilderness: “Yes, they spoke against God: They said, ‘Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? Behold, he struck the rock, so that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed. Can he give bread also? Can he provide meat for his people?’ Therefore, the Lord heard this and was furious; so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel, because they did not believe in God, and did not trust in his salvation.” (Psalm 78:19-22).
Paul says: “Tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.” (1 Corinthians 14:22). Jesus said as much to Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29). He berated the Jews: “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.” (John 4:48).
True believers don’t need signs and wonders, they only need the word of God. Jesus performed so many signs during his three-year ministry, but to no avail. John says: “But although he had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: ‘Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (John 12:37-38).
However, in just two days, the Samaritans believed in Jesus without his having to do any miracles: “Then they said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.” (John 4:42).