One of the more difficult Biblical themes to understand is the concept of God hardening the hearts and minds of certain human beings. The most memorable case is that of Pharaoh wherein, before sending Moses to him God said he would “harden Pharaoh’s heart” (Ex 4:21). But there are other instances where biblical texts speak of God as hardening the hearts of sinners, even from among his own people.

What are we to make of texts like these? How can God, who does no evil, be the source of a sinful mind or heart? Why would God do such a thing since he has said elsewhere:

  1. As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’ (Ez 33:11)
  2. God our Savior…wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:4)

To be sure, these questions involve very deep mysteries, mysteries about God’s sovereignty and how it interacts with our freedom, mysteries of time, and mysteries of causality. As a mystery within mysteries, the question of God hardening hearts cannot simply be resolved. Greater minds than I have pondered these things, and it would be foolish to think that a easy resolution is to be found in a blog post.

But some distinctions can and should be made, and some context supplied. We do not want to understand the “hardening texts” in simplistic ways, or in ways that use one truth to cancel out other important truths that balance it. So please permit only a modest summary of the ancient discussion.

I propose we examine these sorts of texts along four lines:

  1. The Context of Connivance.
  2. The Mystery of Time
  3. The Mystery of Primary Causality
  4. The Necessity of Humility

To begin it is important simply to list a selection of the hardening texts. The following are not the only ones, but they sample them widely enough:

  1. The LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. (Ex 4:21)
  2. Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country. (Ex 11:10)
  3. Why, O LORD, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes that are your inheritance. (Is 63:17)
  4. He [God] has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn–and I would heal them. (Jesus quoting Isaiah Isaiah 6:9-10, at John 12:40)
  5. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie (2 Thess 2:11)
  6. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another…..Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. (Rom 1:24, 28)

Point I. – THE CONTEXT OF CONNIVANCE – In properly assessing texts like these we ought first to consider the contexts in which they were made and written. Generally speaking, most all of these declarations that God hardens the heart, come after a significant period of disobedience on the part of those hardened. In a way, God “cements” the deal and gives them fully what they really want. For having hardened their own hearts to God, God determines that their disposition is a permanent one, and in a sovereign exercise of his will, (for nothing can happen without God’s allowance), declares and permits their heart to be hardened in a definitive kind of way. In this sense, there is a judgement of God upon the individual that recognizes their definitive decision against him. Hence, this hardening can be understood as voluntary, on the part of the one hardened, for God hardens in such a way that he uses their own will, whom he hardens, for the executing of his judgment and his acceptance that their will against him is definitive.

A. For example, in the case of Pharaoh, it is true, as the Exodus 4:21 text says above, God indicated to Moses that he would harden Pharaoh’s heart. But the actual working out of this is a bit more complicated than that. We see in the first five plagues, it is Pharaoh who hardens his own heart (Ex. 7:13; 7:22; 8:11; 8:28; & 9:7). It is only after this repeated hardening of his own heart, that the Exodus text shifts, and speaks of God as the one who hardens (Ex 9:12; 9:34; 10:1; 10:20; 10:27). Hence the hardening here is not without Pharaoh’s repeated demonstration of his own hardness, and God, if you will, “cements the deal” as a kind of sovereign judgment on Pharaoh.

B. The Isaiah texts, many in number, that speak of a hardening being visited upon Israel by God, (e.g. #s 3 and 4 above), are also the culmination of a long testimony, by the prophet, of Israel’s hardness. At the beginning of the Isaiah’s ministry, Israel’s hardness was described as of their own doing by God who said through Isaiah: For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. (Is 1:2-4). There follows a long list of their crimes, their hardness and their refusal to repent.

1. St. John Chrysostom – of the numerous texts Later in Isaiah (and also referenced by Jesus (e.g. Jn 12:40), that speak of Israel as being hardened by God, and having him shut their eyes, St John Chrysostom says, That the saying of Isaiah might be fulfilled: that here is expressive not of the cause, but of the event. They did not disbelieve because Isaias said they would; but because they would disbelieve, Isaias said they would…. For He does not leave us, except we wish Him….Whereby it is plain that we begin to forsake first, and are the cause of our own perdition. For as it is not the fault of the sun, that it hurts weak eyes, so neither is God to blame for punishing those who do not attend to His words. (on a gloss of Is. 6:9-10 at Jn 12:40, quoted in the Catena Aurea).

2. St Augustine also says, This is not said to be the devil’s doing, but God’s. Yet if any ask why they could not believe, I answer, because they would not…But the Prophet, you say, mentions another cause, not their will; but that God had blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart. But I answer, that they well deserved this. For God hardens and blinds a man, by forsaking and not supporting him; and this He makes by a secret sentence, for by an unjust one He cannot (Quoted in the Catena Aurea at Jn 12:40).

C. Of the text of 2 Thessalonians, God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie quoted in # 5 above, while the text speaks of God as having sent the delusion, the verse before and after make clear the sinful role of the punished saying: They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved….so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness ( 2 Thess 2:10,12).

1. Of this text, St. Augustine says, From a hidden judgment of God comes perversity of heart, so that the refusal to hear the truth leads to the commission of sin, and this sin is itself a punishment for the preceding sin [of refusing to hear the truth]. (Against Julian 5.3.12).

2. St John Damascus says, [God does this] so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness (The Orthodox Faith 4.26).

D. The texts from Romans 1 speak of God handing them over only after they have suppressed the truth (1:18), persevered in their wickedness (1:18) and preferred lust and idolatry (1:23-24), hence, as a just judgement, he hands them over to sexual confusion (homosexuality) and to countless other destructive drives. So here too, though it is said God hands them over, it is really not that simple. God has, in effect, cemented the deal. They do not want to serve them and so He, knowing their definitive decision, gives them what they want.

E. Thus, our first point of distinction in understanding the “hardening” texts is that the context of connivance is important in assessing them. It is not asserted by Scripture that God takes a reasonably righteous man and, out of the blue, hardens his heart, confuses his mind or causes him, against his will, to become obstinate. The texts are usually presented as a kind of prevenient judgement by God, that the state of the person’s hardness has now become permanent. They refuse and so God cements the deal and “causes” them to walk in their own sinful ways since they have insisted so.

Point II. – THE MYSTERY OF TIME – In understanding these hardening texts, which we have seen, are akin to judgment texts, we must strive to recall that God does not live in time in the same we do. Scripture speaks often of God’s knowledge and vision of time as being comprehensive, rather than speculative or serial (e.g. Ex 3:14; Ps 90:2-4; Ps 93:2; Is 43:13; Ps 139; 2 Peter 3:8; James 1:17; inter al.).

A. To say that God is eternal and that he lives in eternity is to say that he lives in the fullness of time. For God, past, present and future are all the same. God is not wondering what I will do tomorrow, neither is he waiting for it to happen. For Him, my tomorrow has always been present to Him. All of my days were written in His book before one of them ever came to be (Ps 139:16). Whether, and how long I live, has always been known to him. Before he ever formed me in my mother’s womb he knew me (Jer 1:4). My final destiny is already known and present to him.

B. Hence, when we strive to understand God’s judgments in the form of hardening the hearts of certain people, we must be careful not to think he lives in time like we do. It is not as though God is watching my life like a movie. He already knows the choice I will make. Thus, when God hardens the hearts of some, it is not as though he were merely trying to negatively influence the outcome, and trip certain people up. He already knows the outcome and has always known it, he knows the destiny they have chosen.

C. Now be very careful with this insight, for it is a mystery to us. We cannot really know what it is like to live in eternity, in the fullness of time, where the future is just is present as the past. If you think you know, you really don’t. What is essential for us is that we realize that God does not live in time like we do. If we try too hard to solve the mystery (rather than merely accept and respect it) we risk falling into the denial of human freedom, or double predestination, or other wrong-headed notions that sacrifice one truth for another, rather than to hold them in balance. That God knows what I will do tomorrow, does not destroy my freedom to actually do it. How this all works out is mysterious. But we are free, Scripture teaches this, and God holds us accountable for our choices. Further, even though God knows my destiny already, and yours as well, does not mean that He is revealing anything about that to us, as though we should look for signs and seek to call ourselves saved or lost. We ought to work out our salvation in a reverential fear and trembling (Phil 2:12).

D. The Key point here is mystery. Striving to understand how, why and when God hardens the heart of anyone is caught up in the mysterious fact that he lives outside of time and knows all things before they happen. Thus he acts with comprehensive knowledge of all outcomes.

Point III. – THE MYSTERY OF CAUSALITY - One of the major differences between the ancient and the modern world is that the ancient world was much more comfortable in dealing with something known as primary causality.

A. Up until the Renaissance God was at the center of all things and people instinctively saw the hand of God in everything, even terrible things. Job of old said, The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised….if we have received good things at the hand of God, why should we not receive evil?” (Job 1:21; 2:10). Thus the ancients would commonly attribute everything as coming from the hand of God, for he was the “first cause” of everything that happened. This is what we mean by primary causality. The ancients were thus more comfortable attributing things to God that we are not. In speaking like this, they were not engaged in a form of superstitious or primitive thinking, but they emphasized that God was sovereign, omnipotent and omnipresent and that nothing happened apart from his sovereign will, He is the Primary Cause of all that is.

1. Of this ancient and scriptural way of thinking the Catechism says, And so we see the Holy Spirit, the principal author of Sacred Scripture, often attributing actions to God without mentioning any secondary causes [e.g. human or natural]. This is not a “primitive mode of speech”, but a profound way of recalling God’s primacy and absolute Lordship over history and the world, and so of educating his people to trust in him. (CCC # 304)

2. The Key point here is understanding that the ancient Biblical texts while often speaking of God as hardening the hearts of sinners, did not, as we saw above, mean that man had no role, or no responsibility. Neither did it mean that God acted in a merely arbitrary way. Rather, the emphasis was on God’s sovereign power as the first cause of all that is and hence he is often called the cause of all things and his hand is seen in everything. We moderns are uncomfortable in speaking this way as we shall see.

B. After the Renaissance man moved to the center and God was gradually “escorted” to the periphery. Thus our manner of thinking and speaking began to shift to secondary causes (causes related to man and nature). If something happens we look to natural causes, or in human situations, to the humans who caused it. These are secondary causes however, since I cannot cause something to happen unless God causes me. Yet increasingly the modern mind struggles to maintain a balance between the two mysteries of our freedom, and responsibility and God’s Sovereignty and omnipotence.

C. In effect we have largely thrown primary causality overboard as a category. Even modern believers unconsciously do this and thus exhibit three issues related to this.

1. We fail to maintain the proper balance between two mysteries: God’s Sovereignty and our freedom.

2. We exhibit shock at things like the “hardening texts” of the Bible because we understand them poorly.

3. We try to resolve the shock by favoring one truth over the other. Maybe we just brush aside the ancient biblical texts as a “primitive mode of speech” and say, inappropriately, “God didn’t have anything to do with this or that.” Or we go to the other extreme and become fatalistic, deny human freedom, deny secondary causality (our part) and accuse God of everything; as if he were the only cause and had the sole blame for everything. Thus, we either read the hardening texts with a clumsy literalism, or dismiss them as misguided notions from an immature, primitive, and pre-scientific age.

D. The point here is that we have to balance the mysteries of primary and secondary causality. We cannot fully understand how they interrelate, but they do. Both mysteries need to be held. The ancients were more sophisticated in holding these mysteries in the proper balance. We are not. We handle causality very clumsily and do not appreciate the distinctions of primary causality (God’s part) and secondary causality (our part, and nature’s too). We try to resolve the mystery rather than hold it in balance and speak to both realities. As such, we are poor interpreters of the “hardening texts.”

Point IV – THE NECESSITY OF HUMILITY - By now it will be seen that we are dealing with a mysterious interrelationship of God and Man, between our freedom and God’s sovereignty, between primary and secondary causality. In the face of such mysteries we have to be very humble. We ought not think more of the details than is proper for us, for, frankly they are largely hidden from us. Too many moderns either dismiss the hardening texts or accept them and sit in harsh judgment over God, as if we could do such a thing. Neither approach bespeaks humility. Consider a shocking but very humbling text where Paul warns us in this very matter:

What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” (Romans 9:14-20)

In effect, none of can demand an absolute account of God for what he does. Even if he were to tell us, could our small and worldly minds ever really comprehend it? My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways, says the Lord (Is 55:8).

Summary – In this post, rather too long, we have considered the “hardening texts” where it seems that God is said to harden the hearts of certain people and groups. And so he does. But texts like these must be carefully approached with proper distinctions, appeal to the scriptural and historical context, and deep humility. There are profound mysteries at work here: mysteries of God’s sovereignty, our freedom, his mercy and also his justice.

We ought to careful to admit the limits of our knowledge when it comes to such texts. As the Catechism so beautifully stated, when it comes to texts like these, they are to appreciated as a profound way of recalling God’s primacy and absolute Lordship over history and the world, and so of educating his people to trust in him. (CCC # 304)

This song says, “Lord I’ve sinned, But you’re still calling my name…”

24 Responses

  1. Bill Foley says:

    Dear Monsignor Pope,

    Unique topic and wonderful treatment. Mystery of grace and free will. Terrible fact that a man can turn back on God even in spite of grace and truth. Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes admitted that Christ performed miracles but still turned their hearts against Him.

  2. John says:

    Msgr, your article stimulate very deep thoughts. I like to think of it in simple terms. If you are not with Christ, you are against Him. If you are not with God, the natural state of affairs is that one will drift to sin (as a result of so-called “human nature”). Much like bread that is left out of the fridge for too long will become hard, milk that is out in the open will become spoiled. If one is not with holy love, bad things happen as a natural state. People may attribute that to God’s doing, but it is quite simply that if one is not attracted towards God (the positive end of the magnet), then one is drawn towards sin (which is the other negative end of the magnet). God does not impose His love on a person’s free will, and if one does not freely love God, the natural state is hardening of heart.

  3. Jake says:

    Monsignor, Have you considered collecting your posts of Scriptural interpretations/meditations/explanations into a book? They are really great, and have helped me tremendously over the years to better understand God’s words in the Bible. Thank you! Now if you would just collect tthem all in one place, it would help even more!

  4. Jun alonzo says:

    Msgr. Pope,
    I like best the “job part”. It says it all. Total submission to god. Very very effective to put in our hearts. I have learned so much from your explanations as well.
    Cant wait for your next post father, God Bless you Father.
    My prayers for you,
    Jun alonzo-BNP san juan chapter, philippines

  5. Mark O'Neil says:

    My response is somewhat technical and you may or may not want to let my reply be posted. It is obviously up to your humble discretion, but my reply is meant for your and anyone else’s edification.

    I was unfamiliar with St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine’s use of and belief in hypothetical or middle knowledge to explain God’s judgment when “hardening” sinners hearts (i.e. the sinners would not choose to do otherwise, so God hands them over to the hardening of their own hearts). I believe God does have hypothetical knowledge since God’s omniscience and timelessness logically entails an active consciousness of comprehension of all logical possibilities simultaneously all at once in an infinite expression. I would analogously compare God’s consciousness to an infinite array of computers each of which are infinitely processing all infinite logical possibilities simultaneously so that the infinite array of computers appear to be static in output, but are in fact all dynamically processing an infinite amount of possibilities actively, simultaneously, thus we can say that God’s being is dynamically timeless, instead of the erroneous conception that God’s timelessness is utterly static. The static view of God’s timelessness is completely erroneous and rightfully should be rejected. Also using my model or analogy for God’s consciousness we also avoid Molina’s error of having logical moments within the mind of God too.

    Furthermore, when understanding time we must making a distinction between epistemological time and ontological time. Ontological time is a change in the nature of a being, which God does not experience ontological time since the nature of God’s being is what it is eternally. However, epistemological time is a change in one’s consciousness or knowledge of ontological being. We humans must choose some contingent object in nature by which to judge or measure the passage of time or ontological being (i.e. God created the stars, moon, and sun to mark/measure the passage of time within creation, not for His own sake, but for our sake). God’s mind being dynamically timeless does not and cannot experience time or a change in ontological being since God’s consciousness is infinite in scope. Therefore, what could God choose within His own mind to mark time? Nothing, since everything is infinitely processing simultaneously. Everything within God’s mind is 100% relative to each other. Think about an infinite number of numbers all consciously being processed simultaneously, how could there be any sort of an anchor by which to judge the passage of time in God’s own mind?

    However, when God choose to create and did so with His Word, then God in essence created His own clock when He made creation. Creation IS God’s clock by which God marks epistemological time (i.e. there was a time when ontologically speaking creation did not have being, but when God spoke creation into being, then God’s epistemologically created a clock [creation] began to tick.) However, creation or God’s clock is not an essential part of God’s nature or ontological being, but creation is an added contingent nature, just like God’s incarnation as the Son is a human nature added to the 2nd person of the Trinity. The incarnation is not an essential attribute of God but an added contingent nature.

    Now for my take of the Garden of Eden and Original sin. I believe and agree with St. Augustine that in Adam we all inherited a sin nature, because it is a primary law of being that whatever begets itself transfers it’s own nature versus something which is created is always of a different nature (i.e. cats beget cats having the same nature versus cats cannot beget dogs having a different nature, likewise an artist creates a painting of himself, but the painting does not have the same nature as the artist but is a mere representation of the artist). Furthermore Adam is also our Federal head because why? Because we all share the same nature of our earthly head, Adam, being begotten as descendants by Adam. Therefore as inheritors of the same nature as Adam then hypothetically if we were in the Garden of Eden and we were in the exact same circumstances then we would also have committed the same sin as Adam did. Therefore, having the same nature as Adam we are all condemned and guilty of sin in God’s eyes.

    Therefore Christ came as the new Adam and being the only begotten Son of God He is free from any condemnation from Original Sin since Christ is not a descendent of the earthly Adam. Christ being the exact image of God humbled Himself as a servant to do what the original Adam could not do.

    Now back to the original theme of your post concerning the “hardening of hearts” Yes, God has hypothetical knowledge. Yes, God uses His hypothetical knowledge in creating creation. Why, because anything that displays the attributes of God’s essential nature brings glory to God and to use less than any of His attributes in making creation is a creation unworthy of God’s and does not bring God the full glory God deserves. God knows what will bring Him the most glory out of His creation and righteously judging some guilty when they are guilty brings glory to God’s attribute of justice and graciously granting salvation to those who believe in Him even though they are guilty and deserve justice also brings glory to God’s attribute of mercy, so no one has any standing before God to accuse God of being unjust or unfair. If God punishes someone for being guilty, then God gets the glory and if God grants someone mercy even though they are guilty, then God still gets the glory. Who can find any fault with God in His judgments? The answer is no one.

    • Mark O'Neil says:

      I would like to add that God’s knowledge is not just mere logical possibilities but is in categories of absolutely false or absolutely true, since God knows all that would happen if He allows it to be so or not.

  6. TaillerHeunws says:

    Excellent and very useful and helpful insights and teachings here. I agree that the concept can not be made simple, especially for anyone who is humble. Thank you.

  7. one anonymous says:

    As you quote Romans 9:14-20 that is very sobering but then Paul does go on to answer the mystery through the rest of Romans 9 into 10 and 11 and then a conclusion in Romans 11 where Paul says that God’s Justice is Perfect and His Mercy endures forever, even when hearts are hardened by Him for His Good and Perfect purpose. In the case of God intervening to harden someone’s heart for His purpose, it seems here God says that His Mercy will be ultimately offered to all who will receive it or reject it (Romans 11:30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. 32 For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.):

    Romans 11:25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26 and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:

    “The deliverer will come from Zion;
    he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
    27 And this is my covenant with them
    when I take away their sins.”

    28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. 30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. 32 For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

  8. Peg says:

    Thank you for helping us to accept that we just can’t understand everything, “To know is not to know” is a phrase I use at times when reacting to a remark that hurts my feelings, as we never know really why people behave the way they do (including me):):)

  9. BluebirdGuy says:

    I always wondered about these sections. Thanks for posting this!

  10. Donna L. says:

    Very interesting post, Monsignor! It reminds me of the expression, “The Lord is Lord of All, or not Lord at all.” Everything, EVERYTHING is in the hand of God. Last year I read an amazing book that deals with this subject called Heliotropium, by Jeremias Drexelius. I highly recommend it. The entire book can be found online under catholictradition.org under “Classics”.

    Just as God has seen all of our days before we were even born, he has also heard all of our prayers. When I pray for my friends and family members who have passed away, I remind myself that God already knew I’d be praying for them!

  11. Cathy R. says:

    Thank you Monsignor for your posts. I now read them every morning (hungry for good teaching).

    Your post reminded me of something a protestant preacher once said on a radio program. (which has always stuck with me over the years).

    “Yes- God is omniscient, he knows everything you do before you even do it”

    “Yes – there is free will – which God gives to all of us”

    “And I really don’t know how that all works!”

  12. Peter Wolczuk says:

    This appears to me to be only an hypothesis – as approximately less than a theory.
    At the risk of stating the obvious I point out that, when something is translated, from one language to another, there are two basic ways to translate; to try to say in the newly used language what was said in the original as if the writer or speaker was saying it in the new language or; to translate literally and word for word thereby using even the sentence structure of the original. With variations and overlaps on the two sometimes. When having difficulty with a quote that uses the first translation type I refer to “Young’s Literal Translation”
    At http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus%204:21&version=YLT and at http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus%2011:10&version=YLT Young’s Literal Translation states that; in Exodus 4:21 and in Exodus 11:10 it is said that God did “strengthen” and also “strengtheneth” Pharoah’s heart.
    So, I’ve got a new word for what some translations call “harden” which would tend to be inconsiderate because of its tendency to only confuse the puzzle with more pieces. Unless, that is, I can present a possible, or suggested, explanation.
    Pharoah’s heart seemed set on keeping the Children of Israel in slavery but he relented and followed God’s (through His prophet Moses) will; not out of a desire to obey God for any spiritual value; but because of fear of God’s great power which was devastating Egypt. Pharoah’s advisors even pointed out how terribly the country had become ruined. Yet, in his heart, was there still a desire to keep the chosen people in slavery? Was this desire based more on a wish for self aggrizement of himself who had so many under his will? Questions but, only a suggested answer.
    If God strengthened Pharoah’s heart was God, indeed, honouring Pharoah’s free will by empowering him to do what is mentioned in Isaiah 65:1-5 and to follow his own thoughts or imagination (depending on which translation one refers to) as God strengthens his free will and thus walking straight on crooked pathways?
    Human free will appears very important to God, even though the, seemingly common, abuse of it tends to get a lot of us into trouble … however we are led to learn correction through experiencing the negative consequences of our negative actions. Sometimes (too rarely?) we learn form someone else’s negative consequences.
    So, in the (hypothetically) final strengthening of Pharoah’s heart and the limited, human, thoughts led from the plagues (which showed some of God’s great power in defending His people’s freedom) and were concluded; through the Egyptian leader’s abuse of free will in self-aggrandizement; to an example of even greater power as the waters of the Red Sea were parted. Sometimes there’s a debate about the East Wind which blew powerfully and pushed much of the water aside but, is not Ruach the name of the Holy Spirit a word for movement of air which sometimes refers to a (drying?) wind.
    I admit, and testify, that this is not the conflicting tangle that I came up with (through my own thoughts and imagination) last night as I struggled to grasp this but; what came to me as I turned to prayerful meditation through the night – so that I now put forth yet another hypothesis to the, seemingly, burdened load.
    Also, I’ve mentioned suggestion and feel moved to share a similie about suggestion which is sometimes used to re-inforce the necessary suggestion to “thoroughly” work the Twelve Steps of spiritual healing. It’s described as the suggested parachute. If one were to leave an aeroplane which is at a great altitude and, is fortunate enough to be wearing a parachute then … it is suggested that one pull the rip cord that leads to the opening of the parachute and a, resulting, gentle lowering of one to earth.
    However, if someone doesn’t want to pull the rip cord – well, it’s only a suggestion so one could abuse free will as they leave the rip cord alone and experience the consequences of living (briefly) in one’s own thoughts and and imagination.

  13. RichardGTC says:

    Excellent post, imo.

  14. Stephen Pierce says:

    God hardens the hearts of those who live according to the world, buy showing the world that it is separated from the spirit and dreadfully full of sin. If you walk the spiritual walk according to Gods will and grace your heart would be pure.

  15. Irenaeus says:

    There is an ancient Greek curse that translates something like this:

    “May you get everything you are ask for.”

    I think that’s what happened to Pharao.

    The hardening of a heart makes one stubborn, but more importantly, fearless. Pharao did not fear the one true God at all. The first steps to faith in the OT was fear of God. God can withhold faith from being received to allow this hardening, and this is not taking away Pharaos free will.

  16. Patricia says:

    The thought of a heart hardened against God is very upsetting. Likely, we know someone who has a hardened heart in our family or friends. Maybe our own was once in such condition. Obviously, our world is full of hardened hearts towards God, His Church, human life and truth. This prayer gives me much consolation thinking of Our Mother’s intercession and the unfathomable Mercy of God.

    “Immaculate Heart of Mary, visit today, we beseech thee, those souls who are in the cold sweat of death and at enmity with God. Bathe them in the Most Precious Blood of Jesus. Breathe into them the very Life of God. Obtain for them the Grace to make perfect Acts of Faith, Hope and Divine Charity that they may be snatched from the very abyss of Hell to glorify God for all Eternity and add to the luster of thy Triumph!”

  17. Mrs. Rene O'Riordan says:

    Great post Father. It really does explain why we see people doing such evil and yet they show no shame. Why we keep saying “are they blind or what”?. Sad thing is they are. And a warning to us to keep adoring and inviting God to bend our hearts to accept and love His adorable Will.

  18. Palmer Sudlow says:

    I’ve noticed before the correlation between those charged as sex offenders and those who were molested as children. This is almost never taken into consideration at sentencing.

    http://www.photigy.com/category/tutorials/food-and-drink/

  19. Larry says:

    Like with pharaoh, god knew what pharaoh would do before pharaoh did it. So when the bible says god hardened pharaoh s heart, he simply states the the fact that when he does this, pharaoh will do that. God knows the outcome of his actions. Moses, let my people go. Pharaoh, who are you upstart we’ll see who’s god is greater. It is easy to see in the events like this. What about our everyday life? Is god involved with each and everyone of us in our everyday life? Does god punish us in this life or afterward, or both? This is where the fear and trembling should kick in. This is also where free will is exposed. Pharaoh denied god, god did not kill him. Plague. Pharaoh denied god again, plague. Etc. the lesson, don’t deny god and his teaching. The mystery to me is why is it allowed for some to get to know god may I say “easier” while it is harder for others from the time of their very birth? Some people are raised in very hateful violent families. How does a person learn to trust in god? Well, like pharaoh was given a chance, many times, and god is fair and just, he gives all of us a fair chance. We only believe that others have it worse than ourselves. But, but but….. Be that good godly person, be that good example, be that light on the hill, there are times in your life you need help, be there for others as often as you can.
    Do you think god wants you to be righteous for yourself? Is he not selfless?

  20. Bob says:

    Of course god hardens human hearts, he plays with people just like a spoiled brat would pplay with his toys.
    He has no respect nor any regard other than to himself and his kin.

    • I have become convinced that most people tend to accuse others of what they themselves most struggle with. They project their own issues on to others whether it is true or not. I certainly see that in your comments here bob. Either you are trolling are coming across as the very spoiled brat you describe. It sounds too like you have been hurt. It am sorry if that happened. But you are not the only one who has been hurt.

  21. Patrick L says:

    With all due respect, Msgr., I disagree with your position and hope you have the courage to share this with your readers.

    Your position is that God “hardening Pharaoh’s heart” was not God exercising his sovereign will over and above and in the place of Pharaoh’s free will, i.e., God did not cause Pharaoh to do something he wasn’t going to do anyway. Your position appears to state that God hardening Pharaoh’s heart is “voluntary” on the part of Pharaoh–in other words, in no way did God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart temporarily supplant, displace or override Pharaoh’s free will–indeed, “God hardens in such a way that he uses [Pharaoh's] own will, whom he hardens, for the executing of his judgment and his acceptance that [Pharaoh's] will against him is definitive.”

    You go on to cite in support of this position that it is Pharaoh who hardens his own heart in the first 5 plagues and “it is only after this repeated hardening of his own heart, that the Exodus text shifts, and speaks of God as the one who hardens.” You state that only after “Pharaoh’s repeated demonstration of his own hardness” does God in effect “‘cement the deal’ as a kind of sovereign judgment on Pharaoh.”

    If I am understanding you correctly, you imply that 1) Pharaoh’s repeated self-imposed hardness to not let the Israelites go, 2) coupled with God’s foreknowledge that Pharaoh’s disposition against God’s will would not change, 3) results in God “declaring and permitting” Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened in some definitive way. Wow! I’ve never considered God’s sovereignty so passive in its nature. On the contrary, I’ve always thought of it as authoritative–clearly something that stands over and above man’s free will.

    My first question is–given your definition of what it means for God to harden Pharaoh’s heart–what is the point of Scripture making a distinction between “Pharaoh hardened his own heart” and “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart”? Your explanation dilutes the latter so much that it becomes a “distinction without a difference”. According to you, Pharaoh would not have let the Israelites go anyway. God just “cemented” this reality in some “definitive way”. Isn’t that a meaningless statement? The bottom line is, given your interpretation, God “hardening Pharaoh’s heart” made absolutely no practical difference in the outcome of events. So again, I ask, what is the point? Doesn’t this actually make God’s “sovereign will” look rather impotent?

    It certainly does not set the Lord apart like God says it will in Exodus 7.3-5. God said “but I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you” (Exodus 7.3-4). Under your interpretation, God sounds disingenuous, if not braggadocios. It sounds like God is taking credit for something that would have happened anyway given Pharaoh’s disposition. May I ask how you reconcile this with your position?

    I suggest for consideration an entirely different explanation of events. Pharaoh’s own arrogant stubbornness propelled his unwillingness to do God’s will through the first 5 plagues. After the 6th plague, however, I believe it appears that he would have broken down and let the Israelites go (that does not speak one way or the other to the issue of whether Pharaoh would have fully repented and turned to Lord, though I assume not). But 5 plagues was not the full measure of God’s will and plan, and thus, in his sovereign will and authority, God intervened into human affairs and propped Pharaoh up by “hardening his heart so that he would not listen to Moses and Aaron” for another 5 plagues and then some. God continued hardening Pharaoh’s heart until the full measure of his will and plan regarding these events was accomplished–”that his name be proclaimed in all the earth”. In other words, God hardening Pharaoh’s heart indeed changed the course of events that free will on its own accord would have rendered.

    I don’t understand why people resist this notion. It appears that God works his sovereign will almost exclusively in conjunction with man’s free will. Occasionally, however, God deems it necessary to interpose his will over and against man’s free will. We Christians do not seem to have a problem with this notion as it applies to the immaculate conception. Simply put, God imposed himself on Mary’s free will. How is that ANY different than God actually hardening Pharaoh’s heart in conflict with his free will? Sure, Mary came to see that as a wonderful blessing–that Pharaoh did not do the same is not God’s fault or problem.

    Yes, I believe that all your points about God’s foreknowledge of Pharaoh’s evil disposition did factor into his decision to supplant Pharaoh’s free will–God is after all a fair and just God. But his fairness and justice do not handcuff or come before his sovereignty. God’s sovereignty rules over all. That is why Paul states unequivocally, right after referring to God making use of Pharaoh to accomplish his very purposes, that “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” This is both a fearful and wonderful truth. It makes God who he is–Creator AND Ruler!

    Please don’t do what the moderns do and dilute the latter part of this Scripture into some meaningless concoction consistent with free will. Poppycock! God’s sovereignty is not bound by our free will.

    • A very old post here. Not even sure I remember what I wrote. But something tells me by your tone that you are over-correcting for my and others supposed error. Perhaps there is a distinction to be made between primary and secondary causality that would make your view seem less strident. For God who is able can work his primary causes through secondary ones.

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