A common biblical diagnosis: these people are hard-hearted and stiff-necked (eg Exodus 32:9). It means someone who is devoted to not being devoted. No matter how generous God is with appeals, nor how blunt in warning, there’s persistent refusal to respond to God with love.
They don’t need a cardiologist or physiotherapist. They need to be responsive to God. They God’s help in order to be responsive to God.
What I suspect – and would like to hear other opinions of – is that there are different types of hard-hearted. Here’s a quick classification.
This is part caricature, but a caricature willingly embraced. It’s the person who says, ‘I have no interest in God at all, and I am going to flaunt it.’ This person lives the stereotype of bad things: too much drink, relationships a mess, etc.
Hard-heartedness in this case is largely a love of the moment, of sensation. Why bother with God when it’s so easy to grab another stubbie?
Far away – nice version
This is very similar, but tries for a more cultured facade. It’s French wine rather than VB. Definitely this person has a stronger rational bent to the hardness. ‘It is inconceivable/irrational/peurile to entertain the idea of God.’
This hardness is a rationality that, ironically, is blind. It refuses to think except within its own pre-determined and comfortable boundaries.
Good and close
Now we’re getting interesting. This is a hardness that looks to have room for God. There is goodness, there is proximity to God-stuff, but below it all hardness remains. This person is quite upright in life. Perhaps a church-goer or religious in some way. Even if not, this person does not disparage those who do.
Yet this person will inflexibly refuse any suggestion of change in life. God, if there is one, does not do that. He wants the best for us, a settled and productive life. If anyone calls us to give up everything to follow the truth, you can be sure it’s not God.
Hardest of all
The most hard-hearted of all are people like me. I’m a church minister. The best place to escape God for many is in apparent service for him. If we look totally devoted, and if some costs are evident, we can make ourselves almost beyond question.
Think of the Pharisees in the New Testament, or the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son. Think of the high priest who determined that murder of Jesus was a good idea. In the Old Testament, there’s a cluster of descriptions of the stiff-necked when God’s own people are with God himself at Mt Sinai (Exodus 32:9; 33:3, 5, 9).
In my experience, the most difficult group in which to get people to honestly open up for Christian help is a bunch of ministers. Everyday Christians are streets ahead of me in this part of godliness.
I have tried to ‘call out’ ministry friends over comments they’ve made or publicly posted. Never have I seen such prickly self-protection. And it’s so easy to justify, ‘I thought you and I were serving the same purpose!’ I shudder to think how often people have approached me with a view to necessary correction, but I’ve resisted.
The sad irony is this: busy servants of Jesus call people to repentance and divine transformation, and can be among the most resistant to repentance and transformation. (Of course, there is hope. Progress remains part of Christian leadership, 1 Timothy 4:15).
What do you think? Are there obvious types of hardness of heart that I have missed? Is there a better way to classify the dangers? I’d love to know your thoughts.