A Deadly Disposition—the Risks of a Hardened Heart
by Jordan Rubin
Throughout history, the heart has been viewed as central to the essence of humanity. In fact, ancient Greeks considered the heart to be the seat of one’s identity—synonymous with a person’s soul, his or her emotions, and will. As it goes with the condition of one’s heart, so it goes with the condition of his or her soul. Possessing a hardened heart, therefore, can be deadly.
Hard-heartedness is defined as “an absence of concern for the welfare of others,” being “cold-hearted,” or “lacking in feeling; pitiless; cold.” The Bible contains numerous references to people being hard-hearted, and none of them carry positive connotations or results. One such reference is found in the person of Pharaoh. In Exodus, the story goes that Pharaoh’s heart became hardened against the Israelites. This condition led Pharaoh to become arrogant and prideful—and consequently to not listen to Moses or Aaron, to not let the Israelites go, and to wage war against the Israelites, desiring to exterminate them from the face of the earth. Talk about a hard heart!
It is apparent that the heart plays a significant role in spiritual health, but it also plays a role in physical and emotional health as well. For example, intense and unrelenting anger will actually harden the human heart by physically hardening or calcifying a person’s arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis—a common form of arteriosclerosis in which fatty substances form a deposit of plaque on the inner lining of arterial walls—leading the heart to become hard as stone. Autopsy results on such hardened hearts confirm this.
Therefore, the phrase “hardness of heart” is not just another way of saying that someone is cold-hearted, unfeeling or cruel; hardness of heart is an actual physical state of the heart that is a result of severe atherosclerosis. People with this “hard-heartedness” condition will usually suffer from chest pain as a result of physical exertion (also known as angina). Unfortunately, the person has also probably suffered from years of emotional pain and stress that have taken their toll on the heart and its arteries.
It doesn’t have to be this way, though, and God addresses this in His Word—“coaching” us to protect our hearts from emotions that could destroy it—and, ultimately, us. In Proverbs 4: 23, we are implored to “keep our hearts with all diligence; for out of it comes the issues of life.” In Hebrews 12:16 it reads, “Diligently guard your heart against the defilement of bitterness.” (That bitterness, by the way, can take root and become full-fledged anger—setting us on the pathway to hard-heartedness, if we are not careful.)
Because we are human, we are going to experience people and things that can conjure up anger and bitterness in our hearts. That’s to be expected. The thing to remember is to do a daily (and sometimes more often) “heart sweep”—which clears out all the emotional clutter that could lead to our demise.
Here’s a suggestion on how to keep anger and other hard-hearted emotions out of your heart and your life. Deal with your negative emotions immediately so they don’t get a foothold. Then let them go. Apologize to others quickly. Forgive willingly . . . and move on.
By following these guidelines, you can escape the trappings of a hardened heart—and its deadly effects.