Several years ago AnOldSinner wrote a piece entitled “Seeking Excuses.” Basically, it was my confession concerning the mental gymnastics I went through to avoid acknowledging my need to have a relationship with God. Recently, the beautiful view from the deck at our daughter’s home led me to a new thought on this matter.
Excuses was about the effort some people make to find reasons to criticize believers. It is a strategy to use the flaws of others against them and God. After all, as I said many times in my younger days, why would anyone want to follow or believe in a god that allowed such hypocrites to represent him. If you want to know more about my thinking along those lines, read Excuses and “Seeking a Shield.”*
While admiring the view below, I was reminded there is another way to deny or ignore God. One can simply not see Him. The Bible speaks to this issue. For instance, Matthew 13:13 says in part, “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”(NIV) This statement is clear, yet many seem to wonder how it is possible. That is why one can hear Christians exclaim, “How can anyone doubt the reality of God when seeing something like this.” Or, “How can anyone not see God’s hand in this?”
Not so amazingly, the Bible offers an answer to these questions as well. John 12:40 says clearly, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts . . . ” That seems clear enough, but it is possible to argue over who is doing the blinding and the hardening. On one side are people who believe it is God. On the other are those who believe it is Satan. However, there is another option.
Humans are perfectly capable of hardening their own hearts and blinding themselves. This revelation, if it is fair to call it that, was a reminder of humankind’s ability to see the world selectively. Everyone knows the saying, perception is reality, but many may not understand what it can mean.
Perception can be, and I feel often is, a choice. What one sees and hears in the world around them can be a conscious choice that becomes an almost unconscious state of mind. Of course, people’s perceptions can be influenced by unconscious or uncontrollable factors, but even then most people can choose how much control they allow these factors to exert.
Consider the picture above. It is the scene from the deck upon which I was standing when this idea came to mind. The first thing many people see from this deck is a magnificent view of a small piece of the Texas Hill Country. Some can look at it dozens of times, and they will see only the beauty. Others will immediately see a crisscrossing of utility lines supported by ugly wood or metal poles. Those factors will capture their attention, and they will never see the beauty the other people see. They see ugliness.
Between these two extremes will be other responses. Some people will see the utility poles and lines, but then see the beauty that is only slightly marred by man’s need for power and light. Others will see only the beauty at first, and then notice the blemishes that mar the view.
As noted earlier, it is certainly possible for God or Satan to be the source of someone’s spiritual blindness. The Bible points out that was the case in biblical times. Some people believe it is still the case today, and many who teach on evangelism caution that an unbeliever cannot come to Christ until God prepares the person’s heart. Yet, that does not seem to be the only way one’s heart can be hardened or softened to this writer.
As a young man, I decided I did not need God. This decision was based on a number of factors including the actions of those around me who claimed to believe in or represent God. Living in the western edge of the Bible Belt, this became a problem. People were always wanting to know where I went to church and if I believed in God.
My response to those questions initially were as noncommittal as possible. Unfortunately, in those days that was often not good enough for some people. Accordingly, I developed a response that I thought was clever and usually effective. When someone persisted about my relationship with God, I would sarcastically reply, “I made a deal with him. He doesn’t bother me, and I don’t bother him.”
One or two people in the Bible made deals or negotiated with God to some degree. I was certainly not the modern day equivalent of those folks. Still, I set out to do my best to deny God was anything more than a comfort for the weak willed and weaker minded. I managed to exist for almost thirty years living a life devoted to proving I did not need God. Of course, I was wrong, but I certainly managed to ignore the signs of Him all around me for those thirty years.
Twenty-two years ago this December I ended up on my knees asking God to forgive me for the thirty years I lived trying to prove I did not need Him. As I look back on those thirty years of rebellion, I can see God was always with me. Also, I can see that those thirty years helped prepare me to resume the walk I abandoned earlier.
At this point some readers may be wondering if I have gone completely around the bend. First I claim a person can harden his or her own heart, and now I seem to be saying God had a hand in softening or preparing mine. That is exactly what I am saying, and I do not think I have lost my senses.
The passages in Matthew and John are not the only places the Bible talks about hearts being hardened. Hebrews deals with this matter as well. Hebrews 3:7-8 states, “That is why the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested me in the wilderness.’” This comes from Psalm 95, and clearly indicates God allows His children the ability to make this kind of mistake.
God could open everyone’s eyes, hearts and minds in the blink of an eye. He could also have made every Israelite a devout and righteous follower the moment they stepped into the promised land. He did not choose to do so. Instead He put up with their transgressions, as he puts up with ours today. He has guided, disciplined, punished and loved mankind since the Garden of Eden. It seems clear He expects us to learn and grow spiritually, so we can learn to deal with our fears, closed minds and cold hearts.
He allowed me to wander in my personal wilderness for the better part of those thirty years. If I had not learned from those experiences, I would still be wandering, or I would be a fading or faded memory. He has given each of us the ability to blind ourselves, and harden our own hearts. He has given each of us the ability to focus on the reality we want to perceive. He has given each of us the ability to see the beauty or the power lines.
Which will you choose?
© S. E. Jackson – 2015