"If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts." (Psalm 95: 7-8)
This is a Psalm commonly read during Lent. I've heard it so many times and each time, I always thought it was a funny thing to say. Of course if I heard God's voice I would not turn from him! If he spoke to me, his voice pouring down from heaven, why would I harden my heart against him?
This year it finally hit me. A while back, my husband asked me why God couldn't just speak to us in no uncertain terms. Why couldn't he simply send us his booming voice down out of the clouds? Then we would listen. Then we would know what to do. But the truth is, because of our hardened hearts, we wouldn't recognize him no matter what he did. After all, he walked the earth as one of us in Christ Jesus, and still many didn't recognize him. Even after the miracles Christ did, people refused to listen to him. Psalm 95 continues, "Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the desert. There your ancestors tested me; they tried me though they had seen my works." (Psalm 95: 8-9) These people simply refused to believe in God, to trust his works. No matter what God did, they always asked for another sign. Their hearts were hardened against him and they would not see Truth.
If we ask God for a sign; if we beg him to "do this for me" so that we know he is real or that he loves us, we commit the same sin. (For example: "If God is real, why wouldn't he end suffering?") We are hardened against him, and no matter what, we will not see the truth. Many atheists and agnostics have hardened their hearts so completely to God's voice that they outright refuse to see him in the world. They will not see his hand in nature, his work in the miracle of life; they try to explain away true goodness in people with mere science and philosophy. God has even given us the miracles of the tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the incorruptible bodies of saints, Eucharistic miracles and more, and so many call them a conspiracy of the Church or some scientific phenomena we do not yet understand.
Often, it becomes a point of personal pride for those most hardened to, without consideration, just brush "the religious" off as superstitious or even part of something that causes all the pain the world. Some of the more tepid non-believers simply refuse to enter a conversation, being perfectly content in their simple life of no expectations, firmly believing that they are good people; they don't need religion. For them, there is no point in hearing the Truth of God's voice, because they are happy without it. (Ignorance is bliss, right? A hardened heart is an ignorant heart.) Of course, we must keep in mind that God alone can break hardened hearts, and we must continue to pray for them and continue to speak to them because one day they might listen.
But enough about them; what about us? Hardening your heart can be as simple as not listening or not wanting to admit when you hear the truth. Have you ever argued with someone who was like a brick wall? No matter what kind of points you made or truth you spoke, they would have none of it. They simply set their jaw and disagreed no matter what. Sometimes we do that to God. Sometimes we hear a message of his, whether it be in the Homily, or from a friend, or even from some situation we are thrown into, and we refuse to listen. It's as if he never spoke. We make our hearts solid rock fused from our prejudices, our comfort zone, our pre-conceived ideas about what is right, and we don't let any Truth that speaks otherwise penetration that stone. Sometimes we come at Scripture that way, reading into it something that confirms what we've always held as true simply because we don't want to hear what it's actually saying.
For example, one of the biggest messages most Catholics have hardened their hearts to is the message against contraception. Many Catholics are too caught up in their comfort zone of a "fail-safe" way to prevent pregnancy that they will not listen to the Church's Holy Spirit-guided teaching. Oh sure, they claim that they have read and listened and it just doesn't make sense or it's just not right for them at the time, and they feel at peace with their decision and so on and so forth. After all, they are good people right? How could it really be wrong? ("It's only a condom; I'm not causing an abortion or anything..." "My doctor says this pill can't ever actually take a life...") Really, many couples just won't allow the truth of the teaching to enter their hardened hearts because they are afraid it will shake their world. (I don't intend to go into the fully teaching on contraception here, but I challenge all who question it to read what they can again and again, pray about it, and truly open their hearts to it.)
Of course, there are many other small ways we all harden our hearts to God's voice. We refuse to stop and help the homeless person holding a sign on the street corner, chalking it up to our personal safety or our good judgment against the person's character. I get angry at my husband, telling myself that I have every right to be, that he was clearly in the wrong and needs to be told so that he won't do it again. Little things every day speak to us with God's voice, and we simply choose not to recognize it.
God's hand is in our world more then we think. We must soften our hearts each and every day to listen to him. Let us not become so hardened that God would say of us, "Forty years I loathed that generation; I said "This people's heart goes astray; they do not know my ways.'" (Psalm 95: 10)