When I imagine Jesus, I am inclined to focus on Him as the tender, gentle Shepherd who lovingly holds His arms open to us like little children, with an accepting and longing look on His face. Of course, we know He’s also the One who overturned the tables in the marketplace to stop the corruption in the temple. But this week I am wrestling with the thought of the God who also sometimes hardens hearts. I see the wreckage caused by it in contrast to a teachable spirit and a malleable, obedient heart. The path taken from a hardened heart seems undeniably like the harder road, and the image of the God who would send someone down that path purposely is unsettling to my mind.

Still, A Perfect Plan

In Exodus, God repeatedly hardened Pharaoh’s heart, which kept the Israelites in bondage through plague after plague. Thankfully, we’re privileged to know the end of the story and can understand that God was displaying His power, glory, and eternal purposes through the Exodus. In my human mind I wonder, though, if the Israelites could have been spared all the seemingly unnecessary pain, suffering, and death associated with Pharaoh’s hardened heart. Couldn’t God have accomplished His glory in another way? In our limited human understanding, the answer may seem to be yes. But God is perfect and His ways are perfect, so His plan for the Israelites must have also been perfect, which also means that sometimes a hardened heart is also part of a perfect plan.

To Be Revealed

As I consider this and ask God why He chooses to harden some hearts, I seem to hear Him reply, “Because in the waiting, something will be revealed.” I have to be honest that I’m not excited about this answer. Yet, this reveals something about my own heart. I know that God promises to work all things to the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28) but I’m struggling to comprehend how a hard heart is better in any circumstance.

However, my real issue isn’t so much not understanding God. My issue is not trusting God despite not understanding Him. My issue is not resting on His promises but rather relying on my own sight, like the disciples did when they thought that Jesus being asleep in the boat meant that He wasn’t in control, and wasn’t still at work.

The Same God

If I’m wondering how God can use a hardened heart to accomplish His purpose, I should probably look in the mirror. Was He not the same loving Lord who received me with His open arms in my hardened state? Is He not the same God who still uses me now, despite my remaining areas of unbelief? So today I recognize just one more aspect of my tender image of Jesus. He not only keeps His arms open to me, but He travels the road with me — even the harder one. He is the ever-loving Shepherd, and He is also the God of the hardened heart.