Harden. The word only appears twelve times throughout the entire Bible. Of the three times that it is recorded in the New Testament, all are found in the book of Hebrews (3.8,15; 4.7) and the writer is quoting a verse of Psalm 95. The rest are recorded in the Old Testament, the majority of which are the Lord’s doing or a part of God’s command (Exodus 4.21,7.3;14.4,14; Deuteronomy 15.7; Joshua 11.20; Psalm 95.8). The meanings for harden as it is used in the Old Testament include: “to strengthen and make rigid; to make firm; to be hard, be difficult; to make stiff.”
I think that this word could be used to explain the rationale for our actions, inaction and interactions when it comes to race. For example, when a person is the victim of a crime or is suspected of being the culprit, we wipe our brow and release a sigh of relief when we find out that he or she was not “one of us.” The experience of mourning is socially color- coded and we are not able to “weep with those who weep” unless they look like us (Romans 12.15). We are without compassion and unable to sympathize because in our racialized minds, their experience of grief and loss is somehow different or none of our business. We do not include them in our thoughts and we do not allow our emotions to participate in an understanding of their experience. We distance any semblance of feeling or connection because our hearts have become hardened by race. Also, the effect of the knowledge of the crime is lost and the culprit is released from penalty in our minds because she or he does not belong to us. We, as a socially color- coded group, have not been impacted. That’s not our problem. Besides, we will use the newscaster’s story as proof that “that’s just the way they are.”
We might also be found saying, “They don’t care about us so why should we care about them?” But, has a poll been taken on such a stance? Is there a collection of statistical data that would direct our minds to this socially constructed fact that all our hearts are hardened against each other? Show me the chart. Give me the report and let me peruse its findings. Who makes statements such as these true? I need a name. When did they say it and what are her or his credentials?
God has not hardened our hearts against each other. Instead, race strengthens our resolve to hate and makes our relationships with persons of other cultural groups rigid. We maintain an emotional distance and practice a racial etiquette that says that we do not see, we do not acknowledge and we do not have feelings for those who do not belong to our socially constructed racial group. When we allow race to segregate our emotions, to tell us when and how to love, we are not practicing the unconditional love of God. The truth is that we are simply afraid to love, to trust our hearts more fully to God and to this kind of love. We don’t allow ourselves to care and we will never get permission from race to begin to. It’s ironic that we concentrate so much on the flesh while our hearts are made of stone.
“And I will give you a new heart (when it comes to people of different cultural groups), and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” (Ezekiel 36.26). Amen.