Tuesday
Nov242009

Fooling Yourself

Did Pharaoh harden his own heart or did God harden it for him?

The most perplexing questions are the ones that are answered, “Both.”

God wanted his people to go worship in the wilderness, but he also wanted to emancipate them from Egyptian captivity, so he sent Moses and Aaron to request permission from the Pharaoh for a short sojourn. The ruler naturally refused to grant his slaves such freedom and so God began trying to persuade him through a number of plagues inflicted upon the kingdom. He despaired when flies descended upon his realm so much that he agreed to the Lord’s demands, but when the flies were removed, Pharaoh “hardened his heart … and did not let the people go” (Exodus 8:32).

Soon another plague appeared in the form of boils breaking out on man and beast. “But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses” (Exodus 9:12).

God hardened the heart of Pharaoh only to the extent that he challenged the man’s free will to make a righteous decision it was practically incapable of making. God did not compel the ruler to sin, but gave him the opportunity to sin in a situation where his pride and greed would certainly interfere. Pharaoh hardened his own heart by choosing to defy the Lord. In this, he was fooling himself into thinking that he could get away with defying God.

His path is really not that uncommon. Adam and Eve were nobler beings, but caught up in the same predicament. They hardened their hearts in the presence of the fruit, just as surely as God hardened them with the presence of the tree itself. Today, we all find ourselves confronted by beautiful images, promises of prosperity, and tantalizingly near sources of illicit pleasure. It is when we convince ourselves that we can do the sin and hold onto salvation at the same time that we begin fooling ourselves.

Self-delusion is the most insidious kind, for if I believe another’s lie, I can more easily change my mind and abandon it. If I believe my own lies, I am on both sides of the sin – I’m both teller and hearer and I have much more invested in the faulty conclusion. We are all, however, prone to self-delusion when it suits us. Eliphaz told Job about the wicked men, “Let him not trust in futile things, deceiving himself, For futility will be his reward. It will be accomplished before his time, And his branch will not be green” (Job 15:31-32). 

He fools only himself who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, but considers it not sin. He is likewise fooling himself who is but a disobedient hearer of the word. 

“Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:21-22).