“Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”” (John 12:39–40, ESV)
Gary Burge, in his excellent commentary on John in the NIV Application Commentary series, makes a couple of profound points about God hardening the hearts of those in unbelief. They are worth thinking through.
“No subject could be more timely for today. Unbelief is rampant in the modern world. Today men and women love darkness just as they did in the first century. Are we safe to draw conclusions about God’s “judicial activity” even today? If God hardened the hearts of Isaiah’s audience and if God hardened the hearts of Jesus’ audience, does he still harden hearts today?” (Burge, Gary M. (2009-08-22). John (NIV Application Commentary, The) (p. 311). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)
It is a good question. If God hardened the hearts of Isaiah’s audience—and Scripture says that he did, and if God hardened the hearts of Jesus’ audience—and John himself says that he did, then would he harden the hearts of people today? I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I can only come to one conclusion concerning that particular question.
Burge draws out two salient points from the answer to his question:
“The significance of this is twofold. (1) It underscores the urgency of coming to faith. The natural state of the world we inhabit is darkness, which God’s light has penetrated in Christ. Those who refuse the light will find it extinguished and the darkness closing over them. (2) It assures us that when we are confronted with hardened unbelief, it does not mean that God has lost control, but that God is ‘active in judgment as well as in salvation.'” (Burge, Gary M. (2009-08-22). John (NIV Application Commentary, The) (p. 317). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)
Coming to faith is of crucial importance. If we are so callous as to reject the call of Christ on our life (not to mention foolish that we can make our own way), then we open up ourselves to the darkness that is always and ever willing to draw us into its maw. The more we reject Christ’s call to faith, the more we side with darkness, and so, as Burge puts it, “the darkness closes in.”