Evil—Does It Soften or Does It Harden You?
“BANG! Bang! Bang!” Three shots in the back and the fleeing father lay dead on the ground, murdered by his seventeen-year-old son. For several years this son had argued with his father and now had chosen this way to end these arguments once and for all. The evidence at the trial showed that the murder was “clearly premeditated.” During the cross-examination he declared, “If I had to do it over again, I would.” As the judge sentenced him, a mere five to twelve years for premeditated patricide, the youth “remained stony-faced.”—New York Times, November 16, 1960.
This teen-ager had permitted evil to harden him. His father’s treatment of him, whether just or unjust, appeared as an evil to him and he had let it harden him to the extent of premeditated murder. Repeatedly one reads of such murders, showing that this is an age of hardheartedness.
Evil, as already intimated, may be just or unjust. It is anything that causes pain, sorrow or distress. World Wars I and II were evils, unjust ones, caused by man. The flood of Noah’s day was an evil, a just one, sent by God. Yes, God at times creates not only good but also calamity or evil.—Isa. 45:7.
SOME BECOME HARD, SOME BECOME SOFT
We need not let evil harden us. It is all up to us. We can let it soften us, if we want to. Who knows how many other youths disagree and have arguments with their fathers without murdering them? How true this is can be seen as we examine that epic of human history, the Bible.
Adam may be said to have been the first one who let evil harden him. When faced with God’s judgment of him, an evil, he hardheartedly blamed God and his wife. “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree and so I ate it.” How hard he had let his heart become in just a short period of time!—Gen. 3:12.
The ten plagues that God caused to come upon Egypt, to show Pharaoh who Jehovah is, were evils. No question about that. But while they hardened Pharaoh and most of his subjects, there were some Egyptians who were softened by them. These exercised faith in the God of Moses, sought cover when warned about the seventh plague, of hail, fire and thunder; and many, as “a vast mixed company,” also went up with the Israelites out of Egypt after the memorable night of Nisan 14, 1513 B.C.—Num. 33:1-3.
As we look about us today we see many who needlessly have let themselves become hard, to their own detriment. Some born with a defect such as blindness or lameness have let this make them bitter and hard. They resent the fact that, as the Bible expresses it, their ‘teeth got set on edge’ due to their ‘fathers’ eating unripe grapes.’ But the man, whom the Bible tells about, who was born blind and who had his sight restored by Jesus had not let this affliction harden him; neither did the man crippled from birth whom Peter and John cured. They kept soft at heart and hoping, and so were in the right heart condition to respond to miraculous healing. Those who under like conditions today keep soft at heart are more likely to receive spiritual healing.—Ezek. 18:2; John 9:1-12; Acts 3:1-8.
Others permit some disaster to make them hard. They rebel that God lets “time and unforeseen occurrence befall them all.” All such should consider the example of Job. What disasters he experienced all at once! Loss of all his ten children, all his possessions and even his health. Did he permit it to harden him? It hardened his wife, for she said to him: “Are you yet holding fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” But Job became soft and said: “As one of the senseless women speaks you speak also. Shall we accept merely what is good from The true God and not accept also what is bad?”—Eccl. 9:11; Job 2:9, 10.
Then again, many let social injustices, such as economic oppression and racial prejudice harden them. They begin crusading as if righting these wrongs were the most important thing in life and as if it contained no joys so long as these evils had to be endured. Some even swing to the extreme of becoming atheistic communists. What folly! The apostle Peter counseled Christian slaves in his day to submit even to unreasonable masters rather than to rebel.—1 Pet. 2:18, 19.
The Samaritan of Jesus’ illustration did not permit the discrimination he was suffering at the hands of the Jews to harden him. Far from it! He went out of his way to help a man, doubtless a Jew, who had been waylaid, beaten and robbed, and was the happier for it. Yes, just “because sentence against a bad work has not been executed speedily,” that is no reason for our becoming hard.—Luke 10:29-37; Eccl. 8:11.
A common reason why some let their hearts become hard is the misuse or abuse of power by those in authority. That could have been the case with the teen-ager referred to above. Any in subordinate positions—wives, children, employees and also members of a Christian congregation—must be on guard here. Failing in this, the ten tribes of Israel let the position taken by Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, unreasonable it is true, harden them. But how much better was the example of David, who did not let Saul’s abuse of power make him hard!—2 Chron. 10:16; 1 Sam. 26:9.
A more or less common evil that has caused some persons to harden their heart is that associated with finding a mate. Due to inexperience or too trusting a nature, or due to dishonesty on the part of another, one suffers disappointment or frustration and may be deeply wounded. Because of this some become hard in all their relations with their fellows and particularly with those of the opposite sex. Jephthah’s daughter could well have let herself become hard when, due to her father’s vow, she found herself dedicated to a life of virginity, but she did not. She found happiness in serving Jehovah God full time.—Judg. 11:36-40.
Nor are such disappointments only limited to the matter of “love.” Because their younger brothers were preferred above them, both Cain and Esau let their hearts become hardened so as to premeditate murder. How different the course of Jonathan! He did not let the fact that his intimate friend David was to succeed his father Saul to the throne of Israel harden his heart against him.—Gen. 4:4-8; 27:41; 1 Sam. 23:17.
Perhaps one of the greatest tests regarding evil that can come upon one as to hardening his heart is when he meets up with rebuke or the fruits of his sins. When Uzziah was rebuked for presumptuously offering up incense, which was the sole prerogative of priests, he became hard and insisted on his willful course. And when Judas came face to face with the consequences of his betrayal of Jesus, he let it harden him so that he committed suicide.—2 Chron. 26:16-20; Matt. 27:5.
In striking contrast thereto, when David was brought face to face with his sin with Bath-sheba, he did not harden his heart, but let it be softened, saying: “I have sinned against Jehovah.” Likewise Peter, when the seriousness of his having denied his Master was brought home to him by the cock’s crowing, did not get hard, justify himself or make excuses, as did Adam, but “went outside and wept bitterly.”—2 Sam. 12:13, 14; Matt. 26:75.
There is yet another evil against which we must guard ourselves lest it make us hard, and that is the evil coming upon others. We must never become calloused at the misfortune of others or their plight, particularly not if we can do something about it. In Jesus’ illustration about the neighborly Samaritan, the priest and Levite hardened themselves as they saw the plight of the one who had been beaten and robbed. But not the Samaritan; the misery of his fellow man softened his heart. Fittingly God commanded his people in ancient times: “In case some one of your brothers should become poor . . . you must not harden your heart or be closefisted toward your poor brother.”—Deut. 15:7.
Certainly the foregoing Scriptural examples recommend letting evil soften instead of harden us. Letting evil harden us is rebelling against what God permits. It is not only wrong in principle but also harmful to all involved. It makes bad matters worse and so should be resisted. It amounts to rendering “injury for injury,” instead of turning the other cheek. We should at all times avoid things that tear down, if for no other reason than that we cannot tear down others without also tearing down ourselves.—1 Thess. 5:15; Matt. 5:39.
Further, by letting ourselves become hard we are setting ourselves up as judges of those against whom we harden ourselves, acting presumptuously. We are told ‘not to avenge ourselves,’ but if we let ourselves get hard we are avenging ourselves, at least in thought, and may sooner or later do so in overt actions. Wisely and justly Jesus counseled: “Stop judging, that you may not be judged; for with what judgment you are judging, you will be judged, and with the measure that you are measuring out they will measure out to you.”—Rom. 12:19; Matt. 7:1, 2.
Certainly, permitting ourselves to become hard is unloving. It violates the commandment to ‘love our neighbor as ourselves.’ How can we always understand the reasons for a certain action? We cannot read the heart, can we? No, only God can. Suffering evil should soften us, make us more sympathetic toward others, more contrite toward God. If we let evil make us hard, then we are taking the side of Satan, for we are permitting evil to turn us away from God, which is exactly what Satan boasted he could accomplish by inflicting evil upon mankind.—Matt. 22:39.
How can we keep from letting evil harden us, and, instead, let it soften us? One way is to bear in mind Scriptural examples of persons who suffered evil and yet did not permit it to harden them. The ancient Israelites in Egyptian bondage did not let evil harden them but rather called to God for help. He heard them and in his due time delivered them. (Ex. 2:23) Faith and prayer are therefore two of the greatest aids in letting evil soften instead of harden us. Yes, have faith that “just a little while longer and the wicked one will be no more . . . But the meek ones themselves will possess the earth.”—Ps. 37:10, 11.
Today many unjustly suffer political, economic or social evils. But rather than let any or all of these things make them hard and cause them bitterly to devote their entire lives to fighting these evils, they let these evils soften them so as to look to God for help. Then when His witnesses call upon them they are ready to receive the good news of God’s kingdom and as a result become happier even while enduring such evils than they ever could have been had they got out from under them but continued without the hope of God’s kingdom.
Another great aid to having evil soften instead of harden us is humility. Humility makes us soft, pliant, yielding, able to bend. Evil makes the proud hard, as was the case with Pharaoh, so that they cannot bend but crack and break under the strain. Evil robs the proud of all joy of living. How foolish! The humble, on the contrary, appreciate that life is worth while even with its evils, and so they pursue the wise course of making the best of circumstances. They keep gentle, mild-tempered and submissive.
Cultivating the fine qualities of patience, endurance and long-suffering will also help us to keep soft in spite of evils. Consider how long-suffering Jehovah God was with wayward mankind before the Flood, with the nation of Israel, and is now with the present wicked world. If Almighty God, able at once to end evils, is willing to put up with them, and they must grieve him far more than they do any of his imperfect earthly children, then surely we should seek to cultivate patience, endurance and long-suffering so as to put up with them uncomplainingly. Appreciating God’s good reasons for permitting evil—the vindication of his name and the salvation of creatures—we can keep evil from hardening us.
But, above all, love is needed if we would have evil soften instead of harden us. Love for God will cause us to submit to all he permits to come to us in the way of evil. Love for our neighbor will cause us to make allowances for the ways he may have harmed us. And surely, if we are to ‘love our enemies and pray for those persecuting us’ we cannot let ourselves become hard toward them, can we? So let us never forget: “Love is long-suffering and obliging. . . . It does not keep account of the injury.”—Matt. 5:44; 1 Cor. 13:4, 5.
To let evil soften us is the only wise course. It makes for contentment, peace of heart and mind, and peace and unity with our fellow man. On the other hand, to let evil harden us is unwise, hurting us ourselves as well as others. It is the course of pride, presumption and selfishness. Faith, prayer, humility, patient endurance and love for God and fellow man will keep us soft. Keeping soft, we will be the recipients of God’s blessings both now and in his new world when evil will be no more.