“What do you want me to do with it? Where do I put it?”
And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished. (1 Nephi 17:41 )
But few understood the meaning of those things, and this because of the hardness of their hearts. But there were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished. Now the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them. O my brethren, if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in unbelief, and be slothful, that ye would not cast about your eyes, that ye might perish? (Alma 33:20-21 )
And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 12:10-11)In general, those with hard hearts reject new ideas outright that conflict with their existing ideas. In other words, if you have a hard heart, you cannot learn anything new because you assume you already know everything about the matter. It's a very effective tool of the devil to tell you that you have all you need, and therefore should reject anything more. It goes like this:
See also Mosiah 26:3, Alma 16:17, Mosiah 3:15, 2 Nephi 33:2, 1 Nephi 15:11
That’s not true!
Because it can’t be true.
--Why can’t it be true?
Because I don’t believe it.
--Why don’t you believe it?
Because it’s not true.
And so on.
If your first response is a desperate attempt to prop up your own position rather than considering the opposite position, you will never learn anything beyond what you already think you know.
2. A hard heart makes you angry at the truth
And his brethren were wroth with him because they understood not the dealings of the Lord; they were also wroth with him upon the waters because they hardened their hearts against the Lord. (Mosiah 10:14)
Why should a new idea make you angry? In reality, it comes down to fear. You fear being wrong and you fear your ignorance. When this fear is coupled with potential loss and everlasting consequences, the emotions heighten and fear becomes anger.
And it is impossible for the tongue to describe, or for man to write a perfect description of the horrible scene of the blood and carnage which was among the people, both of the Nephites and of the Lamanites; and every heart was hardened, so that they delighted in the shedding of blood continually. (Mormon 4:11)
See also Ether 8:25, Helaman 10:15, 1 Nephi 22:18
When faced with a troubling message, the hard-hearted reaction is often to attack the messenger. I've received several responses to what I've written that generally go along these lines: "I'm not confident enough to discuss doctrine, history or what you wrote, so instead I'll just go ahead and attack your style, motives, and personality. That way I can safely discount your message without ever giving it a fair hearing."
Attack the messenger. Destroy the message. This is the coward's way out.
Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you. (Alma 34:31)
See also Alma 21:12, Alma 33:21, Alma 12:33, Alma 12:37, Jacob 6:5
Repentance requires us to re-learn and re-think existing ideas in light of truth. As long as you are too correct to ever consider you may be wrong, you simply cannot repent.
And now, my brethren, behold I say unto you, that if ye will harden your hearts ye shall not enter into the rest of the Lord; therefore your iniquity provoketh him that he sendeth down his wrath upon you as in the first provocation, yea, according to his word in the last provocation as well as the first, to the everlasting destruction of your souls; therefore, according to his word, unto the last death, as well as the first. (Alma 12:36)
See also: Alma 12:356. A hard heart is a tool of Satan
And many more things did the people imagine up in their hearts, which were foolish and vain; and they were much disturbed, for Satan did stir them up to do iniquity continually; yea, he did go about spreading rumors and contentions upon all the face of the land, that he might harden the hearts of the people against that which was good and against that which should come. (Helaman 16:22)But perhaps most amazing is how heard-heartedness functions in those who are religious. When Christ came to the Nephites, he brought new doctrine, new truth, and a higher law to replace the Law of Moses. The prophets knew this would be the case before it happened, and actually feared their children would reject Christ Himself because of the religious law they already accepted:
See Also 3 Nephi 1:22
Wherefore, we speak concerning the law that our children may know the deadness of the law; and they, by knowing the deadness of the law, may look forward unto that life which is in Christ, and know for what end the law was given. And after the law is fulfilled in Christ, that they need not harden their hearts against him when the law ought to be done away. (2 Nephi 25:27)Imagine that! They feared that Christ Himself couldn't teach the people because their hearts would not be prepared to accept anything new--even from their God!
And yet, as the record shows, this very nearly happened. The people were not able to receive Christ's word without more preparation. He almost left them to try again later:
I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time. Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again. (3 Nephi 17:2-3)At the last moment, because the people wanted him to stay, our Lord improvised an ordinance involving the children to save their parents. It's breathtaking in its beauty, and it brought about the necessary changes so the people could be taught. The key was the children, whose hearts were soft. This aligns perfectly with what Christ had just taught the people concerning his doctrine:
And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things. And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. (3 Nephi 11:37-39)
- Children are inquisitive. Ever spent time with a 4-year-old kid? How many questions per minute were asked? Heaven responds to questions. Joseph Smith's life is ample illustration of this principle. James 1:5 applies. You must ask.
- Children are open. Not only don't they know much, but they KNOW they don't know much. They happily accept new truth and readily believe it.
- Children are humble. They generally don't argue with what you teach them because they think they know better. They eventually learn this behavior, of course, but they learn it from adults.
- Children are believing. How many adults believe in Santa Claus? The Easter Bunny? Tooth Fairy? And yet, are we asked to believe in anything less miraculous in the atonement? The difference is that most adults have lost that sense of wonder, magic, and the divine. Do we really believe in miracles? Children do.
Here’s the upshot:
And even then, many will not respond.
Why not choose instead to be humble?
He CAN, He WILL, and He DOES work this miracle in the hearts of ALL who will come to him and seek it. I am a witness of this miracle. He IS mighty to save.