Can God Change the Human Heart?

H. G. Wells was one of the most prolific writers of the twentieth century. He wrote novels, books on history, politics, and social commentary, as well as college textbooks and rules for war games. He was a great thinker who, as a young intellectual, believed in the perfectibility of man and society.

In 1920 he published an extraordinarily ambitious work, Outline of History, which also served as his unabashed declaration of idealism. Each page conveyed an unshakeable faith in progress and a conviction of complete optimism for the future. However, a mere thirteen years later, in his book, The Shape of Things to Come, Wells had clearly shifted perspectives; now, his writing, rather than being optimistic, related the stubbornness and selfishness of people and governments. So radically altered was his consciousness that he even went so far as to maintain that the only solution for mankind was for the intellectual elite (which, naturally, included Wells) to take control of the entire world, forcibly changing people’s lives through compulsory education. Twelve years later, in 1945 and shortly before his death, he completed his final work, The Mind at the End of its Tether. In it he concluded that

“there is no way out, or around, or through the impasse . . .,”

there is no hope for mankind.

It is hard to deny that human depravity has been empirically verified over time. It is also clear that humanity, despite its creative brilliance and the obvious need for great improvement, can’t produce a good and perfect society due, in large part, to man’s naturally sinful and self-centered nature. As a result we easily gravitate towards a life of evil and self-destruction.

As I shared in last week’s blog, people have a basic heart problem. The heart is deceitful and desperately sick, yet somehow modern people refuse to believe that we have a real need to be redeemed from the corruption and sinful nature within each of us.

But the big question I want to address in today’s post is this – is it possible for God to change a person’s heart? Can He really transform hate to love, selfishness to selflessness, meanness to kindness, and misery into joy?

I remember reading a remarkable book many years ago. In Through the Valley of the Kwai, Dr. Ernest Gordon recounts his experience in a Japanese labor prison camp during World War II.

He spoke of how death was in the air and was the chief topic of conversation. He described the inhumane living conditions to which the prisoners were subjected.

As conditions steadily worsened, as starvation, exhaustion, and disease took an ever-growing toll, the atmosphere in which we lived was increasingly poisoned by selfishness, hatred, and fear. We were slipping rapidly down the scale of degradation. You could say we lived by the rule of the jungle – I look after myself and to hell with everyone else. Consequently, the weak were trampled underfoot, the sick ignored and resented, the dead forgotten. When a man lay dying, we had no word of mercy. When he cried out for help, we averted our heads. Men cursed the Japanese, their neighbors, themselves, and God. We had no church, no chaplains, no services. Many had turned to religion as a crutch. But the crutch had not supported them, so they had thrown it away. We had long since resigned ourselves to being derelicts, motivated by hate.

Then several incidents took place that began to transform the prison camp. Several of the prisoners, who were devout Christians, sacrificed their lives for other prisoners. In one situation a man was sick and dying, and his Christian friend would draw his own ration but wouldn’t eat it. He would take it to his friend and insist that he eat it instead. Over time the sick man got better, but his friend finally collapsed and died from starvation.

One day Gordon was approached by an Australian sergeant. He said that he and his men wanted to explore Christianity. He said, “Maybe there is something to it that we haven’t understood.” And they knew that Gordon had a Bible.

At their first meeting, there were several dozen men in attendance. Gordon would read and expound on the New Testament. They had discussions about their own inner questioning and their desire for spiritual truth.

Through the Bible readings, they came to know Jesus. They realized He understood them because of what He had faced himself. They began to conclude that Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, was the incarnate word. Gordon said, “In the fellowship of freedom and love, we found truth, and with the truth a wonderful sense of unity, of harmony, and peace.”

The numbers continued to grow. As more and more men put their faith in Christ, they developed a keener insight into life and its complexities. As Gordon described it:

We were learning what it means to be alive – to be human. As we became more aware of our responsibility to God the Father, we realized that we were put in this world not to be served but to serve. This truth touched and influenced many of us, even those who shunned any religious quest. There was a general reawakening. Men began to smile, to laugh, and even to sing.

He describes the first communion which was quite memorable.

With expectant hearts men had come to receive the strength that only God could give. The elements were of our daily life – rice baked into the form of bread and fermented rice water. The solemn words of the fraction were said.

We broke the bread as it was passed to us and then passed it to our neighbor.

The elements were returned to the Table, a prayer of Thanksgiving said, a hymn sung, and a blessing given. We slipped quietly away into the singing silence of the night, cherishing as we did so our experience of the communion of saints. The Holy Spirit had made us one with our neighbors, one with those at home, one with the faithful in every land, in every age, one with the disciples.

All the while our own future was unpredictable. We didn’t know what the Japanese might have in store for us. We had no assurance that we would ever again see home or those we loved.

Gordon concludes this extraordinary and moving testimony, saying, “whatever happened, we knew that Jesus, our leader, would never fail us. As he had been faithful to his disciples in the first century, he would be faithful to us in the twentieth.

What Gordon had witnessed in the lives of the prisoners was a spiritual transformation. It was literally the spirit of God at work in the hearts of the men. Through the prophet, Ezekiel, God describes it this way:

26 Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you, and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and will give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. (Ezekiel 36: 26, 27)

Article originally published on Richard E Simmons 3 June 13 2015.


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