Q: In the New Testament, we see that Jesus regularly healed physical ailments (e.g., leprosy, blindness, paraplegia, etc.), he healed demon possession (i.e., by casting them out), and he even healed (restored) life to a corpse (e.g., Lazarus). Why did we never see Jesus heal 'heart issues’? We know from Scripture that God can harden hearts (e.g., Pharaoh) for his glory. Can He soften them? Can He change them? Can Jesus mend a 'broken' heart?
A: Any time we attempt to answer a question that Scripture does not explicitly answer itself, we need to be cautious. This is a question of that type. What follows is my best guess (!) – I can’t claim to know for certain why the biblical authors never recorded the healing of ‘heart issues,’ but I can speculate! :)
If we focus our attention on the miracles of Jesus, we don’t witness much “internal healing.” While emotional ailments are very real (e.g. depression, ‘broken’ hearts, etc.), the main thrust of Jesus’ healing ministry relates to spiritual and physical healings. Certainly some of these physical healings bring emotional healing with them – for example, when Lazarus is raised from the dead, his family no longer mourns his passing, since he has been restored to them! Even in these types of situations, the emotional healing is merely a by-product of the physical miracle.
It is my belief that we don’t see Jesus focus on “internal healing” (or at least the biblical authors chose to record the physical instead of the emotional) because of the subjective nature of these miracles. In an internal healing, the results could much more easily be disputed. Jesus instead performs more objective signs which are immediately apparent to those who witnessed them and go beyond the testimony of the individual but can actually be seen and confirmed by others.
Jesus performed many of His miracles to prove that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. When the skeptics were gathered and grumbled about Jesus’ teaching and activity, He would often perform a miracle to demonstrate His authority and endorsement by the Father. When the paralyzed man was lowered through the ceiling by his friends and Jesus forgave his sins, the Pharisees grumbled, so Jesus healed him physically. Imagine that Jesus simply healed his broken heart instead … would this have silenced the grumbling? Not likely!
This seems to be in line with why the Apostle John records the miracles he does: Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31, NASB, emphasis added)
Jesus did many more miracles than what were recorded, but the signs which would help bring about belief were recorded. In order to support this motivation, it seems understandable that the objective miracles (physical and spiritual, e.g. casting out demons) would be recorded while more subjective healings (emotional) would not make the cut in the written record.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t perform such emotional healings. When we look into the prophecies concerning the coming of the Christ we see healing the broken hearted as part of his mission:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners. (Isaiah 61:1, NASB)
Jesus claims this as His ministry in Luke 4:16-20. It’s interesting, however, to note that Jesus leaves out the binding of the broken hearted (there is a textual variant in this passage; the KJV and NKJV both record the clause about binding the brokenhearted, but it is not included in many or the earliest and best manuscripts – it is more likely that scribes would add this clause to agree with the quotation than that they would eliminate it, therefore the shorter reading found in the NIV, ESV, NASB and others is most likely the original reading).
Even if this wasn’t the most pressing or notable part of Christ’s earthly ministry, we see that healing the brokenhearted is part of God’s character:
For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, "I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57:15, NASB, emphasis added)
The next part of your question can be answered more explicitly – Can God soften and/or change hearts? The Scriptures answer this question with a definitive, ‘Yes!’
There are far too many relevant passages to look at in any real detail in this post. For the sake of completeness, the interested reader is encouraged to read the following passages (and their context) to see that God does change hearts for the good: 1 Kings 18:36-37; 2 Chronicles 30:12; Ezra 6:22, 7:27-28; Nehemiah 7:5; Psalms 4:7, 10:17-18, 33:14-15, 107:11-13 [hearts changed via God ordained circumstances]; Ecclesiastes 3:11; Jeremiah 24:7, 31:33, 32:39-40; Ezekiel 11:19-20, 36:26-28; Acts 16:14; Romans 5:5; and 2 Corinthians 4:6. A reading of these passages leaves little room to doubt that God changes, opens and puts things into the hearts of people (both believers and non-believers).
Several biblical passages record prayers that God will work on the hearts of individuals (including themselves): 1 Chronicles 29:17-19; Psalms 51:10, 86:11-12; Acts 8:21-22; 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13; and 2 Thessalonians 3:5.
At least two biblical passages put the emphasis on Man’s (both male and female) responsibility to change their own hearts through repentance – even creating a new heart (and spirit!) within themselves. See Ezekiel 18:31-32 and James 4:8 for this counsel.
What is interesting to see is the interaction between what God does and what Man does in the hardening/softening process. Three major passages record how God honors the repentance of human beings and blesses them in their hearts as a result of their obedience. Deuteronomy 30:1-10, 1 Kings 8:57-62 and Psalm 119:32-36 all describe the partnership of God and Man walking and working together on the heart.
It seems clear that the best way to maintain a clean and whole heart before the Lord is to walk in humility and obedience before Him! The Lord is pleased to bless His children with joy in their hearts and comfort even in the most horrible of physical circumstances if we are faithful in obeying His commandments. When we begin to stray, sin begins to harden our hearts. If we will repent then our hearts begin to soften again. Repentance is both a gift and a command … while we may never fully understand how the sovereignty of God and the freedom/responsibility of humanity interact, we would do well as children of the Lord to heed the warning of Scripture and not let our hearts be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13).
In short, God is both able and willing to heal broken hearts. The best way to receive such inner healing is through continued obedience to Him and walking by the Spirit of God along the narrow path.