March 2, 2020
Nothing mixed-in, nothing mixed-up
Matthew 5:8 – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
If there is any of the beatitudes that strikes people as nothing more than wishful and unrealistic thinking, or purely aspirational sentiment, it is this one. Yet, Jesus says this to us in very clear terms, so it must not be unrealistic, unless we think Jesus’ commandments and teaching are only motivating ideals, which he knew were going to be too much for us. Believing this might ease our consciences in the short term, but it might rob us of the kind of blessing Jesus declares is possible in the long (and the short) term. If we believe Jesus never teaches anything to set us up for failure, frustration, or self-recrimination, then the virtue he urges here and the great gift he promises really are possible in this life.
In order to understand what Jesus means by “the pure in heart” so that we might live into this blessing we need to consider the background of the Old Testament scriptures. Psalm 24:3-4 declares that the one who shall “ascend the hill of the Lord” – be in the presence of God – is the one “who has clean hands and a pure heart.” In the Jewish understanding, and therefore Jesus’ perspective, the heart is more than the seat of our emotions or feelings. It is the center of our personhood. Our hearts represent the real persons we are, and it is “the place” in our lives where our desires reside, out of which our motives emerge, and where our intentions that shape our actions originate. A good heart will produce good actions; a bad heart, evil, which is why Jesus says, “out of the heart come evil thoughts–murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” [Matt 15:19]. “Heart” is a good word for our essential character, what lays behind the actions and who we are when all the layers of the persona we portray to others are stripped away.
So, who would the “pure in heart” be?
The pure in heart are those who live desiring, seeking, motivated by, and intent upon realizing the one and only thing that makes life worth living – God. Their hearts are not mixed with multiple competing desires. Such persons, of course, have desires for many things – happiness, honor, love, comfort, pleasure, safety, family, etc –but all of these things do not confuse or complicate the hearts of “the pure in heart,” for each of them is desired as an expression of their desire for God. In fact, only purity of heart as God-centeredness can possibly give us unity of life and deliver us from all the competing claims on our attention and focus, because only He is all-encompassing enough to contain all of life. Even as a God-centered purity of heart focuses all of life, so does it keep us from being polluted by the dominion of sinful desiring and intentions. Temptations may come to the pure in heart, but the object of their deepest desiring – God and God’s way – is the guiding force that strengthens their resolve and delivers them from their own weaknesses.
The pure in heart, furthermore, have no illusions about their frailty and liability to fail God and fall into sin, because purity of heart also means no self-deception about our struggles and no lack of awareness about the competitors for our attention and wills. If the pure in heart fail God and sin, their purity of heart (their centering quest) keeps them from ignoring or justifying and excusing their failure. Instead, they immediately run to Jesus, because to be pure in heart and poor in spirit is to be able to know and mourn ones need. The pure in heart also in their meekness before God and others are hungry and thirsty for God’s righteousness to be their portion and their strength. Purity of heart also knows it needs mercy, and the honest self-awareness it brings, therefore, is lived-out in a merciful character toward others. In this way, purity of heart envelopes all the benedictory virtues Jesus describes.
This virtue, however, is known by the pure in heart to be a gift from God – a creation of God’s transforming presence and power in their lives, not their own accomplishment. They know that they have been enabled to see what really matters in life – God. Knowing the goodness of God in such a completely captivating way, the pure in heart only desire the One who loves them.
And they shall see God. We were made in the beginning as the image of God, which means we were made to reflect God’s holiness and to be fulfilled by God’s presence. Created with an appetite for the Eternal, Holy One, when we are made to turn willingly and freely toward God and open wide our minds, desires, motives – our hearts – and welcome His presence. The pure in heart have done that and shall see God in every moment, recognizing His presence and calling everywhere: their relationships, their vocations, their hobbies, their worries, their joys, their hopes, their sorrows, their failures, and their successes. With a heart that is not mixed-up about what matters and has no other guiding focus mixed-in, the pure in heart see God now. Therefore, they shall see God ultimately and completely at the end and fulfillment of all things when redemption is complete.
“God rewards those who diligently seek him” (the pure in heart). But the reward is not Eternal Life or Heaven. He IS the reward. The pure in heart know this, for this they live.