BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART
It was Helen Keller who wrote that the best and most beautiful things in the world could not be seen or touched but felt in the heart. The heart is like a deep ocean. There are many things beneath its surface. More than often, it is difficult to fish in the waters of the heart that are clouded by obstruction on the surface. Like the sea, the heart goes through stages of turbulence and calm. It is when it reaches these moments of serenity that it reveals its purity. It then becomes that instrument in man that can best perceive God. Jesus himself declared: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:8).
The word “pure” is our English rendition of the Greek “katharoi” from “katharos” meaning to cleanse, make pure, wash off all stains and guilt. Lay aside all the burdens, pressures and worries. Become like newly born babies depending entirely on their mother’s care and tender love. These little ones have eyes only for their mother. We have been blessed with eight grandchildren. Their attachment to their mothers reminded me when our little ones had eyes only for mother. No father, grandmother or grandfather could take the mother’s place. This appears to be what Jesus must have meant. The pure in heart have separated themselves from all outside influence and learned to concentrate entirely on God.
No man is born in purity. The moment man enters this world he also begins the journey of purification or “catharsis”. As a child, he is exposed to what parents and other adults do and teach. But when the child becomes accountable or old enough to discern, it determines as to what enters and stays in its heart or mind. And when the child becomes an adult, it continues to acquire desirable and undesirable characteristics of life. It is particularly as adults that man needs to undergo purification; for without which no one can see God. It is for this very reason that Christ provided atonement through his blood. Those who are washed in his blood are cleansed from all sins and are allowed to see God.
Catharsis is a function of the heart or mind. The terms “heart” and “mind” are not two different areas or entities of a person’s physical make up. Rather, they stand for the same thing in different cultures. To the Hebrews, the heart was the seat of thought and control over all the other parts of the human body. For the Greeks, the mind performed that function. For instance, Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the Lord with all your heart” the Greeks in the Septuagenta (a translation of the Old Testament) have, “Love the Lord with all your mind. The Synoptics report that Jesus held to Deuteronomy 6:5 and merely added the mind. Just as the heart supplies all the body parts with blood so the thinking heart or mind governs the human body. Since life was in the blood, it also carried impulses (divine and human) to all parts of the body. The heart or mind was also the seat of the soul or spirit of man. Both soul and spirit were indestructible and eternal. Hence, the heart or mind is the seat where a person is conscious of the presence of either good or evil. It was also in the heart where the spirits of God and man could meet and communicate (Jn. 6:63-64; Ro. 8:16).
It is above all else that the pure heart shall see God. Being able to see God has been one of the most incomprehensible concepts in religious thinking. Theologians have identified God’s presence as Theophanies and Christophanies only to confuse the issue even more. How does one see God who is Spirit unless one becomes spirit? Those who in the past have claimed to have seen God, have not left us a clear image of what they have seen. Adam heard a voice but saw no face. Abraham encountered angels in human form. Jacob thought he had wrestled with God but it turned out to be only God’s angel. Moses was told several times that God’s face was hidden (Ex. 33: 20-23). According to Jesus, only the fatherly role of God was visible to man. God could live in man and function in a miraculous way (Jn. 14:8-11). To the Hebrews, God was not a single individual but a plurality. He was not “El” (one God) but “Elohim” (many in One Being). And as to how this Being diversifies His functions will forever remain a mystery.
The Greek verb in our text is “ophsontai.” It is the future of “horao” and means to see with the naked eye but also gain insight into the eternal or the realm beyond the physical. In other words, those who can separate themselves from the sinful world will be best equipped to gain true knowledge of God. This concept happens to be essential for the acquisition of any kind of knowledge. The clearer the heart or mind is, the purer will be the perception of other things. All of us interpret things in terms of the data that has been made available to us. We just do not allow new information to enter our mind without being scrutinized by a set of rules we have been comfortable with. In fact, we are slow of heart to give up these guidelines that have served us for many generations. The problem is that these may have merely become traditions of the fathers and not the laws of God or nature. Jesus had this problem with the teachers in his day that had replaced the ordinances of God with the traditions of man (Mk. 7:9).
We too have made certain theological concepts replace the teachings of Christ. The consequences have been that we have disallowed God to disclose His purpose. We have formed Him in our image and are imposing that image on others. In reality, it is merely our conviction that we are coercing others to accept. The truth of the entire matter is that it is not the perception of a pure heart. We crowd the heart or mind with data others have imposed on us and are not allowed to gain knowledge of God on our own. This is contrary to the way God revealed himself in the Bible. Each individual encountered God differently from all the others and not a one of them gained all there was to be known about God. What they learned was how they were to structure their life and carry out their mission on earth. And when all these encounters were added up, they became a collection of revelations merely touching the pinky of an iceberg the size of Mars. Thus we continue to see in a glass darkly because we allow our heart or mind to be clattered with things unrelated to God and his simple laws (I Cor. 13:12). To reverse this trend, we must purify our heart or mind of concepts that hinder our perception. Perhaps the most basic perception is the one Jesus left his followers, namely that God would continue to function in them as He was in Him (Jn. 14:12-13).
From birth, man has two strikes against him. In the Hebrew – Christian tradition, he is born in sin (Ps. 51:5) and is evil from birth (Gen. 8:21). Even those who were close to God, like the great prophet Isaiah declared, “I am a man of unclean lips” (6:5) and Jeremiah cried out, “Woe is me!” (4:31). Paul the apostle, who believed that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Ro. 3:23), summed it all up with a quote from Psalm 14 and 53, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless, there is no one who does good, not even one” (Ro. 3:10-12). That dismal picture of man has affected all of us.
Moses held that man requires human and divine discipline (Deu. 8:5). Basically, two men have left their imprints on Hebrew thinking. Moses understood God as being able to grieve over the hardening of man’s heart (Gen. 6:6). Man had to have his heart circumcised in order to serve God (Deut. 10:16). The Law was given to aid man in his purification of the heart. Disobeying it, meant turning from God and suffering consequences similar to those of king Pharaoh of Egypt. Those who followed Moses’ direction experienced a sense of contentment and were looked upon as spiritual heroes. Job and Daniel became such spiritual giants. Job was so upright that his heart no longer reproached him (27:6) and Daniel so clean that he turned his face to Jerusalem three times per day (1:8). One person in particular known as Enoch was so extra ordinary that God removed him from this contaminated world (Gen. 5:24).
The other man that left his insight regarding a pure heart was king David. He became the idol of every Hebrew boy and even of Christians. Almost every sinner could identify with him because his crimes, even murder, were forgiven. And the reason was that he had a contrite heart. He never allowed his heart to be hardened and constantly sought for cleansing. It was his cry that God would create in him a clean heart (Ps. 51:10). He wanted God to search him and know his heart (Ps. 139:23). From Samuel David had learned that the Lord looked on the heart and not on outer appearance (I Sam. 16:7) and that he was a man after God’s own heart (I Sam. 13:14). He was keenly aware of his shortcomings and urged that a pure heart required clean hands (Ps. 24 4).
David was blessed with a literary son who became know as one of the wisest man of his time. Solomon in his wisdom left some of his nuggets for posterity. Much of it came out of his experience. He had learned too late not to follow a hasty heart (Eccl. 5:2). He could not say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin” (Prov. 20:9). Yet, he loved people with pure hearts and gracious speech (Prov. 22:11). His heart had devised wicked plans (Prov. 6:18) and brought sadness in his laughter (Prov. 14:13). He hardened his heart and fell into trouble (Prov. 2:14). Solomon had lost what he called, “A cheerful heart is good medicine” (Prov. 17:22). He lacked what his father David had, namely the humility to admit his sins and ask for cleansing. In spite of his wisdom, he was too proud to return to that time in his life when he was fulfilling his father’s wishes and God’s will. Unlike David, Solomon could not dispense the grace of a pure heart because he had stopped pleasing God.