Passage: Matthew 5:1-2 & 5:8
5:1 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. 5:2 Then he began to teach them by saying:
5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Soul Search Essay
In a prior essay, I shared why the paragraph below is structured as it is:
“[You are fortunate if you] are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Pure in heart here means that you long to live the life God has for you where the longing is emotional, willful, behavioral and cognitive (i.e. Heart in Hebrew conception includes all of these elements)”
To understand this beatitude it is necessary to understand how radical a statement it is within first century Judaism. To broadly state that someone can see God flies in the face of Old Testament reality. To see God was to suffer death. Not even Moses truly, directly saw God.
To state that purity of heart (personality, character, essence of personhood) is the criteria to allow the most wonderful experience possible (seeing God) seemingly cuts the legs from under a pillar of Judaism – cultic purity.
The term “cultic purity” is theo-speak for conformance to the external rituals and practices required in order to worship, pray and experience God’s presence. These practices and mindsets were foundational to the Pharisees and Essenes approach to life and to relations with others. Despite the way these two groups twisted things, the practices and mindsets were based in Old Testament truth. Within the Law, cultic purity was in fact a God given requirement. The critical question, however, is why it was a requirement? As with Christianity today, the Old Testament requirement of purity was both a protection and an expression.
The protection Israel received was from confusing God’s Word with the worldly religions and beliefs. The Law was a bulwark against the Hebrews introducing concepts and practices surrounding Israel. This protection did intend to keep the worship of YHWH uncorrupted, but even that corruption prevention served another purpose – maintaining the Israel-YHWH relationship.
The effect of introducing pagan practices into Judaism was to corrupt the peoples’ living understanding of the character and personhood of YHWH. Idolatry came to Israel from discounting the character of God. You, as an individual, go to an idol when you think YHWH does not care, cannot help, is not interested, is against you, etc. These lies are powerful. Idolatry is based in doubt and denial. Doubt God’s character and you need an idolatrous solution or you give up. Actively deny God’s character and you spread idolatry to others.
The protection Christians received is from all the things Israel needed protection from plus the denial that YHWH even exists and/or the denial of his personhood. The Hebrews did not deny God existed as a person. Our Western world, however, is built on the twistedness of the Pharisees, Essenes, Greek philosophy and introduction of elements of other religions. We Westerners have gone farther astray than the ancient Israelites. We deny God exists. Amazingly, we teach in some of our American seminaries that God is not a person, but a subatomic process that occurs at 8Hz. This teaching is a mixture of Taoism and quantum mechanics and in theo-speak is Process Theology. Yes, this is taught at some seminaries. For the seminaries that do not teach this, most (not all) ferociously work to destroy belief in the Bible. Sadly, statistically, the odds that your pastor believes in YHWH and Jesus are pretty low. Many pastors are not Christians based on Jesus’ definition of a Christian.
The expression of cultic purity was intended by YHWH to especially reflect an internal reality within Israel. Purity was intended to scream belief and trust in YHWH to a pagan world. David is a powerful expression of this. His Psalms consistently reveal his struggle to hold on to the reality of YHWH’s involvement in his life, recognition of YHWH’s goodwill, remembering YHWH’s willingness to save him, YHWH’s value as an ally, etc.
Read David’s Psalms and you will see a person weak, strong, floundering, celebrating, ecstatic over events, calm, sure, profoundly angry, profoundly sad and ashamed. You see a large cross-section of a special life that should be common. There is a deep cross-section of human life in what David wrote. Through his thorough tour of emotional and mental states, through his tour of situations that were exaltations, humblings and just ordinary days, there is a theme that was intended by YHWH to be common in all of Israel (and in all Christians).
God is who he says he is, he is accessible and he is involved all the time in our lives.
The point of cultic purity was to express these truths to non-Israelites and faltering Israelites. It was to cry out loudly that YHWH is not what you think a god is. He is someone very different than human invented god’s. He is real. He is accessible. He is committed. This Old Testament purity resoundingly cries out that access to God is available when it is conducted in ways that recognized YHWH’s character and his commitment to human beings.
So, what does this beatitude say to us New Testament people today. God is ‘seeable’ to those who embrace redemption throughout their lives. The qualities of seeing God are not defined, just that it will occur for the pure in heart. This seeing is not qualitatively defined either. I suspect that in this life it refers to the ability to see YHWH’s activity. I also believe it refers to a future throne room experience. I cannot state this from this text and its context though. These are my hopes and opinions.
The larger context of Jesus’ teachings does, however, make it clear that compliance with perceived rules will not produce purity. Seeing God comes from allowing God to alter you over the course of your lifetime. Seeing God comes from expressing this alteration through your living. You cannot conform yourself sufficiently to see God. You can, however, allow YHWH, the Holy Spirit and Jesus the Messiah to conform you sufficiently to see God. Your part?
Believe that YHWH, the Holy Spirit and Jesus share a just, merciful, kind, wrathful, profoundly giving, profoundly demanding, and subtly, yet profoundly empowering character. Expand your belief beyond this short list of character traits by learning. Learn from the Bible who God truly is. Learn what his priorities are and how those priorities are driven by his character. Learn what it meant to be the direct witnesses to Biblical events, then learn what these events mean to you, specifically you. The common thread between the Biblical past and the present you is YHWH’s character.
Everything depends on YHWH’s character. If he is not who he says he is in the Bible? We are fools. This is why most seminaries produce fools by intentionally destroying belief in the Bible.
Go and look at God in his Word yourself. Learn how to study the Bible. Then risk. Risk acting on the character and priorities you see in YHWH, in Jesus. Radical statements such as this beatitude demand risks if we are to see God. The Beatitude sets a condition and an outcome. Purity is obtained in submission to radical changes in who you are given that the changes are done at the pace and depth decided by God. Risk accepting purity as you hold to the promise of seeing God.