Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God. [Matthew 5:8]
No one sees God!
Even as Jesus spoke these words over two thousand years ago the concept of actually seeing God was ridiculous. According to Jewish history the last mortal person ever to stand face to face with God and live was Moses. [Exodus 33:11] And the Jewish people liked it that way. A formal separation between them and God existed as both a reminder of God’s infinite power and as a way for them to justify their imperfections. Legend had it that should any mere mortal come face to face with God the shear overwhelming power of his presence would kill the observer instantly. Even the priests were only allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, where God supposedly lived, once a year and then only after having gone through an elaborate cleansing ritual. As if that weren’t enough, the priest who entered the area did so with a cord tied around his ankle in case the cleansing didn’t work and he died anyway, in that case the other priests would be able to pull his body out without having to go in themselves.
Yet here Jesus is telling his audience that all they need in order to stand face to face with God is a pure heart? That must have sounded ludicrous to them. But after having emptied ourselves of the things that are holding us back, possessions, pleasure and power and embracing the things that God values, humility and mercy, we are ready to truly know God and see him face to face. All we need now is a little purity.
But we have to ask ourselves a couple of questions first. You see the Jewish people were happy to keep God at arm’s length because to be in the presence of the one who knows everything is incredibly awkward. In order for me to see God, I have to let God see me. Do I want to see God and for him to see every part of me? Do I want his presence within me guiding and directing me? Do I regularly pursue cultivating a close relationship with Him? Do I want to be that close to God?
You see, as much as you may want to say yes to all of those questions the sad fact of the matter is that if we’re being completely honest with ourselves and with one another we can’t. Just like we build walls and shield ourselves from one another, fearing that if you know everything about me you would judge me and not want to be my friend, we build the same walls around our hearts and God.
Why do we do that? If God is all knowing and all powerful why try to hide anything from Him? The truth is deep down we know we aren’t really hiding it from Him at all we’re trying to hide it from ourselves. In order to let God in we have to admit that our hearts are dark and evil and do the hard work of staring into our own imperfections. When we do that, God will help is purify our hearts.
Purification is not easy. It’s intense and often times painful. But it is only with a pure heart that we can stand in God’s presence and not die of shame and embarrassment.
As I write this I’m reminded of two songs from my youth that drove this point home to me to varying degrees at the time. The first contains these lines;
We all have a face that we hide away forever
And we take them out and show ourselves when everyone has gone
Some are satin some are steel some are silk and some are leather
They’re the faces of the stranger but we love to try them on.
In The Stranger, pop singer Billy Joel tells the story of a man who can’t let anyone in because he’s afraid of the person that dwells in his deepest darkest soul. He goes on to say;
Well we all fall in love but we disregard the danger
Though we share so many secrets there are some we never tell
Why were you so surprised that you never saw the stranger
Did you ever let your lover see the stranger in yourself?
The other song was one we sang in youth group at the time.
Refiner’s fire, my hearts one desire
Is to be, Holy
Set apart for you Lord
I choose to be, Holy
Set apart for you my master, ready to do your will
This popular praise song is deceptively simple and upbeat but hidden in those lyrics is a truth that many people who desire purity tend to forget, achieving purity of heart is going to hurt. You’re going have to burn away all that is impure and unholy. We sang that song with smiles on our faces and laughter in our hearts until we actually had to do it.
In the whole land, declares the Lord,
two thirds shall be cut off and perish,
and one third shall be left alive.
And I will put this third into the fire,
and refine them as one refines silver,
and test them as gold is tested.
They will call upon my name,
and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” [Zachariah 13:8-9]
So what’s your attitude toward Purity?