“Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God.”
Matthew 5:8 (Common English Bible)
Jesus teaches, “Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God.” The “pure heart” is a faith that is “backed up by convictions, whose outward deeds match their inner commitments.”i What Jesus is saying is that those who have “pure hearts” will have a faith that is real and vital. It is a faith experienced in the deep recesses of the heart, a faith that influences every moment of our lives. Such a faith confronts the God of the Holy Bible as an inescapable reality. Vagueness and doubt dissipates, senses become alert as though biting into something hot and spicy, and confidently we know that God is right in the midst of the present moment.
This is not a faith that simply believes in God or has opinions about God. The church has multitudes of people who do that. It is one thing to recite the creeds of the church and utter words of belief, as almost all of us do. It is quite another thing to say, “God is in this place! I feel God’s presence.” That experience is like taking notice of a beautiful piece of art, imagination stirred by the rich use of colors or the complexity of brush strokes or standing on a beach watching a sunrise as if you had never seen one before. No one argues with a beautiful piece of art or with a sunrise. It is simply experienced.
The critical difference is awareness. Consider a conversation I had some years ago in Pasadena, California. During my graduate studies there, I commented to a resident what a joy it is to wake each morning, pour a cup of coffee, and enjoy the beautiful mountain range. At that comment, my friend looked-up at the mountains, with no discernable emotion, and said, “After living here for a while, you no longer notice them.” My friend acknowledged the presence of the mountains but they were not real to him. He had lost his capacity to notice them and have them move him deeply by the beauty that they generously shared day after day. His heart was not pure. Rather, his heart, muddied by the multitude of the small and large things that occupied his thoughts, fell numb.
Anything real to us results in emotional vividness. If such emotion is absent, we may question if we are paying attention, eyes wide open expecting the unexpected and anticipating wonder. Belief can be a profound matter, even courageous when such statement of belief may result in marginalization or persecution. However, often our beliefs lie at the surface of our lives, very present but lacking any meaningful impact on us. Perhaps attention to responsibility, to fulfilling daily tasks, or simply cynicism and exhaustion of the daily grind has narrowed our focus. Experiencing the uncommon in the ordinary requires a pure heart, that is, a heart released on occasion from the urgent tasks always before us, and open to the nuances of the present moment. It is what the Bible speaks of as stillness before God. Such a heart sees God in a child playing, in nature, in ordinary situations, and in opportunities to be useful to others.
i Thomas G. Long, Matthew, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997) 50.