31 May 2015

the pure in heart

Jesus was known to bless certain character traits that we typically don't value in our world. Some say he was turning the world on its head, or offering a new perspective on God, or perhaps providing promised rewards to those who can follow the path. It all comes down to that word – blessed. We so often dilute its power into something like happiness or self-satisfaction, neither of which are particularly part of the human experience of blessedness. At least, they are often absent from heaven's understanding of being blessed.

There is something more than becoming contented in the words of Jesus, which is why those who experience the depths of life can find even more depth in his words. This is true even when we run out of human understanding and are forced to think of something beyond ourselves. When we consider the teachings of Jesus we must be prepared to wrestle with things that we simply aren't ready to experience yet. Thus, while we may wonder at his words, we can so quickly ignore his calling as we don't know what to do with ourselves when we meet them face-to-face.

But then there are those among us who seem to grab hold of these blessed traits, and who embody the very essence of what Jesus was describing. Perhaps one of the most challenging is that he spoke of those who are pure in heart.

If you have ever known someone who can be aptly described as pure in heart then you probably have spent a good deal of that relationship shaking your head, either in bewilderment or laughter (or maybe both). For a good many years my wife and I have known someone who we have thought of in this way, which has left us with many good stories. It has been in the last six years that I have come to realize that there is one living in my house, and there is something special there indeed.

One of the problems with those who are naturally pure in heart is that they are frequently misunderstood by the world around them. They can be more than carefree, even to the point of impulsive and reckless. They make other people nervous, and often appear as though they are haphazardly meandering through life. While I cannot speak in absolutes in any direction here, I am convinced that there is something quite different happening beyond these outward appearances.

The pure in heart can be socially clumsy, not because they are unaware of their surroundings, but because they are willing to speak words that convey truth without embarrassment. They will speak of themselves and their thoughts on life, and they will describe others all with an openness and honesty that can brink about a smile or a raised eyebrow. Those who are pure in heart do not evaluate relationships on their ability to manipulate them for maximum benefit. They see people as people and are genuinely interested in others – and speaking truth is part of being a friend, right?

The pure in heart can show signs of reckless abandon, not because they are ignorant of the future, but because they are too busy living in the present. While others may think of the pure in heart as having no realistic grasp of planning for tomorrow, or how today's messes will ever get cleaned up, these pure souls lose neither sleeping nor waking hours on the problems of tomorrow. They are not naive, but rather show us what it means to trust that God will clothe and feed his children, because he has done so for the flowers and the sparrows.

The pure in heart might also be accused of being ignorant when it comes to evil and tragedy in this world. Based on my experience alone, I can assure you that this is not the case. Those who are pure in heart, with their often-worryless demeanor, can appear carefree in regards to life's challenges – even when they are facing them head on. But, and here is one of the most important points known the pure in heart, their trust in God gives them a peace that it truly beyond human understanding. These are the ones who express confidence in the providence of God, both present and future.

And so Jesus refers to those who are pure in heart as blessed, and he promises that they will see God. For most of my life I figured that this was a future-oriented condition given to those who will be able to purify their lives in the gospel. Yet those who are more naturally inclined to be pure in heart show us something quite important for our understanding of the kingdom of heaven: those who are pure in heart – who appear to be naive and out-of-touch by the standards of this world – see God on a daily basis, experiencing his lovingkindness and peace every step of the way. They are often challenged and left hurting, for their pure hearts are often trampled on by those of us who are still convinced that we must use our own cunning and conniving as part of the formula for being a part of God's kingdom. Nevertheless, their pain will not linger for long, for their vision of God will carry them into the next moment, where his healing will be sufficient.

Jesus spoke of those who are pure in heart as being blessed for their participation in the kingdom of heaven. Not many of us have this natural inclination to a pure heart, and so we must work together with the Spirit of God to be transformed into this likeness. But rather than relegating this characteristic to the back-burner of a nice-but-not-realistic-idea that will be given a happy-ending-in-heaven, we might look at those few who show us today what it means to see God every day of this life. And we might discover the powerful challenge of being blessed with a pure heart.

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