Blessed are the Pure in Heart, for They Shall See God

"Blessed are the Pure in Heart,
for They Shall See God"

by Paul Thigpen

© 2001 by Paul Thigpen

My five-year-old, Lydia, had been in bed an hour when I happened to pass by the half-open door of her darkened room. She was weeping uncontrollably.

"Honey, what's wrong?" I asked, going in to sit on the edge of her bed and take her hand gently. "Did you have a bad dream?"

She shook her head and tried to respond, but the words were choked by her tears. I stroked her hair to soothe her, and after a moment she could finally speak.

"Daddy," she cried in little-girl anguish. "Oh, Daddy! I — I just want to see God!"

I was startled by her words. Now it was my turn to weep. I drew her close to me in a deep hug and said softly, through my own tears, "Darling, do you know why you want to see God so much? Because that's the reason He made you. You were created to see God. And if you love Him with all your heart, one day you will see God face to face. That's His promise."

Comforted, she nodded her head, lay back down, and was soon fast asleep.

Lydia is now a theology major in college, and she does indeed love God with all her heart. After sixteen years I still find myself amazed at her words that night. Down in the depths of her little five-year-old soul, Lydia had realized intuitively what theologians over the centuries have carefully reasoned out: In our heart of hearts, we long above all things to see God face to face.

Every human being has in fact been created for that very purpose: God has made us for Himself, and we will be satisfied with nothing less than the unobscured sight of His face as we stand in His glorious presence: "Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2). The theologians call it the "Beatific Vision" — the final vision, in heaven, of our Alpha and Omega, our Beginning and End; the destiny for which we were designed; the fulfillment of all our desires, which alone brings us perfect happiness, utter blessedness.

Of course, we don't all recognize our ultimate longing for what it truly is. Sin has blinded us; its infection leaves our spiritual eyes swollen shut. Unable to see God, we grope in the darkness, searching desperately for someone or something to make us happy. Only the healing light of divine grace can restore our sight, can begin to open our eyes to the glory of the One who calls us to Himself.

Yet even after our eyes have been opened by grace, we often fail to see God. His desire is that our view of Him should always be growing wider and clearer and brighter, so that the "glass" through which we see "dimly" at last gives way to our encounter with Him "face to face" (see 1 Corinthians 13:12). He wants our vision to grow because to see Him is to know Him, and to know Him is to love Him. But all too often our vision of Him remains a cursory glance; our knowledge of Him, a passing acquaintance; our love for Him, a fickle fondness.

Why does our vision of God remain so feeble, so cramped? Most often, God is not in view simply because we aren't paying attention to Him; we aren't looking for Him. We are otherwise occupied. Recall how the ten lepers were miraculously healed by our Lord, yet nine of them dashed off to celebrate without even a glance back at Him or a word of thanks (see Luke 17:11-19). In much the same way, we too receive "grace upon grace" (John 1:16) from our Redeemer, only to desert Him again and again in our pursuit of other, lesser, things.

Our distractions thus blind us to God. Our vision is obscured because our view is cluttered.

Like toddlers on Christmas morning, all too often when our Father gives us precious gifts, we focus our attention not on the Giver, nor even on the presents themselves, but on the sparkly trappings of the packages. We bury ourselves in a mounting pile of shredded wrapping paper and ribbon, playing delightedly with the trash that will soon be cast out and incinerated. Yet all the while our Father stands behind us, waiting for us to brush it aside, turn around, and come running into His arms.

Our heart is thus divided, or more precisely, splintered and scattered. That essential core of who we are, the part of us that chooses (what biblical writers call "the heart") runs to and fro, gathering up first this little trinket and then that one, then dropping them both for the next shiny bauble that comes along. And as we pursue these countless idols — for that is what they are — they compete for our attention, our allegiance, our devotion. The result is a civil war of the soul, a clash of loyalties, a house divided against it itself that cannot stand.

No wonder, then, that Jesus tells us: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). In this context, we must understand "pure" to mean what is intended when we say, for example, "pure gold" — that is, unmixed, unadulterated, unalloyed, all of one substance. If our vision of God is to grow wider, clearer, brighter, our will must be united in a single focus on Him, an overriding desire to know and love Him. The title of a book by the Danish Christian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard sums it up well: Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing.

How do we come to purify our hearts in this way? We can at least begin, I believe, with two motivating insights. The first is this: God Himself is the fountain of all we desire. Whatever we may long for at the deepest level of our hearts — love, acceptance, truth, strength, beauty, delight, adventure — we will find it at its best and most complete in Him. Once we recognize that our deepest hunger is for God Himself, and that all other hungers are only faint rumblings of this one, then our longings can drive us to seek Him above all things.

The second insight is found in the scriptural promise we have already noted: To see God is to become like Him (see 1 John 3:2). In the end, the reason we pursue what we see, know, and love is that we desire to be united to it, to take it into ourselves, to be one with it. The more clearly we see God, the more intimately we know Him, the more passionately we love Him — and the more completely we are changed into His likeness as we join ourselves to Him. As St. Augustine once put it succinctly, we become like what we love. St. Paul described it this way: "We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness, from one degree of glory to another" (2 Corinthians 3:18).

This is why the pure in heart are blessed. If we desire the holiness, the goodness, the beauty of God above all things, then we will in the end see face to face what we have desired, and we ourselves will become perfectly holy and good and beautiful like Him — we will experience utter blessedness. That is His promise; that is our hope; and if we allow it to do so, such a hope will transform us even now, day by day: For "everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure" (1 John 1:4).