On being pure in heart

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I’m going to start today’s post with the original that you might have come across before – mainly because it highlights an interesting cultural difference or two between the world of our teacher, Jesus, and that of ours today:

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”

First up, this one isn’t even found in one of the two accounts of these teachings. Which is interesting, because without it there would be 7, which is a number that people of Jesus’ time regarded as special. So why the addition, if it might not have been there originally? The saying is near identical to one of the lines of a Psalm1.

Why do I mention this? Because we live in a world where, fake news aside, facts are king. The reason fake news is so shocking is because it jars against the way we’ve been taught to see the world. In Jesus’ time, and for much of the farther history of the people of Israel, there was a different way of thinking about facts. They needed to convey a true meaning or story but didn’t have to be totally true in and of themselves. Thus, it’s unlikely that Jesus actually did a talk identical to the one we’ve been going through, but that’s not really the point – he probably said everything that’s recorded – just perhaps not in one big “manifesto” talk.

The second part of this that is culturally interesting is the word “heart”. We know that the heart pumps blood around the body and doesn’t do a lot else. To the people of Jesus’ time, the heart was essentially the brain (the brain pumped blood around the body, ironically!) and the gut was where emotions were experienced2. Which means that this passage is better translated as:

“Rich are the pure in mind, for they shall experience God”

Notice how I do not translate it as “thought” but “mind”. That’s because we have a huge tilt towards analysis and logic today, that isn’t present here. I’ve changed “see” to “experience” as it’s likely this is what was being got at in the original. Nobody could see God, so it can’t be a literal term!

The Good News

What then does it mean to be pure in mind? We often think of purity as innocence – but that’s mainly due to years of religious rubbish. Purity here means simplicity – being focussed on one thing3. What Jesus is saying here is that if you’re generally focussed on something (ie God), you’ll discover and experience it.

So the good news is that if your whole mind4 – with its emotions, ideas, thoughts, and analyses, is bent in the direction of wanting to know and experience God, then you will do so.

Living It

We’re often distracted by the many pulls of the world around us. We want more money, more stuff, more fame, more lust, more of all kinds of things. But how often do we want to know more of God – to have more experience of God? I so often realise that my intention to do so is overwhelmed by my desire to do something else. So, some questions and ideas:

  • What does your mind/heart/soul yearn for? Is it to know or “see” God?
  • Could you make more space in your thought life, and in what you do, to respond to that yearning?
  • The next time you realise you’ve been distracting yourself – stop, and spend some time seeking God instead – in whatever way most helps you.
  • Think about incorporating space into your daily routine to attend to your mind and its desires. For me, this takes the form of twice daily meditation – it could be something else for you.

 

 

 

 

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Ben is one of the founders and editors of New Roots. When he isn't managing the web site, he can usually be found working on his web design agency or down the pub discussing theology.

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