I still remember a friend of my Mother asking her, “What has happened to Paul?” I was a high school student at the time; she said that my eyes had become dark. I had cloudy vision. My eyes were a reflection of the conflicted state of my soul during that troubling season in my life. Perhaps you have heard the expression, “The eye is the window to the soul.” Jesus said as much, as have some scientists.
In Matthew 6, Jesus declares, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:22-24)
A Daily Mail article titled “Scientists discover that eyes really are ‘the window to the soul’” reports of scientists at Oreobro University in Sweden claiming that
Those with densely packed crypts are more warmhearted, tender, trusting, and likely to sympathise with others. In comparison, those with more contraction furrows were more neurotic, impulsive and likely to give way to cravings.
The researchers argued that eye structure and personality could be linked because the genes responsible for the development of the iris also play a role in shaping part of the frontal lobe of the brain, which influences personality…
The results will be published in the American journal Biological Psychology. “Our results suggest people with different iris features tend to develop along different personality lines,” said Matt Larsson, a behavioural scientist who led the study at Orebro University.
(You can also find a BBC article on the same subject at this link).
I do not claim that my high school experience and the scientific study are detailing the same phenomenon, but I do believe that my experience resonates with Jesus’ claim in Matthew 6. Here in Matthew 6 Jesus is performing eye and heart surgery. He often performs it on me, just as he did then in my youth. I was double-minded, seeking to serve two masters—Jesus and Jim Morrison. Actually, according to my Mom, Morrison had replaced Jesus as my Lord. The substance of my being, including my limited financial resources (mammon), went to breaking on through to the side where he could be found. My Mom’s friend could sense my double-minded ways, which reflected a conflicted, impure soul.
Perhaps I would have seen Morrison beyond the pale; but I would not have seen God in this way. Here I call to mind Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (ESV). Only those with an undivided mind and heart will truly see God. The Expositor’s Greek Testament makes a connection between Matthew 6:22 and Matthew 5:8, too, when it reasons that it was Jesus’
habit to insist on the connection between clear vision and moral simpli[c]ity; to teach that it is the single eye that is full of light (Matthew 6:22). It is true that the pure shall have access to God’s presence, but the truth to be insisted on in connection with this Beatitude is that through purity, singleness of mind, they are qualified for seeing, knowing, truly conceiving God and all that relates to the moral universe. It is the pure in heart who are able to see and say that “truly God is good” (Psalm 73:1) and rightly to interpret the whole phenomena of life in relation to Providence. They shall see, says Jesus casting His thought into eschatological form, but He means the pure are the men who see; the double-minded, the two-souled (δίψυχος, Jam 1:8) man is blind.
How does Matthew 5 verse 8 fit within the overall context of the Beatitudes? Here is my take. Those who receive God’s mercy (Matthew 5:7) become pure in heart. Think of Isaiah, who when he sees God cries out in despair (Isaiah 6:5). But God does not destroy him, but mercifully reaches out and cleanses Isaiah and calls him to serve him in purity. As a result, Isaiah can see God all the more clearly and serve him all the more truly. In the Bible, purity of heart is connected to clear sight and clean lips (See Isaiah 6:5-7). The pure of heart, sight and lips become bearers of glad tidings of peace and joy. The spiritually pure are not double-hearted or minded (Matthew 5:8), but calm of spirit and at peace. They are agents of God’s peace (Matthew 5:9), and are persecuted as a result (Matthew 5:10).
Purity of heart is obviously important to Jesus. As seen in Mathew’s Gospel, Jesus frames spirituality as centered in the heart (See Jesus’ discussion of anger and lust in Matthew 5:21-30; see also Matthew 15:1-20). Purity of heart is not an isolated phenomenon in Scripture. Further to what was noted above in Isaiah 6:5-7, one sees a fundamental connection between purity of heart and eye and mouth. Purity also involves innocence of hands. Those who are pure of heart are not violent. They do not shed innocent blood. They are peacemakers (See Proverbs 6:16-19; see also Psalm 24:3-6). They pursue righteousness and flee youthful passions (2 Timothy 2:22); they are obedient to the truth, which involves sincere brotherly love (1 Peter 1:22). Indeed, those who are pure of heart are pure in other ways.
The pure of heart will truly see God. They will understand God’s ways. They will experience the beatific vision. It is worth noting here that as with mercy, there is a sense of dynamism. Only those who experience God’s mercy can be merciful, and in turn will be recipients of greater depths of mercy (Matthew 5:7). Those who experience Christ for how pure he truly is will grow in purity. As they grow in purity, they will see God all the more clearly. The disciples would come to realize that their own purity of heart was bound up with seeing Christ, holding to his word, and following in his footsteps. We, too, are transformed, as we gaze upon him through his Word in the community of his disciples in the world (1 Peter 1:8; 1 John 3:1-3).
I have gotten glimpses of Jesus’ purity over the years. The vision of him is purifying, as it exposes my double-mindedness. I may not be drawn to Jim Morrison as a rock god anymore (though I enjoy listening to his band’s music), but I still get easily distracted by other deities of various kinds, including mammon. As a result, my vision becomes clouded and darkened. It reminds me of Jesus’ discussion of parables in Matthew 13, where the Lord quotes from Isaiah 6. Here in Matthew 13, Jesus speaks of the deceitfulness of riches that choke the word, making it unfruitful: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22; ESV). The parables reveal God’s judgment on those who are hardened of heart and who do not see or listen to God’s revelation in Jesus (Matthew 13:10-17). They are double-minded with cloudy vision.
I want to be one who sees God and who listens to God, as revealed in Jesus. Those who do so are truly blessed, even more so than the prophets of old like Isaiah. As Jesus said to his disciples, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:16-17; ESV). I don’t want to miss out on seeing Jesus because of looking this way and that, as some double-minded person with cloudy vision.
The Lord who called his disciples to him for this Sermon on the Mount calls us to himself today. Are we listening to his word and obeying him? Are we gazing solely on him?
May our heart’s passion and drive be that of David, the man after God’s own heart, who exclaimed, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4; ESV).
After my high school years, I came across Keith Green, a modern day David, whose song “O Lord, You’re Beautiful” reflects a heart that is single-minded and whose vision is clear (You can listen to it here at this link). At that time, I found his passion to break on through to Jesus far more compelling than Morrison’s drive to break on through to the other side. I long for such single-minded devotion and clear vision today.
In the end, would you like to God? Are you single-mindedly pursuing him now? Is your vision clear? Or like me, do you need eye and heart surgery again and again? “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8; ESV).
In Isaiah 6, we find that Isaiah is given a message of severe judgment (Isaiah 6:8-13); however, the word of judgment gives way to hope bound up with the Messianic promise and hope for the faithful remnant (Isaiah 6:13c); one must also account for the eschatological promise of blessing and shalom that is found in later chapters in Isaiah (See for example Isaiah 60).