The reader should consider first the biblical meditation titled, “Blessed are the pure in heart”—not the double-minded and those with cloudy vision.” It can be found here.
My friend Phil is blind. But his blindness does not keep him from seeing God’s will for him. God has recently given him a new outlook or perspective on the Christian life. While Phil is a very hard working, resilient, and creative business leader, he has come to realize he needs others’ help more than most because of his blindness. He further realizes his need for God and fellow Christians.
Phil’s account reminds me of the very first of the beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel, which highlights our desperate need for God in Jesus (Matthew 5:3). Phil does not only sense his physical need for help because of his physical blindness, but also his spiritual need for God. He is poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3). How well do we see our need for God? Those who recognize their spiritual poverty are blessed (5:3). So, when we come to Matthew 5:8 on purity of heart, we need to recognize that we cannot conjure up purity, or perfect ourselves in holiness. We need God to cleanse our hearts if we are going to be pure in heart and see God (Matthew 5:8). In Psalm 51:10, the psalmist cries out to God to create in him a clean heart. 1st John 1:9 exhorts us to confess our sins to God so that we will be made pure.
Phil perceives that apart from God and others it is hard to grow in holiness or purity of heart. We cannot go it alone. While only those who are pure in heart will see God, we can only become pure in heart with the communal aid and encouragement of God’s Spirit and his people. In addition to asking God for forgiveness, we are to confess our sins to one another so that we can be healed (James 5:16).
All too often we are deceived into thinking that spiritual formation involving purification is solely an individual responsibility—that we have to go it alone. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, pride blinds us to our need and shoves us down so that we fall in the darkness. In contrast, purity of heart which helps us see God and the path to godliness involves confession of sin to God and his people.
One of the striking qualities of Phil’s perception is how well he sees through his other senses. While he cannot see people’s facial expressions, he can sense aspects of their emotional state by listening to them breathe. He sees through sound, as well as through his other senses. He is often far more aware of his surroundings through his other senses than we are because he’s attentive to running into people, walls and objects since he can’t count on seeing them.
How well are we aware of our surroundings, our need for mercy and reconciliation through confession? In a similar manner, how well are we aware of the immediate surroundings of Matthew 5:8? Mercy precedes purity of heart (5:7) and peace-making follows it (5:9).
Just as Phil relies on the mercy of others to get around at times, so he is aware of the need for peace-making. If people are not merciful toward one another, they will run into each other. We need to become aware of how we run into each other and over one another so that we can alter our course and run together.
It’s no coincidence that as a Japanese man whose parents lived in an internment camp during WWII prior to his birth that Phil has made a professional career as a diversity consultant and trainer. He understands the importance of seeing one another more clearly, being merciful and reconciled to each other, and making transformative peace.
Before Phil’s birth, his family moved from the internment camp to a farm elsewhere in the States. Given that so many men went overseas to war to fight the Germans and Japanese, his father was given the task of farming stateside. Just as his parents had been forcibly moved about since Pearl Harbor, so Phil was forcibly delivered into this world. The night he was born, the doctor said, “I don’t work on Japs after midnight.” So, the doctor used forceps to pull Phil out of his mother’s womb before midnight and before Phil was ready to be born.
Just like Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, internment camps and forced premature deliveries, we keep forcing ourselves on one another rather than operating mercifully. Phil’s blindness helps him to see far more clearly his need for spiritual help, and our own. How clear is your spiritual vision? We need to confess our sins to God and one another to be healed and become pure of heart. Let’s lead one another by the hand.