Seeing God

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Matthew 5:8

Seeing God sounds like a fantasy of the first order, yet I believe everyone, if offered the opportunity, would deeply want to see God.

The Bible records a few scenes where people actually saw God. In the Garden, God communed with Adam and Eve in such a familiar way that we might imagine they actually saw God. Of course, the most memorable passage about seeing God is when Moses asked to see Him and God replied that this was impossible, for to do so would result in Moses' death. God did allow Moses to see Him after He passed by. Earlier in the same chapter we read that Moses met with God "face to face," but this obviously is not literal.

The Great Visit was a time when we did see God face to face. Jesus said "if you've seen Me, you've seen the Father." All of God that you can fit in a human being was in Jesus. Taking on the limitations of a man, God became visible. It absolutely applies today that if you want to see God, look at Jesus.

But let's not quibble here. I know what people mean when they say they want to see God. They mean now and physically. They want incontrovertible proof that God is real. Or believers want incontrovertible reassurance during times of doubt. I get it.

I read recently an article about why people aren't going to church as much as they once did. These articles haven't changed much in the 30+ years I've been reading them, by the way. One person, of a scientific bent, said "when I see credible scientific evidence I'll believe in God." She wants to see God.

You know what? I understand. I really do. I don't see her as being shallow or spiritually inept, or too demanding. I really do understand the impulse to want to see more than she has seen.

People want proof that God exists, and what could be better than seeing God? I do take exception to the "lack of proof" argument which I think is the equivalent of someone standing in the middle of a sanctuary and demanding proof that there is a church. But I'm not going to label anyone as spiritually blind or in any way demean them. I understand.

The 6th Beatitude makes an astounding promise that speaks directly to the agnostic and to the theist who longs for greater certainty or simply the blessing of seeing more of God. The promise is direct: we "will see God." The condition is that we "are pure in heart." So we can see God! The question is what does it mean to be pure in heart?

To reduce purity to performance is to miss the point entirely. We get don't get purer from the outside in. No amount of checklist religion is going to bring us closer to God. The lesson is loud and repeated in the Bible that right external actions can actually become a hindrance to seeing God.

I seldom miss the opportunity to quote C. S. Lewis on this matter "The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures in the world are purely spiritual; the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred…A cold self-righteous prig who regularly goes to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it's better to be neither."

In others words, you can be the cold self-righteous prig who is in the right place, doing the right thing and still be far from the kingdom of heaven. The heart must be purified from the inside, not the other way around.

So how do we have pure hearts? The key is the negation of ego. Self-will is the fundamental problem. It is the implicit trust in self rather than God. Its expressions are endless, and Lewis highlighted a few of them. I would add to his list fear, anger, resentment, and self-pity. Also the damnable tendency to compare ourselves with others and to become the critic. I suppose you can sense the autobiographical tone of this paragraph, but I doubt I'm alone here.

The great truth about Jesus is that He lived here on earth in a state of complete dependence on the Father and Spirit. He did not trust in His own strength. He was not a maverick, separated from the other two persons of the Trinity. He accomplished what He did, miracles and all, not through His own power but by being an open channel for the power of the Father and Spirit.

Now here is the challenge: we become pure in heart through the very same action. My deepest struggles correspond to the times when I trusted more in the gifts than in the One who gave the gifts. I prayed for the knowledge of God's will, and then ran off to do it as if I'd received an assignment I can accomplish on my own. The way forward for me has always been to consistently acknowledge in prayer the deceptive power of my ego and my utter dependence on God. I pray much more earnestly today for God's will in my life and for Him to give me the power to carry it out. That keeps me from the conceit that if I only knew the direction I would be able to walk it.

For me, this is a battle that simply doesn't stay won. My morning prayers revolve around dependence on God, and throughout the day I try to reestablish that focus and surrender. The heart/mind is the battle ground of the ego and the Spirit. The pull and tug is constant. Only by daily prayer and meditation that consists of focus on God will we be on the winning side of that battle. The pure heart has God alone enthroned. And at that point you see Him.

Grace,

Dr. Terry Ellis
June 3, 2017

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