Blessed are the pure in heart, Jesus says. And we assume that by pure he means ‘that really clean cut kid who doesn’t cuss in the church youth group.’ That’s what I used to think. The ‘pure’ were the really, really good Christians. And I didn’t measure up.
Purity, it turns out, is about so much more. In the original language, the word Jesus uses gets at an inner division of heart, a war within, which manifests in outer appearances of religiosity and lacks any authentic core. In other words, the people who look pure may not be so pure. They may actually be quite divided, quite hypocritical. They may live like the Pharisees do, waiting on others to stumble instead of looking at their own stumblings.
Don’t take my word for it. Charles Spurgeon reflects on the “divided heart” with an indictment of those who look particularly religious. He writes:
You know some men, perhaps, who are very stringent believers of a certain form of doctrine, and very great admirers of a certain shape of church rule and government. You will observe them utterly despising, and abhorring, and hating all who differ from their predilections. Albeit the difference be but as a jot or a tittle, they will stand up and fight for every rubric, defend every old rusty nail in the church door, and think every syllable of their peculiar creed should be accepted without challenge. “As it was in the beginning, so must it be now, and so must it ever be even unto the end.” Now it is an observation which your experience will probably warrant, as certainly mine does, that mostly these people stand up so fiercely for the form, because lacking the power, that is all they have to boast of. They have no faith, though they have a creed. They have no life within, and they supply its place with outward ceremony.
Purity, in other words, is about something much more subtle. I’d suggest, as Parker Palmer does in A Hidden Wholeness, that love manifests in wholeheartedness, integrity, congruity between our inner and outer selves. And, I’d argue that if we’re really honest, none of us are very pure. We may try to keep our theological ducks in a row, but we’re full of contradictions. We’re just talking “baby talk,” as Calvin says, quite a bit of the time. We may even keep our behavioral ducks in a row, but truth be told…we’re quite repressed, and may even be setting ourselves up for a significant fall.
This, I believe, is why you find Love on the lips of Jesus. This is why the religious are indicted, and the sinners are welcomed. This is why those of us who have it figured out are in much more danger than those who are scrounging for bread. Hell, it turns out, is a doctrine the religious must take very, very seriously…for we are the target of many of Christ’s condemnations.
Love cuts through our pretenses, and exposes our hypocrisy. If only we’d be more honest with how little we have this whole thing figured out.
Love breaks through our inner divisions, requiring a kind of self-compassion – an ownership of our brokenness and our need for a greater Love – which can lead to a compassion for others. Our best theologizing is provisional. Our best behaving is likely mixed in its motives. This is why great thinkers like C.S. Lewis and Lesslie Newbigin could be so ecumenical, so concerned about unity. What brings us together is far more powerful than what divides us.
I’ll leave you with a letter C.S. Lewis wrote to a friend who had recently become Catholic. This is an extraordinary example of Love:
Though you have taken a way which is not for me I nevertheless can congratulate you — I suppose because your faith and joy are so obviously increased. Naturally, I do not draw from that the same conclusions as you, but . . . I believe we are very near to one another . . . In the present divided state of Christendom, those who are at the heart of each division are all closer to one another than those who are at the fringes . . . Let us by all means pray for one another: it is perhaps the only form of “work for reunion” which never does anything but good. God bless you.
(Letters to an American Lady, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1967 — letter from 1953, 11-12)