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©Douglas Beyer 2000

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O SAY CAN YOU SEE?
Matthew 5:8José, can you see?

Ten-year-old José came from Mexico to visit his uncle's family in Los Angeles. His greatest ambition, however, was not to see them, but to see a Dodgers ball game. Tickets were impossible to get, but because his uncle's best friend was the manager of Dodger stadium, he was allowed to climb the flag pole and watch the game from there. After the game, his uncle asked him how he liked it. "It was wonderful" he said. "People were very friendly. Before the game started everybody stood and sang, "José, can you see?"

There are a lot of things I'd like to see. Someday I'd like to see the great wall of China, the Taj Mahal of India, the Victoria Falls of Africa. I'd even like to see the earth from the moon. But most of all, someday I'd like to see God.

I'm not alone. Ever since humankind first became aware of deity, we have aspired to see God. Some mystics have claimed to experience what they called the "beatific vision," but for most of us seeing God is more a hope than a reality.

Some assume that the reason we can't see God is that God is not around. Others believe our inability to see him is due more to our blindness than to his absence. The Bible says three things about seeing God.

SEEING GOD IS DANGEROUS

When Moses asked to see God's glory, God said, "I will let my splendor pass before you and pronounce my sacred name, but I will not let you see my face, because no one can see me and stay alive" (Exodus 33:20 TEV).

Yet there seems to be exceptions to that rule. When Samson's father, Manoah, saw the angel who announced the birth of his son, he said, "We shall surely die, for we have seen God" (Judges 13:23). His wife said, "No, if God intended to kill us, we would be dead already." The Bible says God spoke to Abraham in Ur (Genesis 12:1) and appeared to him in Canaan (Genesis 12:7). Jacob was surprised that he was still alive after seeing God "face to face" at Peniel (Genesis 32:30). And Isaiah testifies, "My eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" (Isaiah 6:5b).

Despite these reports, John declares, "No one has seen God at any time" (John 1:18). Okay, so were the prophets lying about their visions of God? No! What they saw was part of God's radiant glory. They didn't see all of God, but they saw enough to be able to say honestly, "I saw the Lord." In the book of Revelation John pictures the glorified Christ as brilliant as the sun (Revelation 1:16).The sun Have you seen the sun? Different people would give different answers to that question. Nearly everyone has seen the sun, but to look at it unfiltered by clouds or dark glass will blind you. Likewise, nearly everyone has seen something of God. Some see more than others. They are able to look at God without being blinded by the light. Who are these people? "Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?" David answers, "He who has clean hands and a pure heart" (Psalm 24:3). Jesus said in his sixth beatitude, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).

SEEING GOD IS DIFFICULT

It is harder to clean up your heart than to clean up your act. That was the Pharisee's mistake. They thought all they had to do was to clean up their act. They kept all the elaborate ceremonial laws of religious purity. They even embellished them with further restrictions in a desperate effort to be squeaky clean. But it was all external. Jesus said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean. . . You are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matthew 23:25-28 NRSV). Outwardly clean, inwardly filthy.

Jesus went straight to the heart of the matter which is the matter of the heart: "Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles. . . . Whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer. But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander" (Matthew 15:10-19).

Our vision of God is distorted by impure hearts. In the words of Jeremiah our hearts are "deceitful above all things and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9). To the unclean mind everything is unclean. Paul told Titus, "To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure. Their very minds and consciences are corrupted" (Titus 1:15).

Heart pollutionAir pollution, water pollution and noise pollution threaten our physical environment. Heart pollution threatens our spiritual environment. It is contaminated by toxic substances like pride, covetousness, lust anger, gluttony, envy and sloth--deadly sins that contaminate your heart and blind you to the presence of God.

Jesus said, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). But you must see Jesus in a special way. Physical sight revealed only a man. As Isaiah said, "He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him" (Isaiah 53:2). Jesus stood before them, God incarnate. But only the pure in heart could see God in Christ.

When the skeptic Bertrand Russell was asked what he would say if he died and stood before the God in whom he didn't believe, his answer was: "I would say, 'You gave me insufficient evidence.'" Russell made the same mistake as the man who complained it was too foggy to drive when in fact his windshield was dirty. With a clean windshield he could see to drive. And with a pure heart Russell and you and I can see God.

SEEING GOD IS DESIRABLE

Philosophers and Psychologists argue about what is the most basic, fundamental driving force of the human psyche. Freud said it was sex. Frankl said it was meaning. The Church Fathers said it was God. They said God made us for himself, and our hearts are restless till they rest in him. The cause of disorder and conflict in our world can be traced back to someone settling for something less than God himself. Our problem is not that we want too much, but that we are too easily satisfied with cheap substitutes of God, i.e. idolatry.

Friend, there is no greater happiness for the creature than to behold the Creator. Nine hundred years ago Bernard of Clairvoux wrote: "Jesus, the very thought of thee with sweetness fills my breast, but sweeter far thy face to see and in thy presence rest." More recently Charles Gabriel wrote: "When by the gift of his infinite grace, I am accorded in heaven a place, just to be there and to look on his face will through the ages be glory for me."

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see what they are really looking for. They shall see God. That's dangerous, difficult and desirable, but not impossible. Purity of heart is not perfection of life. None of God's saints are sinless. Noah got drunk. Abraham lied. Moses disobeyed. Job cursed the day of his birth. Elijah fled in terror from Jezebel. Peter denied Christ. Paul confessed he was the "chief of sinners." It is a peculiar paradox that the strongest evidence that we have a pure heart is awareness of our impurity.

A pure heart is a heart that sees its own impurity and confesses it. A pure heart is one that embraces a pure object, hates what God hates, loves what God loves.

Only God can clean up your heart. A wise man asked, "Who can say, 'I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin'?" (Proverbs 20:9) David prayed, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10). That's no job for a home laundry. It needs the professional care of the Manufacturer. God, your Creator, spoke through Ezekiel saying, "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances" (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

C. S. Lewis wrote, "As there is one Face above all worlds which merely to see is irrevocable joy, so at the bottom of all worlds that face is waiting whose sight alone is the misery from which none who beholds it can recover. And though there seemed to be, and indeed were, a thousand roads by which a man could walk through the world, there was not a single one which did not lead sooner or later either to the Beatific or the Miserific Vision." (Perelandra) "In the end that Face which is the delight or the terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised." (The Weight of Glory) We walk every day on the razor edge between those two incredible possibilities.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." When? It begins here and now in this life. "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12). In strange and unexpected ways we occasionally catch a glimpse of God's splendor. Someday we will see him face to face. Meanwhile,

        "Day by day, day by day,
        O, dear Lord, three things I pray:
        To see Thee more clearly,
        Love Thee more dearly,
        Follow Thee more nearly, Day by day."
St. Richard Of Chichester

 

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