By: Eddie Estep
You have to read halfway through the Old Testament before the idea of a human having a pure heart is even suggested as a possibility. Prior to Job and Psalms, the only things referred to as “pure” are gold (about 40 times), frankincense (4 times), and water (once).
When we get to Job, his “friends” comfort him by suggesting—about ten times—that if his heart were pure, he would not be enduring the terrible tragedies that have befallen him. Their theology is even less helpful than their consolation.
It is David, in Psalm 51:10, who first voices the longing for a pure heart, acknowledging that we all come into this world with a murky one. He recognizes we cannot purify our own hearts any more than gold can purify itself. It takes a work of God’s grace to make a human heart pure. The very desire to have a pure heart is a work of God’s grace.
“Pure heart” carries both negative and positive connotations. Negatively, pure implies that whatever is impure has been removed. Like precious metal that has been refined, a pure heart is one that has been cleansed from all that contaminates. What Wesley liked to call “inward sin” is cleansed when hearts are made pure.
Positively, pure carries the thought of something filled with goodness. A “pure heart” is one filled with unadulterated love. When a bride and groom stand at an altar and commit to love each other, each is in essence saying, “My heart will not be divided, but devoted. I’m all in. Forever.” To truly love one’s spouse is to have one’s heart so filled with devoted love that there is no room for inappropriate affections. Truly loving God results in the same undivided devotion.
In his most famous sermon, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” I always understood “they will see God” to mean one day the pure in heart will go to heaven and their eyes will behold the Almighty. But maybe “they will see God” means the pure in heart will see God right here and right now. Maybe the pure in heart see God, here and now, in a way that others don’t yet see God. Maybe like Moses, the pure in heart get a glimpse of God that others aren’t privy to, and rather than setting a face aglow, it sets a heart aglow with holy devotion. Maybe “they will see God” is not just an eschatological promise signifying something good to come, but a present reality signifying something good has come. Something good, like a pure heart.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)