Thursday, August 14, 2008

BEATIFIC BEATITUDE

Matthew 5:8 and the mystic vision of God

By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

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

If we were to see God, what might deity look like? In a metaphorical borrowing from the imagery of the biblical Tabernacle, The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ describes both the process for and image of discovering the god within. That gospel advises,

"Look deep into the temple of your brain, and you will see it all aglow . . . and you are in the Holiest of All, where rests the Ark of God, whose covering is the Mercy Seat. . . . And then, behold the manna there, the hidden bread of life; and he who eats shall never die. The cherubim have guarded well for every soul this treasure box, and whosoever will may enter in and find his own."[1]

Upon such a visage within, the mystic exclaims, "Eureka! God lives in my brain!" The specter of such a god issues from an assumption that people can look for and find their indwelling divinity. But because they are unconsciousness of that "presence," the mass of people go through life ignorant of it. Thus, to realize their higher-self, people need to develop their consciousness of the Christ within by employing certain meditative practices and techniques through which the soul can be purified and see God. As one Hindu website explains, "Men and women, in their essential nature, are divine. We do not feel this divinity because of our ignorance." Then citing Matthew 5:8, the site goes on to say,

"The only goal of our lives is to realize this divinity. It is possible to realize the divinity by removing the ignorance, just as Jesus said: 'Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God'."
[2]


Eastern mystics thus claim to follow Jesus' prescription for finding the god within. By ridding their souls of "this-worldly" distractions and attractions, they believe they will create a spiritual climate in which to see God. As one Hindu devotee explains,

"The meaning of this beatitude is that those whose consciousness is posited at the center of their being (spirit), without there being any 'thing' in their awareness but that pure consciousness itself, are 'seeing' God."[3]

So, it must be asked, what might the Bible believing Christian think about the use of Matthew 5:8 to endorse such spirituality? Against the backdrop of the rest of the Scriptures, how might we understand Jesus' words?

To begin with, any such vision of God has neither the endorsement nor authority of Scripture behind it. Though they do not portray God to be unknowable, the Scriptures do describe Him to be un-seeable. As the apostle wrote, God "alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see" (1 Timothy 6:16; See 1 John 4:12; Exodus 33:17-23.). Jesus taught that vision of God belonged to Him and to Him alone (John 6:46; Compare John 1:18.). From the Scriptures, we understand that, apart from Jesus' incarnation, God cannot be seen by any person. The seeing of God the Father belongs to Jesus who, by His incarnation, mediates the visage of God to man (Colossians 1:15). People did not and will not see God, except in and through Jesus Christ. While the Scriptures do teach that one day Christians will see God the Son (1 John 3:2), they do not teach that they will see God the Father. Even in eternity, Jesus Christ will mediate the vision of God to the redeemed (Revelation 22:4). As Jesus told Phillip: *"He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).[4]

So, how might we understand the meaning of this beatific beatitude? Is Jesus advocating purgation of heart in order to enter a realm consciousness in which the divine becomes visible? Insight into the question rests upon two points: first—what it means to be "pure in heart"; and second—what it means to "see God."

TO BE PURE IN HEART

Ancient Jews commonly thought that cleanliness approached unto godliness (Matthew 23:25-28). Characteristically, Jews concerned themselves with ritual washings or baptisms (Hebrews 6:2), some of which were, in light of the demands of Old Testament law, justified. Jesus however, exhorted His followers to pursue purity. He was more concerned with His disciples' hearts than their hands. As the Psalmist asked, "Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who may stand in His holy place?" and then answered, "He who has clean hands and a pure heart" (Emphasis mine, Psalm 24:3-4a).

But any attempt at self-purification presents a real problem for a humanity whose hearts are mired in depravity. Is there any prospect that humans can, by their own initiative and effort, purge themselves of depravity? In speaking about what comes out of the human mouth, Jesus did not flatter the human heart. He said, "But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders" (Matthew 15:18-19; Compare John 2:24-25.). Thus, the attempt to rid our hearts of moral impurity appears to be an unrealistic task this side of the perfection which awaits us in eternity.

In every instance where other New Testament writers mention the word "pure" it refers to a heart that is simple, sincere, and undivided, a heart possessing no self-righteousness or mixed motives. For example, church leaders must hold to "the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience" (1 Timothy 3:9). In their heart of hearts, they must really believe what they say they do. Paul also instructed Timothy to, "follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2 Timothy 2:22). Inconsequential prayer originates from hearts with mixed motives (James 4:2-3). But those who possess pure hearts approach God without pretense, knowing their helpless state apart from Him (See Titus 1:15-16.). As one scholar summarizes, the "pure in heart" are they "who recognize that God is their only hope."[5]

The difference between an impure heart and a pure heart can bee seen in Jesus' parable of "The Pharisee and the Publican" (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee came to God smug in his self-righteousness, thinking he was better than others. He was not desperate before God. The tax-collector, on the other hand, came to God in desperation. He was not looking for a self-help gospel, or seeking to see a god within. In fact, he turned his face away from heaven, flagellated his chest, and cried out, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner!" (Luke 18:13). With singular intent and desperation of heart, the sinner knew he needed a Savior, and that was all there was to it. He was pure in heart. Unlike the Pharisee, he was no hypocrite.

TO SEE GOD

We now turn to consider the second aspect of the beatitude, and ask, what does it mean for a person to "see God"? The New Testament employs three basic words, variously translated, for sight. Two of the Greek words (blepo and theoreo) describe sensual seeing, while the other (horao), though describing sight, also denotes spiritual perception and experience.[6] When placed against the backdrop of God’s "un-see-able-ness," this is how seeing God in Matthew 5:8 should be understood. Jesus is speaking of spiritual understanding. Those who, like the Publican, come to God with simplicity of heart will experience His presence. Those who, like the Pharisee, come to Him in a spirit of self-righteousness will not. In this beatitude Jesus did not mean that people might catch a phenomenal vision of God by developing inner purity, for as the Jerome Bible Commentary states, see "does not signify what in theology is called the 'beatific vision,' but admission to the presence of God."[7]

Jesus said: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3; See 2 Corinthians 5:17.). To see "the kingdom of God" is to experience God's presence, authority, and reign in one's life; and it stands to reason that, if persons cannot experience God's kingdom below without being born from above, then neither can they experience God within without being born from above. The personal experience of God depends upon looking without oneself (as the Publican), and not at or within oneself (as the Pharisee). When the intent is pure, then God by His sovereign grace will enable those who are destitute of heart to experience His presence. It is untenable that in this beatitude Jesus stated that self-purgation is a prerequisite for obtaining a phenomenal vision of God inside one's head.

Furthermore, visions of or experiences with the Lord in the Bible were not necessarily blissful or comfortable (i.e., beatific). Peter, when he became aware of whose presence he was in, "fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!'" (Luke 5:8). When Isaiah saw the Lord he exclaimed, "Woe is me, for I am ruined!" (Isaiah 6:5). Obviously, the prophet's vision of the Lord, which incidentally was external to him, did not depend upon any purity of heart he was able to conjure up. Rather, upon seeing the Lord "the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted," the prophet became convicted of his heart’s impurity!

CONCLUSION

An eastern mystic can become "inflated without cause by his fleshly mind," having taken "his stand on visions he has seen . . . not holding fast to the head [to Christ]" (Colossians 2:18b-19a, NASB). The Bible predicts however, that one future day the world will see the Son of God. As The Revelation of Jesus Christ describes, "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen" (Revelation 1:7, KJV). This sighting of God will not be private or esoteric (inside oneself), but public and exoteric (outside oneself).

If we are looking to see God, we must wait. As Peter wrote: "[T]hough you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory" (1 Peter 3:8). As Paul wrote: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known" (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Meanwhile, "we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7).


Pastor Larry DeBruyn is author of Church on the Rise: Why I am not a Purpose-Driven Pastor.
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FOOTNOTES
[1] Levi H. Dowling, The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, Section VIII: Cheth: Life and Works of Jesus in Persia, 1920, Chapter 40, Verses 16, 19, 23, 24, (http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/agjc/agjc43.htm). This book is an extensive Gnostic reworking of the Jesus story with strong Theosophical and Spiritualist influences
[2] "What is Vedanta?" Vedanta Society of New York (http://www.vedanta-newyork.org/vedanta.htm).
[3] Swami Nirmalananda Giri, "Om Yoga and the Bible," Atma Jyoti (http://www.atmajyoti.org/me_om_yoga_and_bible.asp).
[4] If ever a request of His disciples annoyed Jesus, this might have been it.
[5] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 170.
[6] For example, Hebrews says that, "By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see (horao) death . . ." (Emphasis mine, Hebrews 11:5). The sense of "see" is that Enoch did not experience death. The three words for sight are juxtaposed to each other in John 20:4-9. The Gospel reads that an unidentified disciple who ran ahead of Peter to the empty tomb (presumably, John), looked in without entering it and "saw (blepo) the linen wrappings lying there"; shortly after, Peter arrived and "beheld (theoreo) the linen wrappings lying there"; and then, entering the tomb, the unidentified disciple "saw (horao) and believed" --his seeing provoking faith. To see God, a person must look for Him through the lens of simple believing.
[7] Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmeyer and Roland Edmund. The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1996) S. 2:70. The commentators cite Matthew 18:10 to support that "see" can denote presence: "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven" (Emphasis mine, KJV).