Sunday, June 1, 2008

Purity of Heart

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

Being "pure in heart" is an interesting concept, since it includes not only an attribute (purity) but also a "location" (the heart).

Moroni 9:6 says:

"O then ye unbelieving, turn ye unto the Lord; cry mightily unto the Father in the name of Jesus, that perhaps ye may be found spotless, PURE, fair, and white, having been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, at that great and last day." (It is worth pointing out here that each of those adjectives appear to be synonyms - that "white" does not denote an actual color, but rather the "absence" of stain.)

In all the scriptural passages I have found, purity deals exclusively with a condition of spotlessness - or cleanliness - or lack of stain. Initially, that seems easy to understand, as it appears at first blush to say nothing more than "sinlessness" - since sins generally are understood to be spiritual stains. However, nothing I read as I perused the Topical Guide and the scriptures listed there led me to look at it that way. The verse does NOT say, "Blessed are the pure - in every way imaginable." It says, "Blessed are the pure - in heart."

So what? Why does that matter?

It matters because of what the "heart" appears to mean. As I read the passages dealing with our hearts, a thought struck me.

Our physical hearts and brains are the source of our physical life. People are considered medically dead when one of two things happens: either their heart stops beating or their brainwaves cease. The brain controls the nerves that allow us to process information and to feel pain - the manifestation of threats to our bodies. On the other hand, our hearts control the flow of blood throughout our bodies, and it is our blood that keeps the rest of our bodies from decaying, rotting, becoming tainted and "impure" - or that spreads infection and disease and eventual death. A healthy brain keeps us "engaged" in life and, through the recognition of pain, able to feel things that threaten our health; a healthy heart keeps us able to function at the best of our capabilities, without the draining result of impurities.

Ever since I can remember, I have equated our heart in these passages simply to our spirit and being pure in spirit as repenting and keeping our spirits clean. It just seemed to make sense, but as I have thought about it for this resolution, I wonder if that is all there is to being "pure in heart". I think perhaps it is, but how do we gain this purity? Is it just a case of eliminating stains from our spirits by exertion of our will? I wonder, perhaps, if being pure in heart means something more. I wonder if it is tied directly to the fresh view of repentance discussed here.

What is the equivalent of blood in our soul? What is it that can course through us and keep us pure - or taint us and make us rot spiritually? I think it might be a connection (or lack thereof) to the Spirit of God manifest to us through the Holy Ghost - "spirit" in a way, but not just OUR individual spirits that joined our mortal bodies to create our unique souls. I read the allegories and visions in our scriptures that constantly describe fruit (the Tree of Life, the allegory of the vineyard, the True Vine, "by their fruits shall ye know them", etc.), and I see the similarity between "blood" and "sap". Just as sap does not keep any tree pure or alive or vital when it is removed from the tree, blood also does not provide purity when it is removed from the body. It can be stored and injected when necessary, but, while it sits isolated from the body, it does no good.

Our spirits, likewise, do us no good if they are isolated from the Holy Ghost. We are taught that the Holy Ghost is a cleanser (e.g., Moroni 6:4) - a purifier. In this context, it appears that we cannot purify ourselves; that we must be purified by regular exposure to the Holy Ghost. (I think this reinforces the alternate view of repentance I described in an earlier post - "A Fresh View of Repentance".) Also, it is when our hearts are connected to the true vine that they are able to bring forth fruit meet for repentance (John 14:1-5; Alma 13:13) - which leads to baptism, which leads to receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, which leads to the companionship of the Holy Ghost, which leads to an infusion of the Spirit of God, which leads to an enlivening connection to God, which leads to "doing the will of God", which leads to becoming like God, which leads to seeing God - not only eventually in the next life, but in ourselves as we become more like Him.

In the end, as I John 3:2 states:

"Beloved, now are we the sons [and daughters] of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." Being connected to God through the Holy Ghost will allow us to do more than see Him "in all that is around us;" it literally will allow us to see Him "as He is".

So, in summary, becoming pure in heart means being connected to the cleansing power of the Holy Ghost - and the result of that purity is the ability to see God's will for us and literally, in one way or another and in this life or another, see God as He is. The key, as stated at the beginning of this post, is to pray diligently to be cleansed and hearken (hear and follow) unto the promptings of the Holy Ghost at all times - to repent by becoming more and more like Him as we go through life.

My next post will deal with learning to recognize those promptings in order to experience the cleansing that leads to the purity that allows us to see God.


Mama D said...

I, too, have generally thought of "being pure in spirit as repenting and keeping our spirits clean." Thanks for expanding my conception to a deeper and more powerfully changing view.

adamf said...

"What is it that can course through us and keep us pure"

This concept is one I have thought a lot about since becoming a father. Parents obviously cannot shield their children from a lot of the evil in the world, but they can work to provide experiences of goodness and of the Spirit in their children's lives. Perhaps not unlike your bucket analogy, if we fill our lives with goodness (in your case, you are working on characteristics) there will not be as much room for the impurities.

Papa D said...

Thanks for those thoughts, mama and adam.

I was struck by something as I read them, so I went back and edited the post. The changes are in the paragraph mama referenced - the one that begins "Ever since I can remember". The changes deal with the bolded and linked parts of that paragraph.

Patty said...

Lately I seem to have equated being "pure in heart" with having pure intentions... a heart that is pure would be free from the contamination of selfishness and sin. Not necessarily just through repentance and being "clean" but also having the pure intention to love others and do good. Since we will always struggle to be sinless I think it's important to recognize that the thoughts, feelings, and intentions behind some of our actions are pure even if our actions are not. I think that we then have a greater opportunity to "see" God. We come to "see" Him for who and what He is as we are filled with loving and pure thoughts and feelings, with no hate, selfishness, sin or other impurities blocking our view.
I really liked your view on it too, though. I especially like the thought that the heart keeps the rest of the body healthy or, on the flip side, spreads infection and disease, and how our connection with the Holy Ghost purifies us.

Papa D said...

I like that addition, Patty, as long as we are talking about the "desires of our heart" being pure and not the classic "good intentions" that never translate into actions.

I have come to realize that we do what we really want to do, so I think we become what we really want to become. If our heart really is pure, our actions will be undertaken from that purity - and we will grow grace to grace toward true perfection as we allow the Holy Ghost to cleanse us more and more.

Thanks for sending my mind in that direction. It really is another way of addressing repentance, in a way - the cleansing of our hearts and desires.

Stephen said...

I think purity is important to allow the love of God to flow through us.