Lust and the Pure in Heart
Matt 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
I want to get one thing clear, right from the start. When Jesus said “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” he was NOT speaking exclusively about purity in relation to sexuality. That is a mistake. Purity of heart is far broader than that! In fact sexuality is not even the primary area in which purity of heart is required of us. It is important, and it is addressed by Jesus, but to limit purity of heart to sexuality is a huge mistake that we will not make.
Very likely Jesus took the phrase about purity of heart and the idea of seeing God from Psalm 24:
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
4 Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
and do not swear deceitfully.
Here, lifting up your soul in worship to what is false and swearing falsely are both ways of speaking about idol worship. A pure heart is one that is exclusively devoted to the one true and living God, the God of Israel.
Nevertheless, we are in a series on the Beatitudes of Jesus, his central, fundamental teaching which he gave in his famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. In this series we have been pairing one of Jesus’ Beatitudes with one of the 7 primary obstacles to living as Jesus taught which, through the centuries, the church has identified as the “Seven Deadly Sins:” Pride, Envy, Sloth, Greed, Lust, Wrath, and Gluttony. And so, if we had to choose which of the deadly sins is an obstacle to having a pure heart, certainly lust would apply.
And even though purity of heart does not exclusively apply to sexuality, certainly it is included, and in fact Jesus does go on to address lust in his Sermon on the Mount as we have just read, also from Matthew 5.
Beginning at the Beginning
We need to begin at the beginning. “Good, good, very good” is what Genesis tells us was God’s evaluation of the physical world he created. He made humans, male and female, both, it says, “in his image” (or in Greek, in his “ikon”) and said they were “very good.” Sexuality was God’s idea. In the Genesis account, God places the first man and woman in a perfect garden and says to them, in their state of perfection before they bit the apple, “be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen. 1) Human sexuality is God’s idea, it is good, and blessed.
The original sin was not sex. According to Genesis, the original sin was “wanting to be like God.” The first result of sin was shame. Shame was not the original state we were meant to live in – it is a fallen condition from which we need deliverance. Nevertheless, sexuality itself is one of God’s good gifts.
In my Sunday School class we are studying the Song of Songs, or the Song of Solomon, which is a celebration of the goodness of human desire, attraction, and love. The Song acknowledges how powerful a force it is, as the lover exclaims:
Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a raging flame. (Song 8:6)
How true – a raging fire; wonderful in a fireplace or an oven, but horrible when the house catches fire and is destroyed. Love, desire, attraction, human sexuality is very much like a fire, both good and dangerous.
The Heart is the Issue
The connection between purity of heart and lust was made by Jesus himself. He located the origin of the single most powerful marriage-breaking action, adultery, in the heart. Let us be clear, Jesus is not condemning sexual attraction, which is built into our genes. Literally translated his words are:
“Whoever keeps looking, (or) whoever is staring at a woman in order to lust after her, has already broken his marriage in his heart.” (see F. D. Bruner, The Christbook, p. 183)
If love is a fire, then indulging in lustful fantasy is throwing kindling on the fire. The opposite is required of disciples of Jesus. In fact there is no such thing as passivity as an option. Love is too strong a fire, as the Song of Songs says; “passion is as fierce as the grave.” And so concerted resistance is required. Even though we all know that gouging out an eye and cutting off a hand is hyperbole, exaggeration for effect, we should take it’s intended shock-value to heart.
In order to resist the raging fire of passion, bold resistance action is necessary. We do not fan the flame; we avert our eyes. There are places we will not go, media we will not watch, internet sites that we reject. We take Jesus’ warning with all the strength his dramatic words intend. This is serious business.
In this respect, we are called to be dramatically counter-cultural. But so were the early Christians. Roman mores were as loose as Western values. Sex was available everywhere then as it is in our culture. Nevertheless, we are called to a higher standard. We are called to have pure hearts.
Jesus pronounced a blessing on the pure in heart; he said “for they will see God.” What could he have meant? One of the fundamental facts every good Jewish person knows is that no one can see God and live. Israel’s God is invisible. He is not allowed to be represented visually in any form, according to the second commandment. All images of God are forbidden.
Except one. There is one image of God that is allowed. Listen to this text, which may need to be heard again, for the first time:
26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
27 So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (Gen. 1)
The closest we will ever come to seeing God is when we look at people that he made in his image.
What does it mean that humans, male and female, are made in the image of God. Of course it does not mean that we look like God physically, that God has arms and legs; but then what does this image consist of?
Dominion over Creation
The Genesis text does not leave us guessing; it says precisely what this means. God, as Creator, has dominion over all that he has made. He has control. He is able to use his Creation as he wishes.
He has granted dominion, like his dominion, to his human creations. He has allowed men and women to use his creation for our benefit. He has given us “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
We humans, have the God-like capacity of dominion over creation. We are able to use God’s physical world for our benefit. Does this give us license to abuse God’s creation? Are we allowed to harm this good world God made? Of course not; how absurd an idea that would be. As if having created this good world God lost interest in its welfare. No, we are responsible for how we use his world, but we are allowed to use it.
Limits to Dominion
But where does our dominion stop? What part of God’s world are we not given dominion over? What is left off of the list of the biosphere that we are given god-like dominion over? Each other. We were never granted dominion over other people.
In fact it is only after Adam and Eve sinned that we hear about humans dominating other humans. After they sinned God lists the negative consequences of their choice of disobedience. Adam is told of the difficulty he will have producing food from the ground; it will cost him the sweat of his brow. Eve is told that now she will have pain in childbirth. If that were not bad enough, she is told:
“your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Gen. 3:16).
Now that the world has become corrupted by evil, now that innocence has been lost, one gender, made in God’s image, exercises dominion over another gender, equally made in God’s image. Now in this corrupted state, one treats another as something useful; one treats another as a means, rather than as an end.
What the Pure in Heart See
The pure in heart see what is true, as God sees. The pure in heart do not look at other humans as means to their ends, to use for their own purposes. The pure in heart look at other people, regardless of gender, or race, or any condition, and see the icon of God, the most God-like creature God made.
And so the pure in heart cannot look at each other as objects, useful for our own gratification. This is why purity of heart includes sexual purity as well. The pure in heart do not look at others as kindling wood for their own raging fire.
And this is why purity of heart is not limited to sexual purity. The pure in heart do not look at humans as means to ends in any way, economic or political or in any way. Rather the pure in heart see the icon of God in each other.
We are compelled to treat each and every human on this fragile planet with dignity and respect. We care about how each one is treated. We are saddened to hear that some of these icons of God are hungry. We are alarmed when we see poverty and suffering. We are horrified when some are dominated and abused by others. We decry violence and discrimination as if there were levels of the image of God and some the right to dominate others.
But we are disciples of Jesus. We affirm the counter-cultural belief that the pure in heart are blessed, because they have their eyes open, they see the world as God sees.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”