3/09/2014 | Share this article: View CommentsBy undercover agnostic ~
It’s been a year since my first journal entry, chronicling my rather surprising and unanticipated de-conversion. Since then, I have continued attending church out of respect for my believing husband. Yet, philosophically, intellectually, scientifically, and morally, I find the teachings frustrating at best. Even the most benign of passages tend to ruffle my agnostic feathers. For example today, the sermon came from the text in Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Can’t go wrong with the beatitudes, right? I mean these are the more kind and gentle words, allegedly spoken by Jesus, and probably the most frequently quoted. I tried—I really tried to keep an open mind and find my own nugget of truth from this passage. Yet, all I felt was disdain because the “truth” claims being made, not only misrepresent reality but they also contradict other scriptures. Let me break it down to two main themes: Being pure in heart and seeing God.
PURE IN HEART
The pastor claims that to be pure in heart means to have an undivided, all-consuming love for Jesus. Everything we say and do should flow from this single-minded passion. In order to love Jesus above everything and everyone, we must constantly examine what things we spend our time and energy pursuing. If any of our other passions, noble as they may be, compete with our unbridled devotion to God, then we aren’t pure of heart and we will not see God.
In essence, through the arduous process of natural selection, we, as humans, have been granted the sacred privilege of experiencing life through the lens of a very sophisticated brain. Our mental capacity enables us to explore the heights and depths of our amazing universe. Love, intimacy, laughter and tears connect us with fellow humans, who share this journey with us. Woven into the fabric of our DNA, are particular gifts to pursue—remnants of our ancestral inheritance. We possess minds that thirst for knowledge and bodies that long to defy their physical limits. This planet invites us to a smorgasbord of cultures, music, poetry, art, food, and nature to behold with splendid wonder. Our hearts contain the capacity to love many things and many people at the same time with ample room for more.
And yet, to be pure in heart, we are asked to set it all aside and focus our love, attention, time, resources, loyalty and affection toward God alone, an invisible being from another dimension—whom we cannot see, touch, hear, taste or smell. And if we are successful, when we die, the great and powerful Oz will come out from behind the veil and grant us the privilege of seeing him face to face for all eternity.
We are constantly warned that our hearts are idol factories that create new gods for us to worship. As a result, we are forced to keep everything and everyone we love in quarantine. Sometimes we are told, the idol is our own children. Other times it’s our job or favorite pastime. The Christian God is a jealous God who requires nothing less than complete and undefiled devotion.
Is living in a perpetual state of self-denial and personal soul searching, guarding our hearts from daily idolatry lest we bump God off the throne, an accurate measure of spiritual purity? I think a better description of having a pure heart, is one who makes the world a better place through selfless, kind, generous and altruistic attitudes and actions toward others. I’ve met such people and some are believers, but many are not. Shouldn’t these attributes please God, regardless of one’s allegiance or lack thereof to a deity? Yet, Christianity claims that only believers are capable of pleasing, hence, seeing God, no matter how kind and good a person is.
Why can we see him there (heaven), but not here? Is it because we are no longer capable of sinning? And if so, doesn’t that imply we no longer have free will? Then how can God be satisfied with our relationship, for all eternity, knowing that we are now programmed robots, unable to choose whether or not to love him? This would make our painfully flawed existence here on earth virtually unnecessary. In other words if he is capable of perfect union with his creation, then why didn’t he implement it in the first place?
Here’s the irony. The basic Christian message is to love God with our entire heart, mind, soul and strength and to love others to the degree that we love ourselves. A mark of true discipleship, according to the Bible, is to love others so much that we would be willing to die for them. We are also instructed to do everything to our very best ability as if we were doing it for God.
But then, if we actually do any of these things, we are accused of having a divided heart and our motives become suspect. For example, if we often work late in order to meet demanding deadlines or to become a better employee (doing our very best, as unto the Lord) we are criticized for having our priorities in the wrong place. If we skip church in order to take our son to his soccer game, we are accused of making sports our god. In essence we are trapped in a small box, confined to love-but not too much, find happiness- but not too much, pursue dreams-but not too much, and at all times, we must die to self. We mustn’t receive any glory or recognition for ourselves, lest we miss the grand unveiling in the hereafter.
Further, the pastor says, none of us are capable of being pure of heart, unless God does spiritual surgery, by removing our original stony heart with a heart of flesh that has his laws written on it. This happens when we become “born again.” But even with a new heart, we still can’t please God perfectly because we remain sinful. Is the almighty creator of the universe so inept that even the new and improved “nature” he creates, doesn’t work? So, instead of looking at the believer’s impure heart, God considers him/her righteous based on the perfection of his son, Jesus. Christians then, don’t actually need to have a pure heart in order to see God: They need only to believe in Jesus. If this is true, the Sermon on the Mount should’ve gone something like this: (Assuming God and Jesus are two separate beings). “Blessed are those who believe in me (Jesus) whether they have a pure heart or not, for they shall see God. The rest be damned.”
In addition to “spiritually” seeing God in this life, through creation (i.e. Intelligent Design) and through providence, (getting the tax return just in time to buy the new car), the pastor explains that believers are also promised the privilege of literallyaa seeing him face to face, when they die.
What he doesn’t seem to explain is how we can “physically” see God face to face, if he is spirit. How can the eternal God of the universe be contained in one giant body for us to admire?
Secondly, if all people will one day stand before God on the Day of Judgment to receive their fate, and even kneel before him confessing that he is Lord, doesn’t this imply that everyone will see him?
Third, the very idea of “seeing God” seems to conflict with other passages that say no one can see God and live. He’s too big, too powerful, too holy. But, the author who wrote this must not have read the story of Adam and Eve, where God walks and talks with them in the garden just like an old friend. Even after Adam sins, God is still actively present.
But let’s assume the Genesis account is just a myth and no one really has ever physically seen God. (I know it’s a stretch, right?) So what is it about Heaven that makes such a claim possible? Why can we see him there, but not here? Is it because we are no longer capable of sinning? And if so, doesn’t that imply we no longer have free will? Then how can God be satisfied with our relationship, for all eternity, knowing that we are now programmed robots, unable to choose whether or not to love him? This would make our painfully flawed existence here on earth virtually unnecessary. In other words if he is capable of perfect union with his creation, then why didn’t he implement it in the first place?
None of this makes any sense. We could go on a rabbit trail on any one of these points and never find our way back onto the yellow brick road because we are trying to make fiction into reality and it isn’t possible. God is an invisible, transcendent, being, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his attributes, who lives in an invisible kingdom somewhere in outer space and only the pure in heart will see him-of course, only after they are DEAD!
As poetic and sentimental as this beatitude appears, I find the shimmering road to paradise but an illusion and am reminded that all that glitters is not gold. It’s FOOL’S gold and that I CAN see.