“Purity of heart,” Søren Kiekegaard once said, “is to will one thing.”
An interesting idea, isn’t it, since purity of heart is generally thought of as something approaching sinlessness, and to will one thing—and only one thing—seems, well, a bit obsessive. I mean, aren’t we all striving for balance in our lives? Isn’t that the goal that is put before us as we strive for a lifestyle that approaches sanity?
In the biblical world, the heart was the center of a person’s will. It wasn’t where you “fell in love,” but where you chose to love as an act of your will. So maybe Kierkegaard was onto something here. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” Jesus said, “for they will see God.” So by Kierkegaard’s definition, Jesus is saying, “Blessed are those who want only one thing: to see God; for they are the only ones who will.”
The writer of Hebrews tells us to “lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin that so easily entangles us, and run with perseverance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Therein lies a pretty good pattern to follow.
“Lay aside every encumbrance…” Imagine a person lining up to run a long-distance race wearing blue jeans with a smart-phone clipped to their leather belt, a wallet in one back pocket and an iPod in the other pocket, with a backpack containing their laptop, a bottle or two of water, a couple of energy bars, and their new Kindle so they can read a novel while they run. OK, I can’t imagine that. When you run a race, you’re looking to shed extra weight, not add it. You wear the least amount of clothing that decency and outside temperatures allow, you depend on the water stations for hydration so you don’t have to carry any water, and you don’t carry anything at all.
Encumbrances are the good things in our lives that tend to pile up over time, demanding our attention and burning our energy until we are so busy doing good things that we have neither time nor energy for the best thing. We become unfocused, and winning the race—or even finishing the race—is no longer the goal; we just want to survive the race.
“…and the sin that so easily entangles us…” In our culture sin seems to be viewed as something that breaks somebody else’s rather arbitrary code of morality so that we won’t find ourselves engaged in anything pleasurable or even fun. And maybe the way that the church has often dealt with certain types of conduct that, in the end, are rather trivial, has contributed to this mistaken idea. But mistaken it is. The biblical concept of sin is as something that not only gets in the way of what you most need and want, but actually defeats Pizza is an enjoyable meal from time to time, but for a person hoping to win a race, pizza gets in the way. A runner who can’t control their desire for junk food is one who will never see their desire to win the race come to pass. Junk food defeats their desire to win. And this is an apt analogy, because the writer of Hebrews says that sin entangles, just as my desire for ice cream, potato chips, and hamburgers seems to sometimes take over and entangle me in its snares. (Seriously, have you tried Grandma Utz’s Kettle Chips? They entangle me every time.) you in your pursuit.
There are things in our lives that aren’t good, and they not only get in the way, they defeat our best intentions and entangle us in self-defeating habits.
“…run with perseverance…” I wrote about perseverance a couple of weeks ago, so I won’t say much here, just that none of this is easy, and there will be setbacks, and some days the best you can do is not give up. And you know what? That is no small thing.
“…fixing our eyes on Jesus….” Fixing our eyes on Jesus, not being distracted by all the other things, some good, some not so good, but none as good as the best thing, which is to want what God wants. And Jesus shows us not only what God wants, but how to want it and the path to follow to get there.
I was going to write that our biggest problem is a kind of spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder, but that’s only part of the problem. Spiritual ADD might cause us to want more than one thing, but maybe our problem isn’t that we want more than one thing, but that we don’t really want the one best thing—to see God.
Maybe the real problem is IDD—Intentional Deficit Disorder. Maybe the reason we don’t see God is because we never really intended it.
“Blessed are the pure in heart.”