I love a good murder mystery. On TV and in books. Miss Marple on Hulu is my favorite show right now. That lady can knit and solve murders like no other. When we first got the kids my favorite book series was Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Murder Series. There was a while there when the struggles of dealing with our foster agency and the children’s bio family stressed me out completely. The books were the perfect escape (except for book Z. Sad there’s never gonna be a Z). There was something incredibly satisfying about a victim getting justice and the bad guy getting caught. What I love the most is the big reveal of WHY. Why did the bad guy do it?
I’m the type of person who can handle a person’s actions if I understand what motives them. I can be more empathetic and kind when I know the internal struggle they’re facing. Which is also what gets me in trouble sometimes. I speculate too much on the intentions behind a behavior. I also tend to assign more negative intentions. Growing up in an Independent Southern Baptist Church gave me an unhealthy suspicion of people’s motives. Jeremiah 17:9 was bandied about more than it should have been with regard to explaining away a person’s behavior. Growing up hearing, “The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, who can know it.” definitely’s put mistrust in my mind when I grapple with a friend or family’s mistreatment. I tend to lean toward believing the worst in someone when I’ve been hurt. I take it personally and think they don’t like me or are only in it for themselves. Sean has his own theory. He says it’s because I see the glass half empty. He sees the glass half full. To which I say, “See we’re perfect for each other. Together we’ve got a full glass!”
Which is why I find Matthew 5:8 so frustrating. In all honesty, when I started meditating and writing on this verse I really didn’t like it. I’m a fan now but wasn’t at first. I grappled with it because it’s the only one of the BE-attitudes that speaks to the internal life not the external. “Happy are the people with pure hearts, because they will see God.” It’s the only BE Happy verse that’s open to interpretation or judgments. It’s easy to tell when someone is being harassed or is utterly heartbroken. It’s also fairly simple to see a person struggling through a hopeless situation. But as soon as a person says they are pure-hearted we all tend to start questioning their motives. It’s because being pure-hearted is on the inside. It’s not something you can easily see. So how do you know when someone’s being pure hearted? That their motives come from a place of honesty and honor? Is that our job to question what motivates another person? In the same respect, how can you tell when you’re being pure-hearted? That’s my dilema. This is what keeps me up at night now.
To break down this problem into manageable pieces. Let’s answer the most important question first. Are we supposed to question the motives of others? Maybe not, but we all do it. (Actually, it’s for sure NOT. We’re not supposed to do it.) How do I know? The answer lies in the second part of Matthew 5:8 “Happy are the pure-hearted for they will see God.” Not others. Not inherit the earth or be comforted. Those are saved for other BE Happys. This happy is vertical. Not horizontal. It’s between us and God. Them and God. Not them and us.
Easy to answer. But not to do. Let’s set it aside for a moment and answer the next question. How can you tell when you’re pure-hearted? How can you be happy with your choices? Start with honesty--which is a synonym of pure-hearted. Both work much the same way. When you’re honest or pure-hearted there’s nothing else--emotion, desire, motivation -- standing in your way. Like black coffee. It’s pure. But as soon as you add even one drop of creamer that changes the taste, texture, color of the coffee. Our efforts to live this life are the same.
It starts with honesty. Others may not appreciate what you’re doing or saying. They can be all judgy and condemnational. (A new word I just made that speaks to the level of rancor you experience from others around the country on the internet. Twitter is the worst!) But it’s not about them. This is between you and God.
What does that even look like?
A rather astounding interaction between Jesus and Nathanael is found at the end of John chapter 1 and it’s the story of how Nathanael came to follow Jesus.
The Message Bible puts it this way:
“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. When he got there, he ran across Phillip and said, “Come, follow me.” (Phillip’s hometown was Bethsaida, the same as Andrew and Peter.) Phillip went and found Nathanael and told him, “We’ve found the One Moses wrote of in the Law, the One preached about in the prophets. It’s Jesus, Joseph’s son, the one from Nazareth!”
Nathanael said, “Nazareth? You’ve got to be kidding.” But Phillip said, “Come, see for yourself.” When Jesus saw him coming he said, “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.” Nathanael said, “Where did you get that idea? You don’t know me.”
Jesus answered, “One day, long before Phillip called you here, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi! You are the Son of God, the King of Israel!”
I find this exchange so interesting for two reasons. 1) This is the very first chapter of John. Jesus hadn’t even done his first miracle yet here is a man who proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God based simply on the fact that Jesus knew about a time when Nathanael sat under a fig tree. In my mind, this is sort of a miracle in its own right. We see this in Nathanael’s response. Whatever he was thinking about that long ago time under the fig tree must have really been significant for him to remember it and for Jesus to bring it up. I think the clue is in what Jesus calls him—a man in which there is not a false bone in his body or in him is no deceit (NIV version). I wonder if this was something Nathanael internally struggled with and low and behold there was a Man who knew about it and was instantly able to reassure him regarding his secret worry.
2) I also appreciate the fact that when Jesus called Nathanael He already knew this man’s deepest fear/worry as well as the most significant moment in Nathanael’s life. And Jesus did it really subtlety. He picked the one moment in time that Nathanael probably spent lots of time thinking about—a time in which Nathanael parked himself under a fig tree to wrestle out and maybe even prayed over that fear. Jonah had a time like that back in the Old Testament day and Jesus does it later in His ministry.
I think we’ve all been under a fig tree at some point in our lives. I know I have. I don’t know what persuaded Jesus to mention it right off the bat but I wonder if He figured something like this, “This man will be an awesome leader for me but he’s held back by his perception of himself. Let’s just clear this up right now.”
I am thankful that the Lord sees these moments, dilemmas in my life and similar to the exchange with Nathanael cares enough to bring it up and reassure me. I’m so glad for people like Phillip who invited his friend and for Nathanael who was brave enough to get off his duff and come.
What motivates you?
I see you. El Roi-the God who sees. Hagar called Him this name after the LORD comforted her at her lowest life moment and prepared her for what was to come. I'm thankful an honest, pure heart does the same for us. It ushers us into God's presence. That He sees us. Once there, God delightfully ignites a hunger for righteousness for ourselves and others that only He can satisfy. Matthew 5:6. Happy Are the Hungry….