In his book, The Big Ego Trip, Glynn Harrison, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry, University of Bristol, UK, writes of the way the self-esteem ideology has led to a culture of narcissism and entitlement. Dr. Harrison observes, ‘On almost any measure you care to mention – precision of terminology, evidence of beneficial effect, potential for harm, philosophical integrity – self-esteem ideology promised big, but delivered small. It’s time to turn back and set out on a different path…’ (p.130).
He continues: ‘…I believe the Christian worldview provides the coherent narrative that we long for’ (p.130f).
Why would an eminent professor of psychiatry suggest this? What does Christianity offer?
Genesis. It’s said today that in order to live life to the full we need first to learn to love and forgive ourselves. But the Bible sees things very differently as we learn from Genesis 1.
Confusion exists over Genesis because, influenced by a culture of science, we ask the wrong question. Genesis is not interested in the how of creation. It is concerned with the who and the what. The Bible narrative begins by telling us that God created all things and that everything has its origin and meaning in him.
Image-bearers. Furthermore, we learn that God created men and women in his image (1:26ff). We are the glory of his work. And unlike other ancient creation accounts, we’re not a final emanation, created to serve the needs of the god(s). Rather, God has ordered everything in such a way that, under him, we have the responsibility and joy of overseeing his creation. As C.S. Lewis put it in his Narnia series, we are royalty. As rulers under God, we are expected to learn from him, to trust him and to find our meaning and purpose in him.
However, as Genesis unfolds, we learn that the glorious hopes for humanity are dashed. In chapter 3 tragedy enters the scene of perfection and peace. Failing to follow God’s command, men and women succumb to the temptations to be independent of God, to indulge their appetites, and to see themselves as gods. The innocent joy in their relationships with God and with one another is shattered. Tainted now by self-interest, we have a strange capacity for both good and evil. If we’re honest, we know we deserve to be judged. The dread shadow of death now hovers over us all.
But there is a ray of hope. Genesis chapter 3 holds out a clue, indicating that hopelessness and death need not be the end of our story.
Many centuries later, a remarkable birth occurred. It is recorded by two witnesses – Matthew, a Jewish tax-collector, and Luke, a non-Jewish physician. Astonishing though it is, both reveal that with the birth of Jesus, divinity came amongst us. The names the baby was given are significant: Jesus means God saves, and Emmanuel means God with us. Jewish and Roman historians of the time reference Jesus but it is Matthew, Mark, Luke and John who fill out the details.
Jesus’ public ministry focuses on the kingdom, or the rule of God. Jesus is unique in history – in the purity and integrity of his life, the power of his words, his compassion for the needy, and in his unexpected capitulation to the deceit of the Jewish authorities and the power of Rome. Yet, it was through his death and resurrection that Jesus the Messiah opened the door to life in all its fullness for anyone who turns to him in repentance and in faith.
This is the Jesus whose counter-intuitive Sermon on the Mount includes the Beatitudes that we are considering in this podcast series.
The sixth Beatitude reads: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” (Mt 5:8).
Throughout the Bible the heart speaks of who we are.
Purity of heart is something God has always expected of his people. In Psalm 24, King David asks, Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? To which he had answered: Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully…
God, the maker of heaven and earth is holy. Indeed, when Isaiah, one of the great prophets saw a vision of the heavenly throne room, he exclaimed, not “Wow”, but rather, “Woe is me, … for I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). And the prophet Jeremiah chillingly speaks of the human heart as being deceitful … and desperately wicked… (Jeremiah 17:9).
And Jesus concurs: “… It is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23).
How then can anyone be pure in heart?
It’s important to read Jesus’ words in the context of all the Beatitudes. Purity of heart is not a work nor a legalistic piety that will open the door into God’s presence. Rather, in the flow of the Beatitudes, we are blessed when we are aware of our spiritual bankruptcy and our need for salvation (Mt 5:3), when we weep over our sin and the sins of the world (Mt 5:4), and when we hunger and thirst for righteousness (Mt 5:6).
Purity of heart is the outworking of the salvation that Christ alone has achieved for us. The Letter to the Hebrews says to believers: Make every effort… to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
God now expects the hearts of his people to be pure. Ask yourself, ‘What it is that I think about when we put away my phone? Do I let my mind linger on images that have tempted me? What dominates my private thoughts? To what extent is my true inner self expressed in my words and actions?’
Furthermore, how do I view myself? Where do I look for meaning and purpose? Do I crave self-esteem through self-help mantras or the praise of others? Or do I thank the Lord because he has adopted me as his son or daughter? Do I now pray for his grace to live with a pure heart taught by his Word?
While seeing God in all his glory is in the future for us, we can experience something of it now. For as we see and delight in the rightness of his ways, so our hearts will be drawn into a deeper love for him. To know God is to have his Spirit, the Spirit of the Lord Jesus within us, the Spirit who assures us that we can call God, Abba, Father. No wonder Glynn Harrison wrote that the Christian worldview provides the coherent narrative that we long for.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
© John G. Mason – October 21, 2020
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New – ‘An Anglican Understanding of the Bible’: https://anglicanconnection.com/gods-word-written-an-anglican-understanding-of-the-bible/
Coming February 2-3, 2021 – Anglican Connection Online Conference
‘The Majestic Glory in a World of Change: The Unchanging God of Love & Beauty, Goodness, Justice & Compassion’
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