This post was originally written for The Luke Society‘s blog, anticipating a global audience of their Christian ministry directors doing medicine among the poorest of the poor in their countries.
We experienced something remarkable in the United States last week. There was deep disagreement about which of the candidates should be allowed to take the presidential helm for four years. Much anxiety led up to the election that resulted in a win for Donald Trump. In aftermath, many people are grieving. I do not hear much victory talk from the other side. It is very unusual for the “winners” to be as subdued as they are. They do not feel proud of their candidate.
What impresses me is that such a large portion of the populace is paying attention to something seldom discussed in the public arena: our ways of being. A lot of the talk before the election was not about political policies and platforms. It focused on the candidates’ way of being. We were disturbed by the ways that they talked about each other, and stories of how they have treated people in the past. We want to look up to our leaders, not cringe at their behavior.
“The deepest way in which we are right or wrong is in our way of being toward others.”[i] How often have we commented on someone’s leadership skills, noting that we do not take issue with their stance but rather with the way in which they push it on others and defend it.
In the absence of other viable choices, many people said that they were voting for their candidates’ policies, not their character. How sad. I suspect that the great anxiety surrounding their campaigns brought out the worst, not the best, in the nominees. They allowed their hearts to be overtaken by the quest for power.
I find hope in the reactions of many of my fellow citizens. They recognize that this is not how we are meant to conduct ourselves. Many have expressed a desire to be more united, more compassionate, more understanding of each other. I like to think that this arises from the imago dei within every person.
I accepted an invitation to gather at the home of a passionate young woman whose preferred candidate lost in the primary elections. She and her friends are disillusioned about the future of our society. They needed to grieve together. As we talked about the divisiveness in our land, I made a plea for us to strive for loving relationships, to see others as persons and not merely objects representing a stance we cannot abide. The young man seated next to me said that he realizes he needs to do this, but he has no idea how to begin. I sensed a yearning for good teachers to show him how to do this.
Jesus Christ our Savior is our beloved, wise, teacher. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” he said. Pure hearts do not hold onto resentment. They are soft, malleable, often broken. They are open hearts, intent on listening and understanding. They are hearts at peace, for they have been washed and made new by the One who loves them without condition. They contain hope, love, and joy.
Many make the mistake of thinking that such hearts are too soft, sentimental, weak. What they have yet to learn is that pure hearts are strong and enduring. They are not easily invaded by threats of danger. They persist in expanding and embracing the other even when the risk of injury seems obvious.
Hearts that are pure continuously flow with God’s love that cleanses them, enlivens them, and washes into the hearts of the neighbors they serve. In this case I am not imagining purity of substance, but of form. Think of a conduit that is straight and true, completely clean so as not to impede that which flows through it. Because it is pure, the force of love is not slowed by it, clearing away any detritus that might otherwise linger from secret sin or tainted memory. Such a heart has great capacity. It needs not reserve any of the love that courses through it, as the flow itself gives life to the vessel.
A pure heart will not get you elected to public office in my country, I’m afraid. It is regarded as a sign of weakness. Yet it was a pure heart that hung on the cross and in so doing, changed the world. Indeed, pure hearts change the world today. God is using the pure-hearted vessels of his people everywhere to give life and offer hope in every corner.
I must not leave Jesus’ observation incomplete: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Yes, they will. They will see what God sees, and respond with love. They will see “the least of these” and know that Jesus’ face is hidden there. Their way of being will be the way of love, and it will call forth the image of God in others. Thanks be to God for showing us the way of being pure-hearted in a hard-hearted world.
[i] (Author not given) The Anatomy of Peace, 2015. (Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers), p. 59.