Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God. – Matthew 5:8
When modern day western Christian read the verse, we tend to think of this verse as a promise to an uplifting worship experience – we sing of praise songs with loud music and those who have pure hearts enjoy the experience deeper because they can feel God’s presence.
I am quite sure the original audience of the sermon on the mount did not think that way. So what did it mean to “see God” in the first century?
To begin, attempting to see God was (and still is) a fearful, dangerous and often fatal, venture. Our God is a holy God and the bible has ample evidences that even prophets and apostles fell down in mortal fear when they encountered God.
So why would one want to see God? In Chinese there is a phrase “上訪”, which means “upward visit”. Imagine you are a poor Chinese peasant. A powerful real estate developer took your farm by force and bribery. What are your options? You can try sue the real estate developer in the district court. That usually does not bring favorable results. What you would need to do is to take the train to Beijing and make your appeal to the officials in the central government. Maybe you can find the sympathetic ears of some one who is powerful enough to make a difference.
The situation of the original audiences of Jesus probably resonates closer to the poor peasants of China than to praise singing worshipers. They were poor Jewish peasants being oppressed by both their own religious leaders and the Roman government.
The message of Jesus to those people was “God is King”. The Kingdom of God is here, and God is in charge. He is making judgement from His throne. You, though you are poor and powerless, can see Him and plead your case to Him as long as your heart is pure. He is our advocate, we are no longer helpless.
Why would you want to see God? When you see Him, what is your plead?
One thing I learned when I was in China this summer is, they check your id on every single transportation route to Beijing to make sure you are not in the black list of 上訪者。They will stop you from getting into Beijing if you are in the list.