“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3
If we had only the first Beatitude I believe we could construct the entirety of the Christian faith. I’ll give it a try.
First, we find that God wants to bless us. This Greek word, and its Hebrew parallel, mean something akin to happiness, but much more. God is not interested in cursing or smiting us, but blessing us. He longs to do that. At the very least that means that He is positively predisposed to us. He doesn’t look at us in disgust, but with a deep and loving desire to bless us.
I said blessedness is much more than surface-level happiness. Here’s what I mean. I can live without happiness, but not without blessedness. The plain fact of life is that difficulties are certain but they are not my undoing. Instead, they are a means of growth. Trials strengthen. I arrive at the other end of a dark valley with an abiding sense that I was never alone. That is joy, which is far better and more eternal than happiness.
So we can see initially that we have a God who longs to bless us, and that the challenges of life do not obstruct His goal but actually enhance it.
Second, this foundational Beatitude tells us that receiving this blessedness is a matter of being poor in spirit. That doesn’t sound very attractive. To get any position in life, we try to present the very best face possible. But here we apparently show up before God with warts and all. The paradox deepens. Being powerless before God does not mean our humiliation, but rather our exaltation. At our weakest God reveals His power.
Ironically, but very predictably, we resist doing what will heal us. We trust in our ego, and will do almost anything to defend ourselves from the truth of our incapacity because we fear it will be painful. We almost inevitably cling to what must be removed or changed. This common denial enslaves us all.
The alternative is to be poor in spirit, and thus cast ourselves completely into God’s hands. Instead of finding condemnation and rejection, we find forgiveness and grace. The smiling God of blessing reveals Himself as a tender Father who accepts us in our weakness and begins to exalt us.
Finally, through this process we find that we have gained the kingdom of heaven. It is “ours.” I believe Jesus meant that heaven is the home we have always sought. We hear the vaguest echoes of it in various pleasures and pursuits but make the mistake of scrambling after more pleasures and pursuits. If we simply surrender and turn to God, then we find the object of our longing. We are home.
The core of Christianity involves a fundamental surrender and paradox. We give up and gain. We die and live. The German mystic Meister Eckhart said the spiritual life has much more to do with subtraction than addition. The first Beatitude takes us to the very heart of Christ, to whom we surrender all and receive everything.
Dr. Terry Ellis
January 24, 2015