Pure in Heart

Today we’re talking about Jesus’ saying “Blessed are the Pure in Heart, for they shall see God,” as it relates to Forrest Gump as part of our Beatitudes Go to the Movies worship series. Forrest Gump is a 1994 movie starring Tom Hanks. It was nominated for 13 Academy Awards and won 6 including Best Picture and Best Actor.

Forrest is not the smartest. The movie starts by showing where Forrest is on the school intelligence charts. He’s below average. Yet his mama is dedicated to proving that Forrest is just like everyone else.

Forrest goes through life with faith. He trusts in what his mama taught him, her words are his guiding principles and doctrine. He accepts life as it comes and trusts that things will work out. His outlook is rather simple, and if you asked him what life’s about or to define his faith, he probably couldn’t. He’s not a smart man, but he knows what love is, and he loves unconditionally and totally.

He makes two friends who spend most of the movie on ill-fated quests to find love that Forrest already inhabits. His first friend is Jenny.

Forrest is on the school bus on his first day of school. All the kids are rude saying that the empty seats next to them are taken. Save for one. Jenny says, “You can sit here.” She then asks, “Are you stupid or something?” Forrest responds, “Mama always says stupid is as stupid does.”

I have no idea what that means. It’s like a Buddhist koan, a little phrase that is supposed to break your mind so you view the world in a different way. It causes you to think. Just like Jesus uses the Beatitudes and his parables to cause us to think. I think that “stupid is as stupid does” means that your actions show your intelligence. But I’m not sure.

Jenny is his best and only friend. Jenny has a troubled homelife. She often prays, “Dear God, make me a bird, so I can fly, far far away.” Forrest just accepts this and prays with her.

Jenny runs away. She acts out. She falls into the counter-culture of the 1960s with  sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Yet Forrest always loves her unconditionally. “Why are you so good to me, Forrest?” she asks. Forrest responds, “Because you’re my girl.”

Forrest goes to Vietnam. There he meets Bubba, who dies in Vietnam. Forrest couldn’t save him and he wanted to, desperately. Forrest does save Lt. Dan who didn’t want to be saved. Lt. Dan is in love with what he thinks is his destiny. His plan for his life is to die in war just like all of his forefathers. His ancestors died in every single American war. When that doesn’t happen he’s pretty angry. Angry at Forrest for denying him his destiny, angry at the world, and especially angry at God. After spending a lot of time with Forrest on the shrimp boat, and having a shouting match with God during a hurricane, he finds peace. He marries and runs a successful business, and he gets his peace back.

Jenny looks for love in all the wrong places. the wounds of her upbringing scar her and drive her into some sketchy places. yet time and time again, she finds that Forrest still loves her and gives her unconditional love and support. It is tragic that she only recognizes this towards the end of her life.

To put it in Christian terms, Jenny and Lt. Dan are born again, yet Forrest never is. Forrest leads a morally sound life while Lt. Dan and Jenny don’t for a long while. Forrest goes to church and does a lot of work for his community, a community that judges him and labels him as dumb and different. Yet Forest loves them anyway and works for the betterment of the world. Forrest doesn’t have a systematic theology, he doesn’t ever really witness his faith, he’s not all that evangelical, nor does he ever state the name Jesus or God.

Maybe he doesn’t have to. The movie honors both approaches to faith, the born-again and the stoic (or whatever word you want to use for Forrest). Forrest never affirms a creed, never is born again, and never confesses Christ as Lord and Savior, which are supposed staples of Christian life in some circles, yet he is the most Christ-like figure in the movie and maybe in modern secular cinema to date.

I think that’s what faith is about. It doesn’t get too hung up on the definitions of things. It’s not extremely rigid in its thinking or doctrine. It doesn’t really yearn for how things ought to be nor does it regret the things that happen. It just trusts and seeks to serve others and be of benefit to those around it.

That sounds like Jesus. He didn’t really yell at sinners, not really. Most of the time he talks about judgment it’s directed at the ones who think they have it figured out. Instead Jesus spends his time healing and affirming the poor, the outcast, the oppressed and telling them the Good News of God’s love for them.

Forrest exemplifies the Beatitude “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Our scholar M. Eugene Boring describes purity of heart as being “not merely the avoidance of impure thoughts but refers to the single-minded devotion to God. Having an undivided heart.”[1] Being undivided and not parceling out loyalties. Forrest doesn’t need a whole lot of smarts because he has a whole lot of love.

He is devoted to his mama. To Jenny. To his friends. To his country. All these events happen to him and around him and he just takes it in stride. He teaches Elvis how to dance. He starts the Bubba-Gump Shrimping Corporation and is a multi-millionaire. He meets JFK. And later to meet LBJ where he is awarded a purple heart and the medal of honor. Then after he heads to China and is a table tennis super star, he goes to the White House, again. To meet the president. Again. I love how he just sounds tired of that practice there. Forrest doesn’t really care about titles, he cares about people.

Yet Forrest’s loyalties are never divided. His love is never parceled out. He sees the divine in those whom he meets. Forrest is pure in heart with an undivided purity rarely found in our world.

I quote this movie time and time again. I think it might be my favorite movie of all time because it defies categorization. It’s a comedy, drama, dramedy, historical-fiction, faith-based movie about sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll redemption war movie. It’s the American version of the classic Greek epic The Odyssey.

In the end, Forrest discovers he has a son. Jenny says, “I want you to meet someone. He’s named after his daddy. His name is Forrest.” Forrest asks, “His daddy’s name is Forrest, too?” See? Pure of heart. “You’re his daddy, Forrest.” Jenny dies and is buried under a tree they used to play on as kids. He sends little Forrest off to school. Forrest heads off to talk to Jenny, and says these words, the last lines of the movie.

“Momma always said dyin’ was a part of life. I sure wish it wasn’t. Little Forrest, he’s doing just fine. About to start school again soon. I make his breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. I make sure he combs his hair and brushes his teeth every day. I’m teaching him how to play ping-pong. He’s really good. We fish a lot. And every night, we read a book. He’s so smart, Jenny. You’d be so proud of him. I am. He, uh, wrote a letter, and he says I can’t read it. I’m not supposed to, so I’ll just leave it here for you.

“Jenny, I don’t know if Momma was right or if, if it’s Lieutenant Dan. I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both are happening at the same time. I miss you, Jenny. If there’s anything you need, I won’t be far away.”

I don’t know if we have a destiny or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze. I think maybe it’s both. No truer words have ever been said on screen. Those speak to my heart. They speak to being pure of heart. Trusting God. Even in the face of suffering and death, because those are a part of life. I sure wish they weren’t. Yet being devoted to God with all one’s heart is the point, not suffering or death. Those don’t have the last word.

I’m thinking of another character who was pure in heart and saw God. Moses. He heard his name called, “Moses! Moses” and answers with the word “henini” which is Hebrew for “Here I am.” This word is used by many prophets when they are called. Jacob, Samuel, Jeremiah, Isaiah. Moses is told his destiny, to lead the slaves out of Egypt.

“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” Moses asks.

And God said, “I will be with you.”

Then Moses asks a loaded question. “What is your name?” This name would give Moses a clue as to what god he is serving or what god is asking him. Back in those days, gods have various tasks in a polytheistic culture. Is this god a god of war, a god of wine, of wisdom, or of thunder? What exactly am I getting into? God’s name will provide a clue as to what Moses is being asked to do.

Yet God answers, “I am who I am.” Or “I am what I will be.” Which is a non-answer. It’s the “I think maybe it’s both, both are happening at the same time” answer. And Moses fulfills his destiny, all accidental like on purpose.

May we do the same. May we be undivided in our faith and thinking. May we not attempt to serve two masters. May our love be undivided and pure. Unconditional, like God’s love for us is. Like Forrest’s love for his mama, Jenny, Bubba, Lt. Dan, and lil’ Forrest. May we love who we love. Serve our neighbor, accepting them as they are.

Blessed are the pure in heart. For they shall see God. Not just when they die, but walking around our streets. Sitting beside us here in worship. On a park bench in Savannah, Georgia. Blessed those who see the divine in their neighbor, for they are never wrong. And that’s all I have to say, about that.

[1][1] New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII, Gospel of Matthew, page 179

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