One of my favorite verses in Scripture is James 1:27, which talks about what pure-in-heart faith is. And it ends by saying that a pure-in-heart faith remains "uncorrupted by this world." I have this section of the verse - "remain uncorrupted by this world" - hanging over the doorway out of my bedroom, so that every time I leave my sanctuary to go into the world, I remember what I'm doing there.
It's easier than you think to become corrupted by the world, and the world we live in right now is giving us a glimpse of that in a place you probably wouldn't expect:
The interstate highways.
State police (at least in my state) report pulling over an incredible amount of vehicles for going more than 100 mph on the highways. With less traffic on the roads, speeding has become more commonplace. Now, it would be easy to sit at home and say that these are just selfish persons, taking advantage of the empty roads to do what they want. They probably think the laws don't apply to them, that maybe the laws don't apply at all any more, and they just don't care, so they are going as fast as they want to and daring someone to stop them.
But that's probably not true. Here's what is actually happening:
When you start driving, you pay a lot of attention to the rules. You keep one eye on the road and one on the dash, making sure that you're within the legal limits of the road you're on. You want to make sure you're getting it right. It doesn't matter that others are speeding around you, honking and waving their fingers or whatever else they are doing. You keep your eyes on the road, one on the dash, and follow the rules because you're just learning. These things are important to you.
The longer you drive these roads - say, on a daily commute to work - the more you start to relax and realize that there are rules of the road and there is a rule of the road, and the rule of the road is the flow of the traffic. There's a stretch around Indianapolis where the speed limit is 55 mph, but the general travel speed is somewhere around 65. They even report it on the news in the mornings - "average traffic speed around 465 right now is 65 miles per hour." They still say it, even when you can see the speed limit sign in the corner of the traffic cam.
Traveling this road, you now find yourself going 65 like everyone else, just to keep up with traffic. If you obey the speed limit, you become a road hazard. It feels unsafe. It's certainly unpopular. (Trust me, I know. I'm one of those nerds that hangs out in the slow lane.) Before long, you don't even think about it. You don't even watch the numbers any more. You just keep up. You merge onto the interstate and fall into traffic and let the general consensus carry you.
Now, all of a sudden, that general consensus is gone. The road is open in front of you. You aren't trained any more to keep one eye on the road and one on the dash; you've lost the feel for how fast you should be going. Rather, you've spent the last 10, 15, 20, 40 years "keeping up," closing the space in front of you. But now, that space is wide open. So you start to close the space in front of you, the way you've always done, and before you know it, you're going 100 mph or more. Because there's no one else there to regulate your behavior for you.
The world has shaped the way you operate, and now that the world has pulled back, you've lost your sense of control.
This is exactly what James is talking about.
We all start out setting our own moral compass, but the longer we live in community together, the easier it is to start looking around us instead of in front of us. We start to judge our lives by the average of what everyone else is doing. It's how we come up with phrases like the Pharisee - "Well, at least I'm not a tax collector." The Pharisee's sense of self was corrupted by the world around him; his standard was what everyone else was doing. The tax collector, of course, remained focused on God.
The speeding we're seeing on our interstates isn't about entitlement. It isn't about arrogance or selfishness or even adventurism. It is purely and simply because of the fact that without traffic, we've lost our compass. Without others on the road to guide our behavior, we've lost the way that we regulate ourselves. We've been corrupted.
And so it is with our pure-in-heart faith. If we let ourselves start judging our lives by the averages, by what others around us are doing, by whatever keeps us firmly in the flow, we lose our moral and spiritual compass. We lose our sense of self. And should we ever find ourselves without the references for more or less, we'll find that we're no longer anything at all. Just free-wheelin', which is no way to live.
Pure-in-heart faith is this: to remain uncorrupted by this world.