Biblical Mysticism?

A Mystic’s Meter

The rhythms of a mystic’s faith are not drudgery upon duty and duty upon drudgery. The mystic’s meter, rather, is delight. Delight in a God they know. Yet, as much freedom as rhythm and cadence have, there is still structure. So, I want to look at the structure of the meter. What cadence does knowing God take?

Is Mysticism Wrong?

Is mysticism wrong? I think a lot depends on how it is defined. If you define mysticism as subjective vain emotional longings, then yes it is wrong. If you define mysticism as unbiblical, then yes it is wrong. If mysticism is set on anything else then God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:6), then yes, mysticism is wrong.

Mysticism, however, is not wrong in itself. It is the focus that can be wrong. It is the information, or perhaps more often, the lack of information, that can be wrong.

Don Whitney instructs us:

“Don’t be deceived by a complex spirituality that gives the appearance of wisdom but doesn’t start with ‘Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Colossians 2:3). And don’t become entangled in any spiritual practices that sound good but incline your mind and heart away from the ‘things that are above’” (“Practice True Spirituality”).[1]

Not All Mysticism is Created Equal

Mysticism does not have “inalienable rights.” That is, not all mysticism is created equal.

Frist, some mysticism is based on illusionary dreams and speculation. However, there is a problem with this (1 Jn. 4:1). Satan parades himself around like an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14) so that he may devoir like a lion (1 Pet. 5:8). Subjective experiences alone cannot be our guide.[2]

Second, some mysticism contradicts the Word of God. Any word that contradicts His Word should not be our word. God is our authority. And His Word is our authority. There are many other good and important texts but they are not ultimate. They are subordinate.

Third, any form of mysticism that does not prize and exalt Messiah and His work is defective (1 Jn. 4:2). Mysticism is about knowing God. Jesus the Messiah is God in the flesh (Jn. 1:14). It is through Him that we can know God (e.g. 2 Cor. 4:4); that we can go boldly before the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16). Jesus reveals God. If we conceal Him, belittle Him, or don’t rightfully honor Him, we are not practicing mysticism but anti-mysticism; we are concealing God.

Good Mysticism

Mysticism, I believe, at it’s heart, is about knowing God deeply and experientially.[3] So then, how do we know God? We know Him through His Spirit, amen![4] And the Spirit, most typically, uses the means of His own inspired Word, the Bible. We meditate on His Word, as well as other good texts, and God, by the Spirit, reveals Himself to us. Good Christian mysticism thus relies on: 1) The Spirit for illumination, not vain visions or the like (Rom. 8:26; 1 Cor. 2:12-16; Eph. 3:14-19; 1 Jn. 4:1); 2) The inspired Word of God, not primarily other sources (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:3-4); 3) The Incarnate Son to show us God, and not visions (Jn. 1:1-14; 14:6; 2 Cor. 4:4; Heb. 1:3). 

Good biblical mysticism (some may prefer “spirituality”) is about having a deeper sense of God’s truth. It’s seeking for God to open our eyes that we would be deeply impacted by His truth (Ps. 119:18). It is about knowing God’s love that surpasses knowledge that we may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19). It’s about being renewed by the transformation of our minds (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23-24; Col. 3:10). It is about revival.

It short, mysticism does not seek mere knowledge. It seeks to also experience the truth of that knowledge. So, it seeks to taste the sweetness, and not just know hypothetically and intellectually that something is sweet.

Jonathan Edwards words are enlightening:

“There is such a thing as a spiritual and divine light immediately imparted to the soul by God, of a different nature from any that is obtained by natural means… This spiritual light that I am speaking of, is quite a different thing from inspiration: it reveals no new doctrine, it suggests no new proposition to the mind, it teaches no new thing of God, or Christ, or another world, not taught in the Bible, but only gives a due apprehension of those things that are taught in the word of God… There is a difference between having an opinion, that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness.”[5]

Mystics, so to speak, not only want to know that something is sweet, they want to taste it’s sweetness.

A.W. Tozer: A Good Example of a Good Mystic

James L. Snyder points out that “the word ‘mystic’ did not scare Tozer. The term ‘mysticism’ simply means ‘the practice of the presence of God,’ the belief that the heart can commune with God directly, moment by moment, without the aid of outward ritual. He saw this belief at the very core of real Christianity, the sweetest and most soul-satisfying experience a child of God can know.”[6]

Tozer rightly reminds us—how sad that we need reminded!—that salvation is “not an end but an inception, for now begins the glorious pursuit, the heart’s happy exploration of the infinite riches of the Godhead.”[7] Conversion is meant to lead to communion. Orthodoxy must, if it is to be true orthodoxy, result in doxology. “’You can be straight as a gun barrel theologically,’ Tozer often remarked, ‘and as empty as one spiritually.’”[8]

The true Christian mystic should be heat and light. Heart, head, and hand. He should love the LORD with all that he is, his heart, soul, mind and strength; and his neighbor as himself.

Conclusion

So, you might say, a mystic’s meter, what gives him his aesthetic poetry and music, is knowing God by the Spirit, though the Word, and in Christ. This is where he can find true delight. He can know God and true joy in this rhythmic triad; instead of the clashing and subjective thrashings found elsewhere. A mystic’s meter in sum, should be rhythmic, not chaotic. It should have a distinguished element to it, not destructive and haphazard vague desires. God has, Paul reminds us, revealed Himself; we don’t worship Him as unknown, but as known (Acts 17:23). We can know God truly, if not fully.

Will you seek to know God? Will you dance to the melodious meter? Will you use the means He has given you? Will you be a Christian mystic?

 _______________________________________

[1] Don Whitney, “Practice True Spirituality.”

[2] Let it be noted that exceptional things may likely still happen. See 2 Cor. 12:2-4, for example.

[3] Mysticism is “the belief and practice that seeks a personal, experiential… knowledge of God by means of a direct, nonabstract and loving encounter or union with God. Although a psychophysical dimension (including visions, dreams or special revelation) may be part of the mystical experience, this dimension is not necessary. Instead, Christian mystics generally teach that the true test of the experience is the resulting fruit of the Spirit in the mystic’s life” (Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, 81). “The mystic,” Tozer said, “differs from the ordinary orthodox Christian only because he experiences his faith down in the depths of his sentient being while the other does not. He is quietly, deeply and sometimes almost ecstatically aware of the presence of God in his own nature and in the world around him” (The Christian Book of Mystical Verse).

[4] Mysticism, at least, true accurate mysticism, can only take place after the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (see Jn. 3:3).

[5] Jonathan Edwards, “A Divine and Supernatural Light”).

[6] The Life of A.W. Tozer: In Pursuit of God, 155.

[7] The Pursuit of God, 13 cf. Jn. 17:3. Brother Lawrence reminds us that “Many do not advance in the Christian progress because they stick in penances and particular exercises, while they neglect the love of God, which is the end” (Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 24). 

[8] The Life of A.W. Tozer: In Pursuit of God, 155.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , ,

About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 9 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: