December 14, 2017

Are You Experienced?

Have you ever been experienced? (Jimi Hendrix, 1967)

We’ve been talking about religious experiences this week. The good, the bad, the ugly. Some want to write off all experiences as false and misleading. Others cling to miracles and touchy-feely stuff as the point of contact for their faith. Me? I’m all messed up.

I was saved in a Charismatic Baptist church. Really. Not many of those, I know. It was in 1973, the heyday of the Jesus People Movement and the Charismatic Renewal. The two met head-on in the oldest continuing Baptist church in the state of Ohio, and I met Jesus there one Saturday when I was fourteen. I heard many sermons about the supernatural acts of God and how they were still in evidence today. Faith healers came through, and there were reports of legs that were lengthened and … and come to think of it, that was the main act of healing I heard about. Short legs being lengthened. I heard of a number of these cases, some even at my church. But I never witnessed such a thing.

The gifts of the Spirit were a frequent topic from our pulpit. Well, primarily speaking in tongues. We were taught that if we did not personally have our own “prayer language,” then we weren’t filled with the Spirit. And if we weren’t filled with the Spirit, then we may possibly still be saved, but barely. So most everyone admitted they spoke in tongues, and glossolalia was common in every meeting. But I didn’t really experience the other First Corinthians gifts of the Spirit.

Not, that is, until I went to college at Oral Roberts University. Words of wisdom, words of knowledge, tongues and interpretation were commonly practiced there. Well, that is, by those in charge. Students were to watch, not participate. Unless, of course, they needed healing. Yet even as we heard of remarkable healings that took place on our campus and in crusades led by Oral Roberts and his son, Richard, I never saw a healing myself. And though I heard of financial miracles, with testimonies coming that just when someone was about to be turned out of school for lack of funds they would receive exactly the amount they needed in the morning post, I never experienced anything like that.

When I graduated from ORU, I was seven years along in my faith journey. I had been taught that experiences—healings, tongues, supernatural gifts of money—were the norm. And if I was not experiencing these things in my life, then I was not a “Spirit-filled Christian.” I would be considered second-class, at very best. So I wore a mask, not exactly lying, but at least giving the appearance that all the mighty works that others supposedly did and saw were common in my life as well.

So I went through decades of my Christian life wearing a mask. I said and did all the acceptable things, and pretended that I knew God and was being used by him to do “great and mighty things.” And after you wear a mask for some time, you begin to believe that it really is how you look.

Then, apparently, the real God had enough of my impersonating a true son of his. He began tearing off my mask one painful layer at a time. All those experiences I thought I had and said I lived through disolved. I found myself naked—and ashamed—before God. Thinking I knew it all, I was very surprised to find out I was clueless about everything.

God then took me in front of a mirror so I could see who I really was. What I found was surprising to me. I was a mystic. That’s how I could see God. That’s how I first met Jesus. Not by witnessing a miracle nor hearing a rousing, emotional sermon nor by being slain in the Spirit. I met Jesus by sensing a deep longing, an intense hunger in my soul. I couldn’t put it into words. One minute it wasn’t there, the next it was.

And that is how God has continued to meet me. He finds ways to approach me in books and music and movies. He shows me his face in the sunrise and in the clouds. He surprises me at times in conversations with friends and with strangers. And once in a while he even shows up for me in a church service.

Michael didn’t particularly like the word “mystic.” It wasn’t neat and orderly enough for him. Mystics can be flighty, distracted by a shiny object one minute, then aloof and not attracted by a roomful of shiny objects the next. Most mystics doubt they are hearing God, and many have horrible self-concepts. Mystics don’t understand why God would work the way they think he is working. They may even think he shouldn’t work in that way. But somehow, in a way that is inexplicable to others, they know it really is God, and things are about to get very interesting.

If pressed to explain why I believe in God, why Jesus is all that matters to me, I would say I don’t know. I can’t explain why a God who created the universe would give a wet slap about me. I dont’ know why the King of all kings would get himself dirty trying to help me. I don’t understand it, and anyone who tries to prove it to me doesn’t get it either. But the very fact that I don’t understand and yet somehow still know it’s true is all the proof I need.

I’m not say experiences are wrong. Not at all. Perhaps you are most comfortable with experiences. That’s fine, as long as they are bringing you closer to Jesus. Maybe your anchor is in reason and objectivity. Me, I’m a mystic. It’s who God made me, and now that the mask has been taken off of me, I can see it clearly. This is who I am. I hope I don’t frighten you too much.

Comments

  1. Great post, Jeff.

    I would think that there are a great many who have traveled a similar path as you.

    I think that many do have experiences. And they may be of God. But God wears masks, as well. He has chosen to show Himself in His Word. In Christ Jesus Himself. In the preaching and teaching of Christ Jesus. In Holy Scripture. And in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. All masks of the Living God.

    He can come to us in other ways, and we really cannot know for sure if those experiences are from God (for “the Devil can come all dressed up as an angel of light.”)

    But in His Word, we can have full confidence…no matter what else is going on within us…or around us.

    Thanks again for bringing to light an important aspect of our faith.

  2. Me, I’m a mystic. It’s who God made me…

    I’m curious Jeff as to how exactly do you know that it is God that made you a mystic and not something that has become your own comfort zone, because perhaps rational thought processes and objective data just bores you?

    The problem with mysticism is that it has nearly zero capacity to evaluate truth other than yielding to subjective experiences. Christian mystics may hang their hat on what they think God tells them without knowing whether it was God or their own active imagination. Under what criteria do you evaluate God’s extra-biblical involvement? As someone said, “you can’t exegete experience”.

    At a more fundamental level, the biggest problem with mystically oriented Christianity is that it continually turns your focus within, as opposed to outside of yourself to Christ.

    • David Cornwell says:

      “rational thought processes and objective data just bores you?”

      While I understand and agree to an extent with what you are saying, I’m not sure that “rational thought processes and objective data” have the power to analyze and understand all there is about our Christian witness. Christian history says to us that we have failed to completely understand, even in a rational way, all there is to know. Systems of theology and expressions of Christian faith proliferate in the Church. There is much we simply do not understand and much that remains mysterious. We need to remain charitable to those who have different understandings. In the end it will be God who sorts it all out and we may or may not find out then where we have erred. Yet, even then, I believe, much will remain mysterious.

      • Hi David,

        I think there is a difference between the mysteries of the Christian faith and mysticism. I didn’t say that rational thought can explain all the mysteries of the universe or our faith. Mysteries can not be explained but revealed. Even the dictionary agrees 🙂

        Mystery is not random, but a deliberate state of secrecy created by another. If that “other” (in our case being God) does not choose to reveal it, we cannot discover it by intellectual efforts and methods of rational enquiry.

        Mystery is undeniable part of the Christian faith and experience. Paul calls our entire faith a mystery (1 Tim 3:9) and the gospel itself (Eph 6:19). Nevertheless, the Scriptures don’t invite us to investigate and explore divine mysteries because they were either:

        1) kept secret for a time (Rom 16:25, Eph 3:9); or
        2) are now explained or illuminated (Rev 1:20, 17:7); or
        3) revealed (1 Cor 15:51, Eph 5:32, Col 1:26, 1 Tim 3:16); or
        4) God chooses to keep them hidden (Deut 29:29)

        It’s what mysticism tries to do with No 4 that’s the problem, by trying to unlock those closed doors and see what’s inside.

        However, I’m not sure if that’s the mysticism Jeff has in mind with his post, but I guess we’ll never know because Jeffrey boy refuses (as usual) to interact with me either because he personalizes my comments and thinks I’m getting up his ribs (which could not be further from the truth), or because he finds me high-maintenance and can’t be bothered.

        John (From Down Under)

    • But Christ is inside of us, to me he and God are not external to us – Paul tells us clearly that God is within each and everyone of us, but that we have to recognize him and nurture his presence within us. Maybe this is a time of internal healing for Jeff after his years of constant outward-but-insincere focus. Also, not all of us have the gift of outward focus. Many of our deepest theologians have been inward focus-ers. As an extreme extrovert, I’m constantly reminded by my introverted faith-friends that not everyone is like me and that they must look to the God that Paul says is inside us all rather than the more external expression of God that I connect with better.

    • Randy Thompson says:

      There is a great need indeed for “mystics” to know their Bibles and to have a more than passing understanding of creeds, theology, and the like. However, if we’re to meet Christ, we’re going to meet him within or not at all. If Christ is (only) “outside,” then we’re an outsider to Christ.

      Theology and Scripture are the scaffolding by which Christian lives are built; they are not in themselves the building. Having made that distinction, the scaffolding is incredibly important! The Christian life is about the trip–the pilgrimage–not the map.

      • Randy it’s possible that we may be talking past each other because I’m not sure what you mean by this statement:

        if we’re to meet Christ, we’re going to meet him within or not at all

        One way I can interpret this is that Christ is inside us and if we look within we’ll find him (the “God within” New Age belief).

        On the other hand if you’re referring to “Christ in you, the hope of glory” as per Colossians 1:27 in terms of indwelling, then we agree.

        My point is that Scripture is not directing us to look within for answers. Answers come to us from the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit, all of whom come to us from outside. The gospel is also “alien” in its nature and comes to us from another world.

        I hope I’m making sense.

        John (From Down Under)

        • Randy Thompson says:

          The Colossians passage says it exactly.
          Unless the Holy Spirit teaches us Scripture by a) giving us understanding and b) applying it to our lives, it remains (merely) information. The former, “understanding,” entails the mind and reading responsibly and analytically, while the latter is is very “inner” indeed. For example, you can read, study and analyze “Blessed are the poor in Spirit.. . . ” endlessly, but it remains outside of our lives until the Holy Spirit applies it to our lives so that it changes our heart and we really do come to see ourselves as (desperately) poor.
          Hope that helps.

          Sorry if I was talking past you!

    • There’s quite a bit to be said about this, but I would start by noting that there’s a great danger of dualism (I see it my community, in a big way) between experience-oriented Christianity and the rational. The first group labels the second “dogmatic” and “just intellectual”- not having a “heart understanding” and the second label the first as “flighty” or “unrooted in Scripture.” This to me is a moot argument, and the only way to proceed is to begin to ignore Jesus in an unhealthy way, because it seems more satisfying to talk about our own faith and its foundations. The reason I say this is because human beings are not housed in our experiences or our doctrines- such is the nature of humanity. He comes to us in the flesh- flesh that was born, died and rose. Right there in front of us. This is not an event that belongs in my “exegetical” toolshed or my “personal experience” testimony. If anything, I belong within IT.

      The rest, how God meets us in our lives or whatever you want to label it, is just the stuff his human arrival provokes in the life of the church. To that end, I propose we (in the wider conversation) unite the idea of mysticism with the idea of objectively verifiable knowledge/faith as both things that exist within us that are what we “experience” or “know” or “believe” according to something that is historically there before us, and move on to a discussion about Jesus himself, instead of ourselves and how we experience him. This always seems to be the norm and the objective in the book of Acts.

      • Pardon me for likely being naive, but can’t we all experience God in our own way? Why do we all have to experience God in the same way? God made so many different people – and we are all unique parts of one body. The eyes do not experience the world the same way our fingers feel it or our ears hear it. It seems silly to me to argue between ways to experience God. I beg to differ from JFDU that answers are not within us. I firmly believe that there is God’s love dwelling within us per Galations 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me”. We CAN look for answers within us through prayer. I do not believe that all our knowledge of God comes from other people’s mouths. Prayer and hearing God’s voice in our lives is not an external experience…it is an internal one. And one that has been used by God throughout all of scriptures…OT and NT. I actually find it to be a danger for all knowledge of God to come from without rather than within. I believe that God gives us a conscience that guides against Satan’s voices from other people. People who lead us astray….if we don’t listen to that God voice inside of us, we are led astray.

        • My point was I wouldn’t put one ahead of the other, but that we should consider a different topic of discussion because this one leads to dualism. The internal experience and the the voices of others are, to my understanding, not two categories of experience but one, given that we are one body.

  3. That’s a really good post, Jeff. I learned a lot by reading about the experiences I’m having. I grew up in a conservative church, spiritually and otherwise. But recently I’ve been involved with other groups that speak in tongues often, an have healings and prophetic words constantly. I’m drawn into them, I think quite naturally, because I do believe in God’s power to work through people in the Spirit. But I also have only shallow personal experience with those same spiritual events. I do feel the spirit on my tongue occassionally, and I believe that one day the glossolasia will just turn on. But I’m not there now. My personal experience has been much more like mysticism. That’s where I see and feel God.
    I think that maybe there’s a journey to go on. Mysticism seemed like the revelation of the Spirit in my life, and it took a while to really experience God that way, and once I had, not by my own doing of course, I realized God was always there speaking to me through nature and people and things going on around me. Now, it seems like Intercessory prayer, tongues, and prophecy are the next revelation. I’m glad you’ve found mysticism, but I guess what I want to say is don’t limit God’s domain in you. There may be other ways he wants you to experience him.

    Steve, God does not wear masks. He simply only shows part of his unveiled self at a time, not because he is hiding himself, necessarily, but because we are unable to grasp the entirety of who God is.

    JFDU, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14
    “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” 1 John 4:1

    • 1 Cor 2 has absolutely nothing to do with mystical experiences.

    • Joseph (the original) says:

      Carly Jo:

      it sounds like you are on a spiritual journey of discovery where the intellectual ‘theory’ is insufficient. you are pursuing a different way to be expressive outside that which your upbringing/tradition did not provide…

      as a post-charismatic, i can say the journey to seeking a deeper/richer relationship with God is always going to be rewarded. no matter how many twists+turns or detours or even dead ends. God is pleased with His children when their hearts remain childlike in wanting to know Him more…

      when i was a little boy, ~6 years old, i would often walk out into the fields of our rented 40-acre farm land & talk out loud to God. was my normal way of communicating with Him. but then as i grew up in the faith tradition i was raised in, the simple connection i had with God was thwarted by religious rituals+traditions+doctrines. as i sought to have that same sense of communion with God thru practicing the worship traditions of my elders, i felt far, far away from Him…

      i sincerely pursued the charismatic expressions. participated in manifesting spiritual gifts. discovered i had a spiritual sensitivity that soon discerned the bulk of the chaff from what little kernel of wheat in the process.

      i have since made my own spiritual exodus out of the charismatic camps back into the Evangelical Wilderness. i discovered there was no spiritual advantage to speaking in tongues, or giving words of knowledge, or prophesying, or laying hands on others praying for healing either physical or emotional. i just don’t do that ‘stuff’ anymore. what i did do is rediscover my original communication style. i take walks & talk out loud to God…

      He did not want me letting the religious stuff getting in the way of our relationship. my point? i think as Jeff pointed out, you should ask yourself how God designed you to interact with Him. could be you are drawn to the charismatic expressions because you sense a freedom there you have not enjoyed. or it could be you have forgotten the way He has related to you before. there is a purity of interaction all of His children were designed to enjoy. it is part of all our spiritual journeys to discover, or rediscover this unique element of our personality…

      blessings on your search…

      ~Joseph

  4. JoanieD says:

    Jeff wrote, “I’m not say experiences are wrong. Not at all. Perhaps you are most comfortable with experiences.”

    But YOU are having experiences too, Jeff, just a different type of experience from what you described others as having. Being alive, every second we are having “experiences.” We cannot NOT have them because we have bodies and that is where God works…in our bodies. Our bodies are not separate from our “spiritual” lives. They are one and the same. God took on human flesh and made everything holy. BUT, I do know what you mean. You have “quiet” experiences of the holiness of God.

    • humanslug says:

      I think you’re on to something here, Joanie.
      As created beings who are still being fashioned by our Creator, everything that comes into contact with our senses, and even the thoughts that run abstractly through our minds, are “experienced” by us on one level or another. And considering that God is everywhere all the time, then we are constantly experiencing God — even if its the experience of rejecting or denying or just ignoring Him.
      And if that’s true, then the argument of experiential versus objective faith really boils down to saying that certain kinds of experiences are more important or valid than others in God’s economy.
      While I would agree that certain kinds of experiences can be more beneficial to a specific person in a specific set of circumstances, I would be cautious about trying to cage the ways in which God moves and forms us through our experiences inside a set of rules or a strict logical matrix.
      Just think about the variety of ways Jesus used other people’s experience of Him to engender belief and faith in Him. Some experienced physical healing. Some experienced a change of heart. Some experienced a new way of thinking about things. Some experienced a new way to look at or interpret scripture. Some experienced the hope and joy that comes with having a loved one restored to health or life. Some experienced love and acceptance after a lifetime of rejection. And for those who spent a lot of time with Jesus, they probably experienced a combination of all of these things and much more.
      So were any of these experiences of Jesus more important and valuable than the others? Well, I guess that depended on whether or not you were sick or depressed or hard-hearted or hard-headed or filled with grief or outcast or oppressed.
      Rather than trying to narrow the field of our experience of Jesus, shouldn’t we be seeking to experience Him in new ways and in every aspect of our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social lives?

      • Beautifully said, Humanslug!!! I fear people putting God in a cage – limiting his ability to speak to us, to cause us to experience him, anytime we try to define how God must behave, we are creating him in our own image, rather than understanding that he is bigger than all that!!

        I love your eloquent way of stating things.

  5. Speaking of Michael, posts like this one make me think his mantle fell on you.

  6. Thanks for the story of your ongoing journey, Jeff. It helps explain my own questions and journey, although it’s been a different path.

    I was saved on the way to communion in a Roman Catholic church as I finally took seriously the pre-communion rote phrase “Lord, I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” I then recognized the Holy Spirit’s presence (baptism/fresh filling/???) during my Confirmation. Then, in the early ’90s, I found a Catholic Charismatic group in college (Really. Not many of those, either). Through personal bible study, other small groups, men’s study, exploring various denominations, etc, I’ve finally landed at the non-denominational church I helped plant.

    Through my journey, I’ve been challenged by genuine followers of Jesus from all over the “experience spectrum,” if you will. And Gary Thomas’ “Sacred Pathways” [http://www.garythomas.com/sacred-pathways] has been extremely valuable in helping me value all of these ways of relating to God, even if I don’t experience each of them as intensely.

    Praise God for His wisdom in allowing us to be his body, with all our valuable parts!

  7. Isn’t it wonderful that there are as many ways to experience God as there are people? Psalm 139 says “Where can I go from your spirit?” The Psalmist names various places to “hide” but in every case, God is there. That resonates with me in reading Jeff’s wonderful post and the comments that have followed. Some find God in the mists of mysticism, some in the outward gifts of the spirit, some in the loud music, some in the charismatic experience.

    What troubles me about some of the more experiential styles is this concept that everyone must experience God exactly as *I* do or you’re not experiencing God. How sad that they cannot accept that everyone has a different journey, all rooted in Christ, the cross and the Scriptures, but different expressions, different experiences, etc. As Jeff states, people around him filled him with the message that there was only ONE way to experience God…their way. But God cannot be put into a box like that…charismatic or otherwise. He is bigger than all our experiences in total. He is present in us no matter what…mystic, charismatic, frozen chosen, everyone each hearing their own “tongue”.

    • humanslug says:

      Good points. LA.
      I would add, however, that there is a difference between being open minded and tolerant of the many ways that God forms and moves us through our experiences of Him and turning a blind eye to dangerous excesses, abuses of authority, and outright dishonest behavior in the church. Our history as the church would contain fewer causes for embarrassment and sorrow — and today’s church would be in a much healthier state — if more Christians had the courage to publicly expose charlatans, fakers, opportunists, and religious tyrants for what they are.

      • True, true – didn’t mean to cast a “blind eye” to the plight of that. If you read my comments regarding the faith-healing video, you would see that I am all too aware of the dangers these kinds of extreme expressions pose to our faith. But when people are grounded in a true focused faith, there can be a multitude of expressions – as many different expressions as people on the planet. If God had wanted us to all experience him the same way, he would have made us all exactly the same. By making us as different as we are…he surely intends for us to experience him in the same myriad of ways.

  8. There are a lot of things inside of us…and they are not all good. So it’s important to understand how the Scriptures tell us that God comes to us. And also to understand that we walk by faith, and not by sight.

    • Too true…I think what I was getting at, was that some do not find God within an external framework, but rather and internal one…and that is not wrong, just different.

  9. dkmonroe says:

    Jeff, I like your take on the term, “mystic.” I’ve long felt that I was something of a mystic for having the same sorts of “God experiences” that you describe, but I’ve never really seriously thought of myself as a “mystic” because I’ve always thought being a “mystic” meant that you spend hours practicing some method of meditation every day. And surely that is being a “mystic”, but I like to think that there is room for a sort of natural, intuitive mysticism in the Christian life. I’m not going to start going around self-identifying as a “mystic”, but I do like your take on it.

    • There has been a movement within some churches of “centering prayer”. For me, it takes on the mode of getting all my ducks in a row so that when I go out and encounter people, the Christ-part is what I try to show. For an extrovert like me, the silence just about killed me at first, but then I got more practiced and discovered that my time alone with God wasn’t enough. But it has really helped me in my more outward experience of God. Some people call Centering Prayer neo-pagan. I think all things can be neo-pagan if your focus is not on Christ. But I believe that any spiritual practice, regardless of origin can be focused on Christ and used to help us deepen our relationship with him and his gospel.

      • Thank you LA. You have expressed my experience almost to the letter. I appreciate your words very much.

      • dkmonroe says:

        I agree with you. Mystical techniques transcend religious systems but the fact that the goal of the Christian mystic is union with Christ makes all the difference. The eastern mystic seeks to empty himself, but the Christian mystic seeks to be filled with Christ.

        • Interestingly enough…I find that it helps me to empty “myself” and all my selfish feelings before there is space for Christ to enter. When I am filled with my own ego, there is no space for God in my heart. When I empty my heart of all my worldly concerns, ego, and unGodly junk, then Christ enters in and fills me.

  10. Another Mary says:

    Thanks so much for those words. They describe much of my journey as well. I just realized this Spring that I am a mystic and that it’s okay!

  11. “Mystic” is a slippery word. It originally referred to an initiate of the ancient Greco-Roman mysteries, which left their imprint on the “mysteries” of the church. “Christian mysticism” calls to mind figures like Teresa of Avila or John of the Cross. Stripped of the qualifier, it might include the inner spiritual traditions of various other religions and para-religions, perhaps as understood through a perennialist framework. You seem to be using it in a more poetic sense, to refer to a certain orientation or sensibility.

    The issue of personal revelation looms large. As an aside, I am baffled by the subculture in which it is normal to say things like “I was saved…” or “I met Jesus…” or that God has done such-and-such in my life. Such observations strike me as presumptuous. Assuming you are not claiming to be some sort of prophet, it seems that all this is a kind of game in which one’s imagination is supposed to reflect God’s actual intentions.

    Also, I cannot fathom for the life of me why anyone would think Oral Roberts qualified to offer higher education. Really, the man was as anti-intellectual as they come (though HE certainly thought God spoke to him).

  12. This is such an interesting and honest reflection on divine life and human experience. Reading the anti-mystical responses that follow the article only demonstrate, at least to me, why rational thought can never understand or begin to faithfully process the great mystery that is the true and living God. Can we speak of this God? Of course we can and we should. He was revealed to us in human flesh and we know him through a word that is opened to us by the Spirit. But can we explain, define, or limit him by our concepts and ideas? Never. Thanks Jeff. This article is great but the negative comments truly helped me understand why I am pleased to be a mystic, an “evangelical mystic” at that. And I had no charismatic background whatsoever, just doctrine and ideas deeply rooted in Reformed rationalism. While I remain Reformed I would now happily identify with the mystical way, even with its great problems and abuses. I cannot reject what I know simply because it has been abused. This faith transcends logic and systems.

    • You said it better than I, John. Thanks.

    • @ JHA

      That’s not what we’re talking about at all with our “negative” comments. Read 4th comment from the top in my response to David Cornwell.

      If a different point of you is “negative” to you, so be it.

    • OK, I’m a geek…I’ll admit it…and centering prayer and other mystical things are hard for me. But I challenge myself and have found great peace and connection to my faith through these behaviors. They have also helped me grow and blossom in a true faith that is having major outward consequences…Major.

      So, please indulge my geekiness and hear one of the best descriptions I have ever heard of our experience of God.

      Imagine that we are two-dimensional creatures. We exist as various flat polygons of various sizes, shapes, etc…but we are all flat. We have no concept of a 3rd dimension. Then imagine an orange intercepting our plane of existence. How would we experience that orange? How would we describe the encounter to our friends?

      Well, first, we would use words relevant to our experience as 2-dimensional creatures. We could only use words like “circle”, “square”, etc. The word “sphere” is completely outside of our experience – it wouldn’t even be a word in our vocabulary. We would first see a dot in our plane of existence as the orange first contacted it….then as it passed through, that dot would become a circle, the circle would get larger until the equator of the orange passed and then would get smaller until it became a dot again and then disappear. The excited polygons would run and tell their polygon friends about this dot that became a larger circle, then smaller again until it became a dot again and then mysteriously disappeared.

      The fact that this was a sphere is completely beyond our polygon friend’s comprehension…to know that “something” interacted with their plane of existence and that they could describe what they saw in their limited vocabulary is all they could do.

      I believe that our interaction with God is the same. We are creatures bound by our dimension, our experience and God is so completely beyond our experience that all we can do is feebly describe his interactions with us as best we can with our limited boundaries of space and time. We cannot experience God’s full nature. Scripture clarifies that God’s ways are beyond our ability to understand.

      So we do what we can…we describe him as best as we can. But no matter what words or experiences we use to describe our interaction with him…we are still polygons trying to describe our interaction with a sphere. Just because polygons don’t have words for the sphere doesn’t mean the sphere doesn’t exist as a sphere.

      Imagine now, that the orange interacts directly with some of our polygon friends, tries to explain it’s existence…the polygons may glimpse something outside of themselves and feel its interaction as it passes through them and their plane of existence, but they never truly understand the full nature of orange.

      So ends my geek-i-fied description of my God experience. By using internal AND external experiences, I try to focus my energies on my limited grasp of the incredible and beyond-me being that is God. And at times, I believe I sense a whiff of the sphere….I just don’t always have language to describe it.

      • LA I can tell you were excited when you typed this post. One question though:

        Do you ever read the Bible to try and understand God?

        (John)

        • John, I read all the time. Besides reading what is presented here and a few other more Biblical/reflection based blogs I follow, I also enjoy the Daily Office as presented by Mission St. Clare. 3 readings each day. Then what is presented per the RCL each Sunday. And about every couple of years, I’ll read it cover to cover. Please do not question my Biblical stance just because i like to use meditations such as the one I typed out to help my brain over the hump. Jesus used parables a lot…stories help us to learn which is why most people can tell you the parable of the prodigal son and most of the NT parables as well as nearly every “story” from the OT yet can recite maybe one or two ordinances from Leviticus…maybe. Sermons use stories from our experiences to help reinforce points. As most people leave church on Sunday, they will remember the story more readily than a pile of facts.

    • “Evangelical Mystic” …. that describes me as well … …. but I don’t usually admit to it …. precisely because of the kind of comments I read here …..

      If the experience is from God, then it will drive inexorably to the Bible …. because in the Bible we hear clearly the voice of the Beloved! … and the heart burns !!!

      Surely, it is just as great a danger to preach a cold, cerebral Christianity with no room for experiencing the presence of the Living God.

      Jeff …. thank you so much for writing this post ….

  13. “Charismatic Baptist”? That’s a real thing?

    • It was in Centerville, Ohio in the 1970s!

    • My Baptist Pastor calls himself a Bapticostal!

    • “Bapticostals” are really not that uncommon in some parts of the country.

      The late Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade, wasn’t necessarily Baptist himself, but he was widely traveled in SBC circles, and he became much more open to the reality of charismatic gifts towards the end of his life. I’ve talked to some very conservative ministers who’ve had experiences that they don’t share with everyone, but they they don’t deny the reality of them.

      One service I was at where charismatic gifts started showing up actually in a UCC church… The Spirit blows where it will.

    • To name a few well-known persons: John Osteen, the late father of the well-known Joel Osteen, was a charismatic Baptist, and his wife Dodie (still living) was miraculously healed of cancer. John apparently voluntarily left the SBC when he found he was more aligning with charismatic churches, though. Pat Robertson was and maybe still is Southern Baptist, IIRC.

      • And then there’s the once-famous Beverly Hills Baptist Church in Dallas, with Howard Conatser and Morris Sheats.

      • James Robison falls into this category as well. He was a well-known evangelist in Southern Baptist circles in the 70s. He had an encounter with the Holy Spirit in the early 80s while suffering from serious depression and suicidal thoughts. His ministry was revolutionized and he began to identify more openly with the Charismatic wing of the church. He and his wife currently attend Gateway Church in Texas led by Robert Morris (not sure if this church is Southern Baptist or not, though.

  14. Sad to hear about the demise of your caps lock key… It was too young to go!

  15. HOWWAGA KIHOMA !!!

    I AJURE YOU YOU DEVIL

    DOWAPA BIHAMA KORA !!!

    OUT, DEMEN OF MODERNISM !!!
    OUT, DEMEN OF FEMANISM !!!
    OUT, DEMEN OF SECLEAR HUMANISM !!!
    OUT, DEMENS OF SOCLISM, BUSSING, AND FLURIDE !!!

    WIHAKA DOBAPA YIHADIKAMA BAKA !!!

    IN THE NAME OF JESUS

    I BANISH YOU FROM ALL THE INTERNETS !!!

    HEE YOOM HOZA EOWA TORANAGA !!!

    • Must…. resist…. temptation… to respond with snide comment.

    • Interestingly enough, this is the first time I have seen tongues written.

      So using the wonders of Google, here is a “partial interpretation”, keeping in mind of course that Vern is a notoriously bad speller. 🙂

      “WIHAKA DOBAPA YIHADIKAMA BAKA !!!”

      Wihaka – Nigerian name.
      Dobapa – possibly a abbreviation of Doa Bapa – Malay for Father’s prayer. Most common usage is Kami Doa Bapa – Our Father’s prayer or the Lord’s prayer.
      YIHADIKAMA – You will of course recognize Jihad in here, with the french spelling – in Arabic it means struggle. Kama is a Japanese knife in the shape of a scythe.
      BAKA is japanese for fool or idiot.

      So put it all together and you get…

      Wihaka’s father’s prayer [is that] idiots struggle with knives.

      Glad to be of service… and so much for resisting temptation.

      • Beakerj says:

        Nice work Michael! I’m sure that’s the Lord’s annointed message for someone out there 😉

    • Paging headless unicorn guy line one…..I repeat….paging headless unicorn guy line one..

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I’m still on vacation. I’m posting this from my writing partner’s system in PA. He’s a preacher-man and a Brony since G1.

        VERN’s up to his old tricks (and Lil’ Rascals spelling) again — I still remember his “At least I don’t masterbate to cartoon horseys”.

  16. I had someone offhandedly remark to me once that Pentecostals probably had more in common with Catholics than they do with many of their Protestant brethren. I’m finding that to be actually true. Catholicism (and Eastern Orthodoxy to a large extent) at least acknowledges the place of mystery and mysticism. Much of Protestantism has so bought into the Enlightenment project and rationality, that it has boiled down faith into not much more than an equation. If you do A, God will do B, and thus C will be the result. I can see why that sort of predicability is comforting to some, but it also seems that it could make life very boring.

    • Orthodoxy (and Catholicism perhaps, I know less about it) has some built in safeties, though. For instance, our equivalent to a “healing service”, the sacrament of unction, ideally would be done by seven priests. That way, if healing is granted in a really obvious and impressive way, no one of them could take credit.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Much of Protestantism has so bought into the Enlightenment project and rationality, that it has boiled down faith into not much more than an equation.

      Chaplain Mike speculated this was also a result of the Industrial Revolution, where the Bible became nothing more than an engineering textbook of spiritual theorems. Perfectly-parsed Theology, with nothing human involved, only Fact, Fact, Fact.

      Enter the Holy Rollers, the hyper-charismatics who firewalled completely in the other direction in a Communism-begets-Objectivism reaction.

  17. (Another fellow-ORU grad here – oh, the stories!)

    Thank you for this, Jeff. I have often grappled with my exposure to the “gifts of the spirit” as you discuss them. Finally I realised I wasn’t rebelling against the gifts themselves, as much as the culture attached to them. Once I separated the two, I found the same thing: I’m a mystic, I’m a tongue talker, I walk in many of these gifts. I don’t take it lightly, I don’t broadcast it (well, I suppose this comment is a broadcast of some sort but you know what I mean), but yes, it is and I can’t deny it or hide or pretend I don’t meet God in these ways.

    All this to say, you’ve written a lot of my own story here, too, and I thank you.

  18. A thought:

    It is a part of the human condition to live in polarities. It is an implication of our belief in one God to be certain that ultimately reason and revelation are both derived from the same source.
    Abraham Heschel

  19. I appreciate all that make the point that mysticism, as defined by “immediate consciousness of the transcendent or ultimate reality or God”, is not mutually exclusive or should even be in conflict with reason and rationality.

    As evidence, Blaise Pascal, one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, had an intense spiritual vision in 1654. It so profoundly impacted him that his life was transformed. As a momento, he sewed a scrap of paper in this coat that read “Fire. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and the scholars…”

    I believe that the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus lays out the process. First Jesus talked to the disciples of how everything that happened fit is with the prophets. In other words, he taught knowledge. Then, when darkness began to fall (this kind of darkness occurs when we turn away from the false light of the world and ourselves), they invited him to stay with them in the Inn. They then experienced Jesus as He really is, in intimate fellowship. Thanks to God this is how we are brought into Union with Christ.

    So, it seems that for some of us, we try to skip to the Inn part without the requisite knowledge or the needed workout and discipline of the road, and we aren’t ready for it, and easily deceived. For others, we just keep walking and walking and walking and ever adding knowledge, without ever joining Jesus in that transcendent moment of intimate revelation!

  20. “And after you wear a mask for some time, you begin to believe that it really is how you look.”

    Thank you Jeff, for speaking what I have been trying to express for many years. 🙂 I don’t know if I could explain how the King of Kings could give a wet slap about me either. But somehow the deepest part of my heart believes it and strangely that is enough for me. I wonder if finding a way to live that simple faith could help take off the layers.

  21. One of my books on Thomas Merton has the following quote from him in the front of the book:

    “Whatever I may have written, I think all can be reduced in the end to this one root truth: that God calls human persons to union with Himself and with one another in Christ.”

    That was one of the last things Jesus requested before he was betrayed and arrested. Sounds a lot like MYSTICKISM to me.

  22. It is interesting to see how people polarize about intellect/spirit.

    On the one hand people think because they can grasp it with their minds there is a certainty there, whereas if it is experience you cannot trust it. Or they trust experience and not the mind.

    I look at it as two foci, reason and revelation. If my life’s trajectory is like an ellipse around these, depending on where I am in a given day, the other may disappear. And I live my life with this tension, which I think is healthy.

    A purely intellectual faith is unsatisfying to most people. We may all know people who it is all mind to them. On the other hand, a touch feely faith where it is all about the latest revelation makes us uncomfortable.

    Is it possible to live with these two in tension? That sometimes God can actually speak to me (as modeled in scripture) and other times I have to use my facilities as a human and walk in those?

  23. dumb ox says:

    “Then, apparently, the real God had enough of my impersonating a true son of his. He began tearing off my mask one painful layer at a time.”

    That’s a great statement. The masks must come off, but the false gods need to die. They are not just idols; they are false representations of God which haunt and hunt us. This is the real evil of false teachers: they manufactures these “gods” and unleash them upon the naive and helpless. Dealing with these false gods seems like a scene out of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”. They must be destroyed with the truth.

  24. It is obvious from the preceding comments that “mysticism” means different things to different people.

    Some are simply conflating (and perhaps confusing) “mystery” with “mysticism”. To save me repeating myself, I have responded to this distinction in my reply to David Cornwell (4th comment from the top) if you care to read.

    The broad historical understanding of mysticism has links to early Gnosticism, New Age, Kabbalah, the occult, ecstatic experiences and other obscure associations all of which have a strong emphasis on esoteric knowledge and are an affront to the gospel and how Christ comes to us. The Bible does not point us within to find peace, knowledge understanding and answers. So if that’s the mysticism you want to embrace, whatever floats your boat I guess!

    However, having read Jeff’s post a few more times I don’t think that’s the mysticism he’s talking about. My sense is (pun intended) that he is talking about the intuitive side of his nature. We were all designed / wired to be rational, emotional and intuitive beings. They are all essential to our survival. Rom 8:16 makes it clear that God uses our intuitive nature to communicate the reality of our spiritual adoption.

    For the sake of clarity it is worth making the distinction that being intuitive is something we are born with but being mystics is something we choose to become, as it comes with a set of beliefs and a distinct mindset on how to deal with spiritual matters. Hence, my difficulty to accept that God can “make” someone a mystic.

    If God alerts our senses through movies, books or music it is not because he turned us into mystics. I weep when I watch David Attenborough documentaries (especially Planet Earth in HD) because the intricacy and complexity of creation communicates volumes to me about God’s wisdom, craftsmanship, sense of beauty and aesthetics. I don’t think I weep because I’m mystical. God uses the environment to communicate truths about himself and we are told that if we ignore this we will be judged accordingly.

    For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.(Rom 1:19-20)

    However even though the whole creation witnesses God’s handiwork and he can communicate certain things about himself through creation or culture, these are not primary sources of revelation to be relied upon. God’s written word is where God’s revealed will is found.

    John (From Down Under)

  25. This also caught my eye (beafore I call it quits).

    If pressed to explain why I believe in God, why Jesus is all that matters to me, I would say I don’t know. I can’t explain why a God who created the universe would give a wet slap about me. I dont’ know why the King of all kings would get himself dirty trying to help me.

    Seriously?

    So when Peter says “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15) your defense is “I don’t know”?

    I’m no scholar Jeff, but I would think that the reason God gives “a wet slap” about you is because you have responded to his gospel and accepted the forgiveness of Christ for your sins and you trust in him for your salvation.

    That’s the only reason God needs to give a wet slap about anybody and it’s not because we’re special in any way or because God felt sorry for us.

    John

  26. All I know is that I was blind, but now – now I see.

  27. Jeff Dunn says:

    Yes, John. Seriously. I cannot explain why God should do what he did. Oh, I could glibly say, “Because he loves me.” But that would be like saying some stranger from, oh, Italy who sends me a check for $100,000 did it because he loves me. I’ve never met the bloke. How could he love me?

    Yes, we can say God created us, that he knows us better than we know ourselves, etc. I say those things, too. But when it comes down to it, all I actually see is my sin. It is glaring at me every time I turn around. And you tell me God, whom I have never seen, has erased it from my record by sacrificing his Son just because he loves me? There is no way to really explain that. Only to know it from the inside-out.

    Confusing? Hell yes, at least to me it is. That’s why I don’t get wrapped up in explanations. I just know.

    C. S. Lewis gives this explanation of his salvation experience. He was a confirmed atheist. One day his brother, Warnie, and he were going to the zoo on a motorcycle. Lewis says when he left his home on the motorcycle he was an atheist. When he got to the zoo, he was a Christian. And that is the best he could explain it. How could I do any better?

    • Jeff I doubt you’re still reading but just in case you catch this later…or anyone else…

      It would be unloving to ignore your comment. I think you are placing the unnecessary burden of the unknown on your shoulders, by mystifying a knowable truth and personalising something that equally applies to all faith professing Christians.

      If God accepts you on the basis of your faith in his Son and therefore manifests His love and kindness to you in multiple ways, why is this simple truth not good enough for you and you’re looking for the sentimental thrill of a mystical answer by wondering “I can’t explain why a God who created the universe would give a wet slap about me”?

      Why are you looking for a mystery when the answer is obvious?

      “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”

      If you’re a child of God, it is only to be expected that you will be loved by the Father!