The Metaphysical Perspective
I’ve heard it said that it requires mysticism to experience the mystery of God. I disagree. I will point out again the Christian culture has mixed a Greek metaphysical view of nature and super-nature (that realm of supernatural). For clarification, I will state that some of the synonyms for this concept of nature might include; creation, the seen, and the material. Within this Platonic framework, as I said before, nature is subordinate to the spiritual. Some would go as far to say that nature is evil, part of Satan’s domain.
In a much more Biblical view, the material isn’t inferior, as if it came from a Sears and Roebuck catalog, rather than from God’s creative act. It is of great significance and value because it is made by God. There is a continuum between the seen and unseen that is not morally hierarchical, but linear. Both are God’s stuff and of equal value. No human understands the character of the unseen (one of many mysteries) and could be the same as the “other universes” (multiverse) that some astrophysicists have described. This is not an attempt to reduce God to the material or to deny the fact that He can work outside of the laws of nature, but it is to elevate the material from the low position that Christians have unfortunately ascribed it to. As a guest pastor implied last Sunday, to really, really experience God, you must enter into the “crazies.” He meant irrational.
Imagine that you had several kids that loved to play hockey. You set up them space on the paved driveway for roller hockey. It took you about ten minutes. But a year later, you went to the great expense to build them a wonderful ice hockey rink on the other side of your house. Then you start to notice that they never used the professional-level hockey rink. You ask them why. They informed you that the driveway, while inadequate, was from you, while the ice rink was built by the guy down the street, and he was not a good guy. They, out of honor for you, preferred to use the space that you quickly created for them. How would that make you feel? Confused?
God created this material world for our good pleasure and He did it with great mastery. This includes our physical bodies. He also made the intangibles like reason, beauty, emotion, and logic. The pastor from last week was implying that God only made the inline skate court in the driveway, where the kids had to pretend they were on the ice. In other words, God only created the spiritual and to really know Him, you have to encounter him there.
I will close this section with an answer to an imaginary question or argument. You may say, “Okay, so the material is more important than I thought. But, to have a balanced spiritual experience, you should embrace the beauty and wonder of the material and that of the immaterial.” If you are talking about the irrational, then you are going back to the Platonic concept that there really is a place of irrationality, where God dwells. I doubt that.
The Historical Perspective on the Mystery of God
If this were 2500 years ago and you lived in a small village somewhere in modern-day Europe you would be surrounded by the possibility of nearby mysteries. If a visitor came to your village and reported that they had seen, in Africa, a huge flying reptile that breathed fire and a horse that was orange and had the ability to stretch its neck far up into the trees to graze, you would be likely to believe both. We knew very little about the world at that time and both creatures were equally plausible. Mystery was everywhere and close at hand. But as discovery and science became more dominate, we got to know the world better and better. At this point in history, we have searched the four corners of the earth and there are no fire-breathing dragons or probably never have been. There are remains of creatures millions of years ago that could pass as a dragon. But we know with certainty that Giraffes exist.
So, much of the close at hand mystery has been resolved. I’ve heard it said (in a lecture once) that there are no mysteries left so we are a sad and depressed people. That is NOT true. The mysteries have only become more distant. There are still many unknowns on this earth, from the abyss of the Pacific to the sub-atomic and the microscopic. But the greatest mysteries, in my opinion, are in the realm of physics and astrophysics and the unexplored universe. Some of this mystery is garden variety, such as the concepts of magnetism and gravity. These forces have only been described (for example Newton describing gravity) but no one has a clue how either really work. Then we move on to the mind-boggling concepts of things like Dark Matter and Dark Energy (not to give moral connotations of “darkness” as not from God, but dark meaning not observed or understood). Another name for Dark, as the astrophysicists use it, is enigmatic.
So, people who argue with me that you must have irrational mysticism (spiritual in the unseen realm) to experience God’s mystery wholly, I disagree. I mean quantum mechanics is irrational. The dark energy is irrational. Not everything in this material world is rational and should bring awe.
Others will say that my position is based on a non-Biblical philosophical concept of Materialism (physicalism). That all of existence is within the boundaries of the material and there is nothing else. That is not my position at all. That position comes from the Enlightenment where an arbitrary position was taken that if something cannot be observed, it does not exist.
So, what is the harm of creating mystical experiences that are in the spiritual instead of the material (assuming that things like quantum mechanics and dark matter and energy are still “material”)? After all, I do believe in the immaterial.
The harm is two-fold. First, is falling back on the erroneous belief that this material world is not enough. God didn’t do a good enough job with it, so we need something more. Or that God didn’t even make this wonderful ice rink but only the (supernatural) clearing on the asphalt. My major point of resistance is that a focus on the spiritual, for the sake of the material, creates a place of great dishonesty. As I said in my first post on this subject, when I was a charismatic, it was the most psychologically dishonest time of my life. We were all faking miracles, happy to report them in each conversation.
This guest pastor (like many other mystics) told of supernatural experience after supernatural experience. These stories are very alluring, especially to the immature Christian. But I would bet that these stories are false. I have seen Christians caught up in the sensational “lying for Jesus” mode many times. When he told a story of healing a woman from liver cancer, I was seriously tempted to find out her name and to investigate the story.
I work in medicine. I was once in a practice where a lady had terminal lung cancer. Out of desperation, she went to a traveling faith-healing tent revival that came to our town. The evangelist under that big tent cast a demon out of her and proclaimed her cured. She called our office and said she didn’t need to come back because she was cancer free now. Her family circulated the story about her miraculous healing, even to my church. I was an elder ther
e and heard the story shared over and over of how great God was. I was not allowed, by law, to state that her last chest CT showed a progression of the disease, as expected. To everyone’s shock, she suddenly died from the disease a few months later. I imagine that some people lost their faith due to the delusional notion and assurance that God had healed her when he had not. It was part of the “supernatural” charade. The traveling revivalist? Well, he was long gone, on to the next town where he would proclaim people were healed. Some, I’m sure, had a treatable form of cancer, but stopped their treatment because of him. They probably died due to lack of treatment caused by the lying evangelist. That’s the harm.
In my book, Butterflies in the Belfry, I make the point (several times I believe) that, if God is there, he dwells with reality. The closer we are to reality, the closer we can be to him. Psychological honestly goes hand in hand with spiritual maturity, not sensational, but untrue narratives.
In closing, I must be clear that “experience” is a key part of our knowing God. But, my point is that it is okay to call that experience what it is, emotions. Emotions are not “of the flesh” as inferior, but God-given. It is part of who we are and would naturally be part of any relationship. So it is okay to say that when I went up on the mountain to pray, I felt an overwhelming joy when I considered all that God has done for me. But if I say, while praying I felt an angel come down and whisper in my ear that God loved me and then I turned and saw the angel flying away, that is an old-fashioned lie. Sin in other words. But can God work outside the material? The Bible as accounts of this. But it is rare. The ice hockey father may prefer to play with inline skates and a ball on the asphalt at times, rather than their beautiful rink. But it does not devalue the magnificence of the rink.