Mysticism in the Gospel of Messiah
NCW 16, February 1995
Second Edition (2015)
Q. Is there any place for mysticism in the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Yah'shua the Messiah)? Doesn't all mysticism lead to pantheism?
To answer the first part of your question first: yes, there is a conditional place for Christian/Messianic mysticism. One of the great dangers of mysticism is, as Lewis analogised it, is that mystics tend to climb so high that they lose all contact with ground level.
Nowhere in the Scriptures does Yahweh say that everyone is to become a mystic. Nowhere in the Scriptures does it say that we should become so absorbed with the spiritual that we, as we must if we pursue the mystic path whole heartedly, lose contact with the reality of ordinary people's lives.
The quest of mysticism is understanding the spiritual realities that lie behind our physical world. Mystics want to understand the causes and affects of life. The problem is that they usually become so absorbed with their quest for spiritual knowledge that they become more interested in leaving this world than living in, and facing, its daily realities. If, as the Gnostics taught, the purpose of physical life is simply to escape it (because matter is evil), why would Elohim (God) bother to put us here in the first place?
We have been placed in this physical sphere of existence to teach us things that we cannot learn in a purely spiritual sphere. To try and escape the physcial world by retreating inwardly is therefore not only to overturn Yahweh's plan but to miss a golden, never repeatable opportunity, for real spiritual growth. Our spirits grow by interacting with flesh-and-blood people, facing and solving difficult outer circumstances, and learning the graces of emunah (faith) and patience, to name but two. None of these things can really be learned by pursuing an exclusively aesthetic life of inward searching.
The position of Messianic Evangelicals is that only certain people are called to pursue a mystic path, namely, those the Bible calls the 144,000, and then only conditionally. They are indeed called to ascend to the lofty heights of the spiritual realms so long as this is not selfish pursuit. In other words, their call is to obtain wisdom and return to ground level to bless ordinary people.
Once you have tasted paradise the natural urge is to remain there. Who, having experienced sublime simcha (joy), would want to return to a world of suffering and misery? It is exactly here, though, that the essense of true ahavah (love) is tested. Yah'shua (Jesus) came from Heaven, leaving His place of glory and honour, to enter this world for our salvation. The King of Kings became the least of all servants, suffering the indignity of persecution and a common criminal's death. Only one power in the universe can induce someone to do such a thing -- pure ahavah (love).
And that is usually what the mystics miss if they are not very careful. They find, so they suppose, their Shangri-la but never discover what true ahavah (love) is. And it is the ordinary person, at ground level, who will, if he obeys the teachings of Yah'shua (Jesus), find true ahavah (love) before the most exalted mystic. The least (at the bottom of the mountain) will become the greatest (at the top of the mountain) in the Kingdom of Heaven.
In a way, mysticism is cheating. Yah'shua (Jesus) said that there was only one door into the sheepfold (John 10:2) and that all those who try to come into the Kingdom by any other way are thieves and robbers. The Babylonians were mystics who symbolised their quest for immortality by a route not ordained of Yahweh by building a symbol of that quest, the Tower of Babel.
Here then is the great danger of mysticsm as a religious quest on its own, and it is this danger that the New Age has fallen into. For the New Age, and the Hinduism it springs from, has different aims to Christianity: its aim is to detatch oneself from reality (the very opposite of Christianity) altogether in the hope of never having to return to earth in imagined future 'reincarnations'. The New Age mystic isn't really that interested in outer, physical conditions, not withstanding their piping of a new 'Golden Age"' of peace and harmony on the earth. Their aim, as is that of all Hindus and Buddhists, is simply to get out of this world as soon as possible so as to become mystically 'absorbed' into an impersonal 'force' which they call 'God'.
None of this is, of course, in the Besorah (Gospel) plan at all. This world is not a hell from which we are to escape as fast as possible by doing Yoga and generally detaching ourselves from outer circumstances as much as possible. Rather there is one life only, and then comes the judgment of Elohim (God) to determine how wisely or foolishly we used our mortal probation (Heb.9:27). Without a shadow of a doubt, those who used their earth life in order to escape reality will come to bitterly regret that decision and to curse Satan for deceiving them.
Now to your second question. No, I do not believe that all mysticsm leads to pantheism [the belief that Elohim (God) is the Creation itself, and that therefore we are in some way 'God' ourselves]. It is not true that all mystics, starting from the most diverse religious premeses (Hindus, Sufis [Moslems], Buddhists, Christians, heathens, Jews, etc.) all discover the same realities. The New Age claims to be the first 'trans-religion'. They say that all the major religions are but outer shells and that once you strip away this outer shell you arrive at the same reality -- their reality, which is pantheistic. Certainly, if you strip away the outer shells of all the non-Christian religions you will indeed find a unity -- a dark unity. You will find underneath them the great delusion that Satan has been working on all mankind since the beginning of his mischievous activity on this world, namely, that there is no personal Elohim (God), that Yah'shua (Jesus) is not the Messiah, and that you can (and must) save yourself. All the non-Christian religions specifically deny the latter.
The New Agers claim that mysticsm is the only real empirical evidence of man's contact with the unseen. They claim that what they experience on the spiritual plane is the reality and that what exists down here is all illusion or maya. All the suffering, all the problems, all the joys even, are all ILLUSION. The reality, they claim, is something completely different.
And this is the great lie. Now let's be clear about something else, though, before we possibly come to false conclusions. I am not saying that our physical existence is the only reality. Christians know that there is a spiritual reality too, which for want of a better word, I shall call 'Heaven' here. For Christians there are therefore two realities -- the physical, objective world, and a spiritual world. But Christians also acknowledge another spiritual dimension which is called 'Hell', and many, many levels of spiritual existence inbetween.
It is exteremely dangerous to claim that the core reality is what we experience within. I have read many mystics and it seems to me that there is much to divide them. One friend of mine, who embraced the New Age, was anxious that I should search for reality within, and only within. He created a 'reality' all of his own and subsequently became incapable to properly interacting with people. His universe was his own inner one, and everything outside it was, to him, mere illusion. From being a Christian where people take care of one another, he soon adopted the New Age philosophy that other people exist only to help us in our own personal enlightenment. 'Ordinary' people were of no interest to him at all. He even deluded himself into believing that we was walking a spiritual path in parallel to Christ.
Yet it was 'ordinary' people that Yah'shua (Jesus) took the most interest in! My friend was an intellectual; trusting in his intellect was his downfall. A navi (prophet) gives the sober warning:
My friend ended up rejecting those parts of the Bible he didn't like. When I questioned him as to why, he simply replied; "The Cosmic has informed me differently." When I pressed him to identify the "Cosmic", he could not. The "Cosmic" was, in truth, his own personal spiritual complex of feelings and the influence of dark forces.
"The wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish" (Isa.29:14, NIV).
"The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and trapped. Since they have rejected the Word of Yahweh, what kind of wisdom do they have?" (Jer.8:9).
There are great dangers in mysticism if one is not 100% rooted in Messiah and the Davar Elohim (Word of God) as revealed in the Scriptures. It often leads to divination and other occultic practices which are forbidden (Deut.18:10; Ezek.12:24). What my friend did not understand is that the unseen world is complex and dangerous, and that without Messiah it is easy to be deceived. Paul warns:
A battery of spiritual forces is constantly arrayed against us that are hard to understand. Only by living a true -- and consistently true -- Christian life can we attain sufficient spiritual maturity to train ourselves "to distinguish good from evil" (Heb.5:14). Those who abandon Yah'shua (Jesus) of Nazareth for other 'christs', or abandon Christ altogether, will not discern properly and will, inevitably, through tantalising mystical experiences and sophisticated philosophy which appear to be good, find themselves drawn deeply into one of those 'heavenly realms' where emet (truth) and falsehood are so thoroughly mixed that they cannot tell the difference. And it is here that most mystics end up.
"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Eph.6:12, NIV).
To be a mystic all ones illusions must be shattered, but the question is: what is illusion and what is reality? What if we end up shattering reality as well and substitute one illusion for another? Satan's aim is to make us lose a grip of reality and substitute his own 'reality' or our own -- or a mixture of the two, depending how intelligent we are. So what of the claim made by New Agers that everyone who enters their path of mysticism ends up discovering the same pantheistic universe?
Actually, we should be asking ourselves the question: should we be surprised that mystics arrive at this conclusion? Of course not. It is as inevitable as a person ending up in hell because he has willfully, and unrepentantly, murdered someone. Hell is a reality alright, and Heaven is a reality. But they are two worlds -- two different spiritual realities.
Mysticism (of the non-Christian variety) is essentially negativism. To achieve their 'unity', mystics deliberately shatter their ordinary spacial and temporal consciousness, and their discursive intellect. They completely 'empty' themselves by meditating on a demon's name, staring at a blank wall for days, or whatever. And they all end up feeling the same. And it is this 'sameness' which they claim is the ultimate reality!
The negative all feel the same! They always do. Communist Russians and capitalist Americans united in hating Nazism and fought together in the last Word War. There was a sense of real comradeship. They were united, as one, to destroy the enemy. But once the enemy was gone, so was the unity. The Cold War began thereafter. Learn this lesson: the negative always feels the same. It's the easy way out of problems -- hate the good guy, hate the emet (truth). Hatred creates strange bedfellows. And one other thing I have discovered is that the New Age hates the monotheistic religions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism because as religions of realism they pose a major threat to their religion of illusion.
If you are empty then you will feel the same as others who are empty. I like C.S.Lewis' analogy when he says:
Mysticism as and end in itself leads nowhere. As a tool, though, it can be very useful. It can reveal the realities behind the things we do, the way we feel, our traditions, etc.. And as such it can be a very powerful tool. Messianic Evangelicals have used such tools to great effect to assist them in their discipleship. The tools have never become ends in themselves. Those who have come to us seeking mysticism before discipleship have always fallen away because mysticism (prophethood, seership, etc.) in and of itself is the pursuit of the selfish. Seeking Elohim (God) through purely inner experience is not only deficient but hightly dangerous. As Lewis says:
"If wine glasses were conscious, I suppose that being emptied would be the same experience for each, even if some were to remain empty and some were to be filled with wine and some broken. All who leave the land and put to sea will 'find the same things' -- the land sinking below the horizon, the gulls dropping behind, the salty breeze. Tourists, merchants, sailors, pirates, missionaries -- it's all one. But the identical experiences vouches for nothing about the utility or unlawfulness or final event of their voyages" (Prayer: Letters to Malcolm, p.67, Fountain Books, 1964).
Those who desire mysticism must check their motives carefully. Are our motives the selfish quest for personal knowledge and power, in order, perhaps, to gain a following? Do we seek mysticism to escape painful realities? Or is our motive to bring glory to Yahweh by blessing people to deal with the realities of earth life? If it is the latter, then mysticism has a place. If not, it is a sure ticket to illusion, fantasy and, eventually ....hell.
"The lawfulness, safety and utility [usefulness] of the mystical voyage depends not at all on its being mystical...but on the motives, skill, and constancy of the voyager, and on the grace of God. The true religion gives value to its own mysticism; mysticism does not invalidate the religion in which it happens to occur" (Ibid., p.67-68).
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