Recovering Mysticism: Part Four

A friend asked me the other day why. Why did I suddenly get all metaphysical? (Although I’d put forth it only SEEMED sudden, this has been building for quite some time.) The answer is pretty simple – I knew there was more. I knew people weren’t leaving Christianity for other more ‘mystical’ religions for a reason. People were lacking something, and here’s the deal – God doesn’t lack anything. If the God we’re following is leaving us unsatisfied, unfulfilled, ‘lacking,’ then we’re doing it wrong. God has provided everything we need, everything we could want. God created our souls. He knows what they need. And if we come to know God and feel like we’re missing something, then we ARE missing something – but it isn’t God’s fault. It has to be ours, and we have to figure out what we’re doing wrong.

Someone on Twitter reposted my Mysticism series and someone commented about how it was good stuff, but they’d say ‘mystery’ was the word I was looking for, not ‘mysticism.’ Well, with all due respect, no. I meant mysticism. Here’s the thing – while we cannot fully, one hundred percent bask in God’s glory until heaven, He doesn’t make himself a mystery. He tells us absolutely as much about Himself as He can. The Bible is full of everything about Him, everything we need to know. It’s not ‘mystery’ we’re looking for – it’s answers. Not questions.

God, who God is, is clearly evident on every page of the Bible, a book we all have the incredible blessing of access to – but we’ve become so familiar with it that we can’t see the forest for the trees. We read words and we know things, but we don’t see. The word ‘Behold’ is all throughout the Bible, and as Jared Wilson points out in his book ‘The Imperfect Disciple’ (which I HIGHLY recommend), some translations do not include the word ‘behold’ and instead use the word ‘look.’ He encourages us to reread verses like Psalms 63:2 and Ezekiel 44:4 and John 1:29 and 2 Corinthians 3:18 and read them without the ‘beholds.’

“…he’s not merely saying ‘look at him.’ He’s telling us to look with consideration, with appreciation, with fixation and transfixion. To behold something is to ‘hold’ something in our vision, to let the weight of it rest on our mind and heart.”

We know how to look. Looking is second nature. But we have forgotten how to behold.

Jared Wilson continues, “The problem is that many Christians have stifled their ability to behold the glory of Christ without realizing it. They have stunted their capacity to see some measure of his all-encompassing excellencies, not because they are generally disinterested in him but because all of their other interests have dulled their spiritual senses. All of the other things they look at dull their vision. They struggle to behold Christ’s glory because they have a generally decreased capacity for bigness in the first place.

But we can work against this. We can do some simple things that help us behold better. What efforts can you make to help yourself behold the glory of Jesus? Well, maybe you want to start by going outside…. Truly, I think one reason we aren’t captivated by Christ’s glory is because we have a diminished capacity to be captivated by anything big. We are preoccupied with small things. And, in fact, we somehow have an inverted sense of measurement in that big things seem to us small or familiar while small things become big to us, at least in terms of our time and attention and energy.”

John Piper said, “Do you know why there are no windows on adult book stores? …Because they don’t want people looking out at the sky. …The sky is the enemy of lust. I just ask you to think back on your struggles. The sky is a great power against lust.  Pure, lovely, wholesome, powerful, large-hearted things cannot abide the soul of a sexual fantasy at the same time. I remember as I struggled in my teenage years and in my college years…one way of fighting was simply to get out of the dark places – get out of the lonely rooms…Get out of the places where it is just small – me and my mind and my imagination, what I can do with it and get to where I am just surrounded by color and beauty and bigness and loveliness. And I know that when I used to sit in my front yard at 122 Bradley Boulevard with a notepad in my hand and a pen trying to write a poem, at that moment, my heart and my body were light years away from the sexual fantasizing that I was tempted by again and again in the late night, quiet, secluded in-house moments. There is something about bigness, something about beauty that helps battle against the puny, small, cruddy use of the mind to fantasize about sexual things.”

Jared Wilson continues, “Do you want to see glory? ‘The heavens declare the glory of God.’” (Psalms 19:1) Resting from the spaces, then, where you are an acting sovereign and instead getting out into the spaces where God’s sovereignty is more palpable, believe it or not, will help you see Christ as bigger. See, what you’re focused on will shape you, lead you. The spiritual dynamic the apostle Paul is employing in 2 Corinthians 3:18 – how beholding Christ is in a way becoming the likeness of Christ – works for almost anything else we’re intently looking at. What we behold, we in some way become…Want a heart as big as the sky? Behold the sky. Want a soul as bright as day? Behold the day.”

“What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.” — G. K. Beale

When I was in my early teens, I heard a sermon preached on Revelation. That book of the Bible had always terrified me – I found it full of horrifying imagery and vague, dooming prophecies that seemed very out of whack with the rest of the Bible (or at least the new testament). But that sermon had a huge impact on me – the only sermon I’ve heard in person to date, in fact, to affect me in such a way. It changed the way I saw – and see – God. It’s where I learned God breathes in our prayers like incense. (8:3-4; 5: 8)) It’s where we see John comparing God to every jewel and precious thing available in a puny attempt to say ‘LOOK AT HOW INCREDIBLE. HOW BEAUTIFUL. HE’S BEYOND ANYTHING WE HAVE IN COMPARISON.’

It’s where God says ‘I am the bright and morning star.’ (22:16) The Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and last. It’s where we get a truly awesome look at angels – who, contrary to Renaissance art, are not voluptuous women and chubby babies with wings. They have multiple eyes and multiple wings and are all kinds of shapes and sizes and are freaking incredible. I think Guillermo del Toro gave the most accurate portrayal I’ve ever seen of an angel with his Angel of Death in Hellboy 2. It’s no wonder angels always have to preface their words with ‘DON’T BE AFRAID.’ Because who looking at one of them wouldn’t be afraid?

John uses all kinds of immense, terrifying, awesome, inspiring imagery in an attempt to show us what he saw. You can feel his urgent desire to compare something incomparable to things we understand – frustration, as well as awe, flow through the pages. That day, I began to see God not as some pale, emaciated white guy gazing heavenward with doe-eyes, but as God.

A God. The God of Gods. The King of Kings. An image flashed through my mind – a giant, humanoid figure towering among galaxies and nebula. Instead of flesh, a deep blue marble; a lion’s mane of hair (if you could call it that); instead of a face or genitals, clusters of stars because we’re in His image but He is so much more, so many things. (No, I’m not saying God is a woman. I’m saying God is God, and both men and women are made in His image, and He’s far above + more than what we can envision. Even John had a hard time describing him, and he saw God.) Is that really what God looks like? Probably not. But that image pulls me out of my tiny view of God and into something huge, cosmic, bigger, all-powerful.

Too many of us see Jesus, and only Jesus, when we think of God, but here’s the thing: Jesus was God in human form. Jesus was God packaged into a tiny little finite meat suit, bursting at the seams. God looked like Jesus on earth for thirty years, but Jesus is not what God exists as.

God has wrath. God has jealousy. God is righteous, God is kind, God is just, God is merciful, God is peaceful, God is a warrior, God is our friend, God is our King. God is so, so many things, but we’re so ‘used to Him’ that we don’t see him. We don’t Behold.  

I hope this maybe helped shake up your ‘familiar’ view of God – I urge, urge urge you to open your Bible back up. Read the old testament – it’s ignored far too often, and yet it’s where every thread ties through to Jesus, shows us who God is. The uncomfortable sides of God we don’t want to talk about because it doesn’t fit with our wishy-wash, fluffy God. ‘He is not a tame lion.’ But he is Good. He is the ultimate Good, in fact. He is Love. He is Love. But Love, real Love, true, deep, sacrificial Love, is not weak. Love is the ultimate Strength. And it doesn’t always look pretty.

There are some things that really helped pull me out of my ‘familiar,’ dull view of God into something bigger – although looking at the sky, I have to admit, really was one of them. I recommend Transformation Church services (you can watch them on Youtube – I can’t recommend them enough. Pastor Mike Todd is incredible at taking the familiar and showing it in new, real perspectives).

I recommend reading The Celtic Way of Prayer by Esther deWaal, Re(Union) by Bruxy Cavey, The Imperfect Disciple by Jared Wilson, Love Does and Everybody Always by Bob Goff, Found by Micha Boyett, Mere Christianity and Miracles by C. S. Lewis. I recommend, above all, reading the Bible as it was meant to be read – as history and poetry and revelations and proverbs and essays, God-breathed to tell us about Him, with illustrations using imperfect people, holy people, people doing their best (and sometimes, their worst) and God in all.

The point of the Bible is God. It’s not about how many verses you can memorize (although memorization is great). It’s not about answering study questions. It’s about getting to know the God of the Universe. When you pick up a Bible, you pick up the key to everything – and God has given you the ability to unlock that Everything.

How can you not be excited?


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