My friend, Tammy, asked me a while ago to write a little more on mysticism and perhaps clarify a couple of things. This is certainly not going to be a systematic theological presentation. I don’t have time or inclination for that. But I think I can explain fairly simply what I meant and did not mean several weeks ago.
You may remember that I defined mysticism as ‘trying to know God apart from Scripture’. To me, that is an approach to God, a philosophy of how to know God. As I said, it takes the Garden of Eden direct contact with God, and the future New Heavens and New Earth face-to-face contact with God and tries to establish those as present spiritual norms.
That is simply not valid. God withdrew himself from direct contact with the human race when we fell into sin, and until sinlessness is re-established in the future, he deals with us only through the mediating form of Scripture. As Christians, of course, we indeed have an intimate relationship with God as the Holy Spirit applies Scripture to our heart, and reveals Christ to our understanding. But face-to face? Not yet.That is part of the pain, the frustration of the present order of things.
But does that mean we do not have spiritual experiences of and from God? Not at all. I certainly don’t believe in normative apostolic-type gifts. They were foundational to the building of the church. But I believe God does occasionally give super-natural revelations of specific, non-normative things to people, or perform impossible things on their behalf. But these things are rare – I would say several a lifetime in our culture – and never come on demand. Mostly not even when you are looking for them. (At least I have found it so.)
In cultures that God is just turning to, or where there is severe persecution, I would say from the reputable stories I have read – and I read all that I can get my hands on – God’s super-natural acts increase. But they are always in line with his goal that men may know him as he is revealed in Scripture. Who has not heard of the visions that are rather commonplace in the Muslim world as God reaches out to individuals in these closed and guarded societies?
And what is the content of these? it is along the lines of what God told to Cornelius in his vision (Acts 10) ”Go to——— and ask to speak to the man who lives there. He will tell you about the true God” or “Go to ———and ask him for a book that will tell you of the way of life.” That kind of thing. Marvelous, and entirely in keeping with Sola Scriptura.
Without a doubt, there are more miraculous healings etc, in these societies, as well, but – again – to buttress the veracity of the God they are hearing preached by faithful witnesses.
A second question is that of personalized guidance. Does God give that? If so, in what way?
Again I would say that, over the course of a lifetime, you might have a situation or two in which God does speak words into your mind or some similar thing. But mostly, we rely on the fact that he lives inside us: he in us and us in him. That means he is as deep as our own thoughts.
God almost always works through means in this life. Which means as we make our best efforts to understand our situation, our needs, we can rely on God to direct our thoughts. That, I would say, is the ‘ordinary’ super-natural of this age. Always combined with human effort.
Salvation is God’s free gift to us. But the working out of our salvation in this era is full of toil, of plain old hard work. Whether that means getting to know God better through serious Bible study, or seeking to make our lives useful in his service.
But that is alright. He is worth it. And it is only for a time.