Mysticism, presence and words
Chapters 6 and 7
Knowing what we want and being satisfied with what we have can sometimes be a challenge for us. It’s this kind of issue that Michael Raiter addresses in Chapters 6 and 7. To be honest, I found these chapters tough going; with so much space given to exploring the specifics of Christian mystics and their writings, I found myself getting impatient. But I certainly understand his motivation for writing — he’s concerned at the growing number of evangelical writers who are ‘calling upon people to put aside their uninformed prejudices and give the mystics a fresh look’ (p 170). Raiter notes that these writers speak about a spiritual dryness that springs from ‘the spiritually and emotionally barren kind of evangelical piety that they have been brought up with’ (p 170).
This perceived barrenness of evangelicalism is something Michael Raiter addresses more fully in later chapters, but I’d like to focus on some possible reasons we might become dissatisfied with our relationship with God that have less to do with evangelicalism and more to do with our own sin and weakness. As Raiter writes at the end of Chapter 7:
In their hunger for something more, Christians will always be attracted to those who sympathetically say, “I know how you feel. I was once where you are now. I, too, thought that just believing in Jesus and serving him as Lord was enough and that’s all there is. But let me tell you, that’s not all there is. …” This is the lure of mysticism. The biblical facts are that we don’t journey inwards. There are no spiritual elites. We don’t have to strive for the presence of God. Christians are fully one with God. Our God is both love and a consuming fire. God communicates essentially in words. The believer’s mind is not to be emptied of thoughts, but filled with right thoughts about God and Christ. (pp 192-3)At this point it’s worth asking an important question: do we trust in the sufficiency of God’s provision for us, through his word and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, to enable us to live faithfully and grow in godliness? Do we think it’s enough? As sinners, we come to faith in Jesus by repentantly trusting in the sufficiency of his death on the cross, but as believers, do we continue to trust in Jesus’ promise of his presence and help through the fellowship his Spirit? Shortly before his crucifixion Jesus said to his disciples:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you … If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:16-17, 23)Could anything be more intimate, more comforting than the outworking of this promise? If what we long for is a close, dynamic relationship with God, it is exactly what he has provided for us through Jesus and his Holy Spirit. Being satisfied with this and resting in it, is our responsibility but also the source of true joy and peace in the Lord.