Biblical Meditation vs. The “Mystical Silence” June 16, 2008Posted by Watchman in Christian, Spiritual.
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Does God Sanction Mystical Experiences? Lighthouse Trails Research by Ray Yungen June 16, 2008 – For many years during my research, I would come across the term contemplative prayer. Immediately I would dismiss any thought that it had a New Age connotation because I thought it meant to ponder while praying–which would be the logical association with that term. But in the New Age disciplines, things are not always what they seem to be to untrained ears. What contemplative prayer actually entails is described very clearly by the following writer:
When one enters the deeper layers of contemplative prayer one sooner or later experiences the void, the emptiness, the nothingness … the profound mystical silence … an absence of thought.1
To my dismay, I discovered this “mystical silence” is accomplished by the same methods used by New Agers to achieve their silence–the mantra and the breath! Contemplative prayer is the repetition of what is referred to as a prayer word or sacred word until one reaches a state where the soul, rather than the mind, contemplates God. Contemplative prayer teacher and Zen master Willigis Jager brought this out when he postulated:
Do not reflect on the meaning of the word; thinking and reflecting must cease, as all mystical writers insist. Simply “sound” the word silently, letting go of all feelings and thoughts.2
…One of the most well-known writings on the subject is the classic 14th century treatise, The Cloud of Unknowing, written by an anonymous author. It is essentially a manual on contemplative prayer inviting a beginner to:
Take just a little word, of one syllable rather than of two. With this word you are to strike down every kind of thought under the cloud of forgetting.3
The premise here is that in order to really know God, mysticism must be practiced–the mind has to be shut down or turned off so that the cloud of unknowing where the presence of God awaits can be experienced…. So the question we as Christians must ask ourselves is, “Why not? Why shouldn’t we incorporate this mystical prayer practice into our lives?” The answer to this is actually found in Scripture. While certain instances in the Bible describe mystical experiences, I see no evidence anywhere of God sanctioning man-initiated mysticism. Legitimate mystical experiences were always initiated by God to certain individuals for certain revelations and was never based on a method for the altering of consciousness. In Acts 11:5, Peter fell into a trance while in prayer. But it was God, not Peter, who initiated the trance and facilitated it.
By definition, a mystic, on the other hand, is someone who uses rote methods in an attempt to tap into their inner divinity. Those who use these methods put themselves into a trance state outside of God’s sanction or protection and thus engage in an extremely dangerous approach. Besides, nowhere in the Bible are such mystical practices prescribed. For instance, the Lord, for the purpose of teaching people a respect for His holiness and His plans, instated certain ceremonies for His people (especially in the Old Testament). Nonetheless, Scripture contains no reference in which God promoted mystical practices. The gifts of the Spirit spoken of in the New Testament were supernatural in nature but did not fall within the confines of mysticism. God bestowed spiritual gifts without the Christian practicing a method beforehand to get God’s response.
Proponents of contemplative prayer would respond with, What about Psalms 46:10? “Be still and know that I am God.” This verse is often used by those promoting contemplative prayer. On the surface, this argument can seem valid, but once the meaning of “still” is examined, any contemplative connection is expelled. The Hebrew meaning of the word is to slacken, cease, or abate. In other words, the context is to slow down and trust God rather than get in a dither over things. Relax and watch God work…. This isn’t talking about going into some altered state of consciousness!
It should also be pointed out that being born again, in and of itself, is mystical. But it is a direct act of God, initiated by Him–the Holy Spirit has regenerated the once-dead spirit of man into a living spirit through Christ. Yet, we notice that even in this most significant of experiences when one is “passed from death into life” (John 5:24), God accomplishes this without placing the individual in an altered state of consciousness.
We can take this a step further by looking at the day of Pentecost recorded in Acts, chapter 2 where those present were “all filled with the Holy Spirit” (vs. 4). Notice that they were “all with one accord in one place” (vs. 1) when the Holy Spirit descended on them. From the context of the chapter, it is safe to assume this was a lively gathering of believers engaged in intelligent conversation. Then, when those present began to speak in other tongues, it was not an episode of mindless babbling or vain repetition as in a mantra. Rather it was an event of coherent speech significant enough to draw a crowd who exclaimed, “we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God” (vs. 11). Other observers who suspected they were in an altered state of consciousness said, “They are full of new wine” (vs. 13). Notice that Peter was quick to correct this group in asserting that they were all fully conscious. Would it not then stand to reason that their minds were not in any kind of altered state? Next, Peter delivered one of the most carefully articulated speeches recorded in Scripture. This was certainly not a group of men in a trance.
So, through the lens of perhaps the two most meaningful mystical experiences recorded in the New Testament (i.e., being born again and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost), an altered state of consciousness was never sought after nor was it achieved. In fact, a complete search of both Old and New Testaments reveals there were only two types of experiences sanctioned by God where the recipient is not fully awake–namely dreams and visions–and in each case the experience is initiated by God. Conversely, every instance of a self-induced trance recorded in Scripture is adamantly condemned by God as we see summarized in the following verses:
When you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. (Deuteronomy 18:9-11)
An examination of the Hebrew meanings of the terms used in the above verses shows that much of what is being spoken of is the invoking of spells. And a spell, used in this context, refers to a trance. In other words, when God induces a trance it is in the form of a dream or a vision. When man induces a trance, it is in the form of a spell or hypnosis. And remember, nowhere in the Bible is the silence equated with the “power of God,” but the message of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18) most certainly is!
1.William Johnston, Letters to Contemplatives, op. cit., p. 13.
2.Willigis Jager, Contemplation: A Christian Path (Triumph Books, 1994), p. 31.
3.Ken Kaisch, Finding God, cited from The Cloud of Unknowing, p. 223
I would like to add some research of scripture I did myself as well regarding meditation. In today’s world, the idea of meditation seems to correlate with this altered state of mindlessness. The Eastern practices of clearing the mind have taken over many of the ideas of what meditation really should be from a Biblical standpoint. So I did a search of scripture under the word “meditation” and “meditate.” A common thread through these were the fact that the meditation wasn’t a blanking of the mind, but rather the focusing on God’s Word and meditating on that.
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
Psalm 119:15; 92-101
I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction. I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me. I am thine, save me: for I have sought thy precepts. The wicked have waited for me to destroy me: but I will consider thy testimonies. I have seen an end of all perfection: but thy commandment is exceeding broad. O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts. I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word.
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands.
1 Timothy 4
Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe. These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.
When understanding that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God, Romans 10:17, we can see that faith isn’t blind as is also posited by many in the world, but faith grows with our understanding of God’s Word, our meditation on it. We are not blind in our faith, but our understanding of God’s Word offers the evidence of Truth and in the study of Bible prophecy it shows that God says what He means and means what He says, telling the end from the beginning and ensuring His bride is not in darkness. Only by the meditation on God’s Word do we have a light and the guidance to understand the signs of the times and how our lives should be led, focused on Yeshua the author and finisher of our faith.
Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments.
But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. For the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.