Jews and the Eternal Self: It all unfolds

“And this is the reason why our theology is certain: it snatches us away from ourselves and places us outside ourselves, so that we do not depend on our own strength, conscience, experience, person, or works but depend on that which is outside ourselves, that is, on the promises and truth of God, which cannot deceive.” LUTHER’S WORKS, American Edition, 55 vols. Eds. Pelikan and Lehmann (St Louis and Philadelphia: Concordia and fortress.) 45:70–71.

My sister Sonia is 84, and has been living in a Jewish old-age home for more than 20 years. She like all the Jews discussed here do not align themselves with the Bible or any branch of Judaism: they are “cultural” Jews. Sonia cannot do much for herself. Her favourite is chocolate which, if allowed, she would snarf all day. My second sister visits her always bearing chocs. She does not give it directly to Sonia but to the nurses, who, to Sonia’s chagrin, dole out a few morsels a day, because, they say, too much sugar is bad for her health. I told my second sister that she should let Sonia eat as much chocolate as she could afford to buy for Sonia. “But, she said, Sonia might die.” I replied, “So, she lives an extra few months – deprived.” I asked my second sister, “What do you think happens to you when you die?” She said she will rejoin Mommy and Daddy. I asked, “Will you see Jesus there?” She replied, “Of course not, he’s on a much higher plane.”

Although Christians believe that they will meet Jesus when they die, “higher planes” is not a Christian term. Christians (should) believe that it’s the work, the finished work of Christ, faith in Him, faith in His works, not ours, that reconciles us to God, that brings us into God’s presence on earth, and, in a much more intimate way, in heaven. Sonia also used to talk of higher planes. Years ago I asked Sonia whether she ever read the Bible. She said she had moved far beyond that.

In July 2006, when on holiday from Oman, where I was teaching at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, I visited Sonia at Highlands House, the Jewish home for the elderly situated in the “City Bowl” area of Cape Town. Cape Town seems to be quite small and neatly arranged. This is because of “Table Mountain” that surrounds the town centre and seems to hold the city in a bowl. For this reason, the terrain between Table mountain and the harbour is called the City Bowl. Highlands House is situated a stone’s throw from the mountain.

It was often difficult to get Sonia to talk about the past, but on this occasion, she was more relaxed. I wrote down our conversation verbatim.

Sonia’s words are in italics.

What school did you go to? She doesn’t answer the question. She gives me the name of five of her classmates who became doctors (medical doctors). For Yiddish Jews, you’re not a real doctor unless you’re a medical doctor. If you were thinking of visiting a certain place, my mother, Fanny (Yiddish, Feigele “little swallow”) would settle the issue with: “Die greste dokteirim geit dottern” (The greatest doctors go there).

I’m going to tell you how I became enlightened. I studied mysticism, the mystical way of life, since 1963, Goldsmith, a Jewish mystic.

In our family, Sonia threw out words like “infinite “divine”, “mystical.” They thought she was mad. She was an embarassment. What lay behind Goldsmith’s “Infinite way.”

Joel S. Goldsmith is described as one of the “great modern mystics – the American teacher, healer and lecturer.” Goldsmith’s “Infinite Way” is also called the “Circle of Christhood.” Here is an except from his book:

The day is coming when there will be a band of Christhood around the world, a circle of Christhood. Not persons, not people – I’m not speaking of that. I’m speaking of a band of spiritual consciousness around the world. You know how it will get there? By these realizations of Christ. The Christ, as Browning tells us, is within ourselves, bottled up there, corked up. We must open out a way for that imprisoned splendor to escape.”

Sonia:

My whole life expanded. I don’t know where to begin. It’s not a thing you can study intellectually. The pupil is ready; the teacher appears. Who we are, our function on earth; can’t talk anymore; it just enfolds(unfolds?).” “Enfolds?” A spark of gnostic genius, perhaps.

Sonia shows me a poem she wrote.

It’s from the soul. Can’t snatch from outside, or hear about it, or copy it. I always loved writing. I’m waiting for the right time. My thoughts become potent and real, become colourful.

You have a fantastic way of expressing yourself.

The scriptures.

Did you read the scriptures?

Didn’t need to, it just unfolded. I see things with such depth. I had an elocution teacher at Maitland High (School), Valda Adams, who went to Hollywood. I also wanted to help. I wrote a letter for Blanche in my class who was absent. I signed her father’s name. I was meant to be queen in a play. The teacher found out and I lost the part. The principal put me on his lap and said: “You’re a good girl but you must learn.”

I wrote an essay: “Good will and cooperation in South Africa.” The teachers thought it too advanced, but I wrote it from my heart. I left school to help Daddy in his business (See Bags, scrap metal, bottles and bare bones). I went, Sonia continues, to extramural lectures (in psychology).

Sonia then relates the time – more than 30 years later – when she went to Avrom, our nephew’s place for supper. Avrom is my brother Joe’s son. Avrom left South Africa more than 30 years ago for Australia, and is in the organic fruit business as well as being the Regional Director of the Jewish Defence League of Australia. Sonia describes Avrom’s cooking.

Black mushrooms grilled in garlic butter filled with delicious creamed spinach and topped with garlic white sauce. Peri-peri livers or plain and onions finished off in a delicious fresh tomato sauce.

Sonia then talked about our father, Issy:

I want to write a book about Daddy. Fantastic chef. He bought, he cooked, he presented.

Then about life at home:

Too full of sorrow. Daddy was not a thinker. Mommy was. He liked good food and getting his way. Gave her lots of babies.

I remembered the comment (in an official memo written in 1951) made by the Principal of the Cape Jewish Orphanage who said that my parents had “14 or 15 children.” My parents were described as people who have had 14 or 15 children, and are so brutish and self-centred that they are totally unable to care for their numerous progeny. The principal went on to say that the Orphanage had five of the Gamaroff offspring until 1949 (I was one of these). They did not have 15 children; thet had 9 or 10. I think one died in early chldhood. See Cape Jewish Orphanage (8): And then there were fifteen).

Sonia then talked about her ex-husband, Israel. They divorced in the 1970s. He got sick in the late 1980s. Sonia went to stay with him and cared for him. Sonia continues:

I stayed with him to make him well. There was dust in his lungs. I loved to cook and heal. Nothing was too hard for me. Made him chicken and salads. He got better and better. He was healed. He was living in his air cocoon (in a lung machine? in his own world?).

There’s a chakra in your breast that protects you. Thank you Father (God), you know better. I won’t retaliate. I went through the university of life. I studied 40 years – and you can’t buy it for money. But now we are purified with God’s love. I’m all because of You. He is perfect. So are we. And any less than that, throw out.

If Sonia thinks she is perfect, then she is God, and thus, she exists on the highest plane. Recall my second sister who said that because of her imperfections, when she dies it will take a long time to reach the realm where Jesus lives. When I was in my teens my father told me that if he had to change, it could only be for worse. Divine perfection was my father.

What were these religious outpourings and unfoldings from Sonia? Was there method in Sonia’s theosophical mishmash? Theosophy is a religious philosophy originating with Helena Blavatsky. Theosophy teaches that all religions are attempts by the “Spiritual Hierarchy”, the “One Mind”, the “Overself” to help humanity evolve to greater perfection, where all religions have a measure of the truth.

The source of love, for the Jewish psychologist, Gerald Jampolsky, is within the eternal inner man. When you discover that source – through transforming your consciousness – you will discover that your fear was groundless. Here is Jampolsky in his “Love is letting go of fear”:

“…wouldn’t our lives be more meaningful if we looked at what has no beginning and no ending as our reality. Only love fits this definition of the eternal. Everything else is transitory and therefore meaningless…..fear can offer us nothing because it is nothing (p. 17)…all minds are joined…we share a common Self, and that inner peace and Love are in fact all that are real…Love is letting go of fear (.p.18)…we can choose our own reality. Because our will is free, we can choose to see and experience the truth (p. 21).”

Jampolsky’s God is the “Eternal common Self,” which is an Eastern metaphysic. “We can learn to receive direction from our inner intuitive voice, which is our guide to knowing (p. 28). The “inner intuitive voice” is the voice of the eternal common Self.

When I was a devout Catholic, I read the great Catholic mystics such as Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. I was still wet behind the mystical ears, and didn’t know that you could be a good Catholic and a good Buddhist at the same time. According to Thomas Merton, Buddhism and Catholicism were two sides of the same coin, of the same Koinona (communion); they participate, according to Merton, in the same communion of divine fellowship. Each is a different door to human solidarity and brotherhood. The present Pope, Francis, says the same thing.

Buddha’s final words to his disciples were:

“Make of yourself a light. Rely upon yourself; do not rely upon anyone else. Make my teachings your light. Rely upon them; do not depend upon any other teaching.”

Contrast that with the words of John the Baptist:

“He was not himself the light, but was to bear witness to the light” (John, 1:8). John the Baptist continued to proclaim that Christ “is the true light that enlightens every man who comes into the world” (John, 1:9).

Christ says “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). Christ is the light. No human being has any light IN himself waiting to shine forth.

Here is an excerpt of an ABC-TV interview featuring Shirley Maclaine:

During an oceanside conversation, David presses her to stand up and assert the presence of the “God-truth” within. After suggesting several affirmations, he selects a powerful one for Shirley: “I am God.”
Timidly, she stands at the Pacific. Stretching out her arms, she mouths the words half-heartedly.

“Say it louder.”

Shirley blusters about this statement being a little too pompous. For him to make her chant those words is — well, it sounds so insufferably arrogant.

David’s answer cuts to the quick: “See how little you think of yourself?”

This deep insight embarrasses MacLaine into holy boldness. Intuitively, she comes to feel he’s right. Lifting both arms to the sky, she pumps it out — “I am God! I am God!” — as the ocean laps at her feet.

It didn’t come naturally to Maclaine. But to stand up in public and declaim it; that takes supernatural chutzpa.

I read much of Paul Brunton. I was surprised – but why should someone who is alert to the uncanny be surprised by anything – to discover that Paul Brunton was not only Jewish, but his original name was Raphael – Raphael Hurst. He was born in London from Jewish parents who had emigrated to England from Eastern Europe. His parents were part of the same wave of emigrants from Eastern Europe as my two sets of grandparents. Brunton’s parents stayed in England permanently. My grandparents came via England to South Africa.

Earlier we met the Jew, Joel Goldsmith, heading East on his “Infinite way” towards enlightenment. Now, we meet Raphael Hurst, another Wandering Jew wondering among the esoterica (Esoteric knowledge is knowledge only known to a few) of East and West. He was, if not the first, among the first to tailor Eastern philosophy to a Western audience. He said you don’t have to be a monk to be enlightened.

Why did Raphael Hurst change his name to Paul Brunton? Let me answer with another question? Who is going to read books about yogis, holy men and ancient Egyptian priests written by Raphael Hurst, unmistakably a Jewish boy? Although, in recent years it is has become respectable to be a “Jubu”: a Jewish Buddhist, as it has become chi-chi to be a “Cabu”: a Catholic Buddhist (Thomas Merton). Perhaps it had little to do with Raphael’s desire to hide his Jewishness and more to do with finding a name that is better suited to selling books. They do it in the movie business, so why not in the publishing business? For example, what kind of a name is David Kaminsky or Stewart Konigsberg if you want to be a great Jewish actor? Danny Kaye and Woody Allen would fit the bill. Imagine a Yiddishe mama saying to her gentile neighbour: my son de hekter Stewart Konigsberg. Compare that with: my son de hekter Voody Ellern.

What unites religions? “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” What divides religions: “I am God” (waiting to unfold in me) versus “I am a creature of God”. The one view is: “God is inside me; my spirit is eternal”. The opposite view is: “God, who is outside me, created me – both body and spirit, and I don’t find God; He finds me. I don’t look for God; He looks for me. I’m unable to look for God because I’m dead to the things of God.” That’s the New Testament view of the difference between the God inside waiting to unfold and the God outside taking up residence in you. How God comes to abide in you is the question that divides the monotheistic-creator religions. This “how” also is one of the major divisive points within Christianity, itself. (See Arminianism versus Calvinism).

In no domain other than religion do the prepositions “inside” and “outside” take on such great significance, eternal significance. What is considered as just another grammatical element of language – two prepositions among many others – is in reality of vast import. Language – every word that proceeds from the mouth of God – is of crucial import.

So, most religions and metaphysical systems such as Gnoticism fit into the “I am God” category. The three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam fit into the “I am a creature of God” category. For many in the monotheistic camp, this view of man as mere creature is too simplistic. For example, much of Christian and Jewish mysticism is about discovering that I and God are “ONE”. The quest is for ecstatic experiences, to BE, to be oneself, One Self, the One Self, the Overself (Brunton).

But what’s this I read in this papal encyclical?

In Hinduism, men…seek release from the trials of the present life by ascetical practices, profound meditation and recourse to God in confidence and love. Buddhism…proposes a way of life by which man can, with confidence and trust, attain a state of perfect liberation and reach supreme illumination either through their own efforts or by the aid of divine help…. The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions.” (No.56, Nostra Aetate, “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions”, Oct 28, 1965, in Documents of Vatican II: The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents, Austin Flannery, Ed., New Revised Ed.(Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1975, 1984) Para. 2.).

The Vatican seems to be emerging from its dogmatic stupor by recognising the divine in me. I feel a new energy rising in me. I leap across the boundaries that divide and cause so much strife.

My sister Sonia said she has gone far beyond the Bible. “It all unfolds.” Soon she will be standing before that terrifying majesty. “Out of the North He comes in golden splendour in his terrifying majesty” (Job 37:22).

The beatitudes: Hell is other people

Christ addressed the beatitudes specifically to those who had faith in him. One of the beatitudes is “Blessed is the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Martin Luther, in his “Commentary on the Beatitudes” gives an example of this beatitude, which reminds me of the last words of Jean Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit” (Huit Clos): “Hell is other people.”

Luther

When I was young, they (the hermits) gloried in this proverb: Love to be alone and your heart will stay pure; and they quoted in proof a saying of St. Bernard, who said whenever he was among the people he befouled himself. [It’s unlikely that Bernard of Clairvaux would have said such a thing].

As we read in the lives of the fathers of a hermit, who would not have any one come near him or talk with anybody, and said: “The angels cannot come *to him who moves among men.” We read also of two others who would not let their mother see them; and as she often watched her opportunity and once took them by surprise, they presently closed the door and left her standing without a long while weeping, until they finally persuaded her to go away and wait until they would see each other in a future life.

Behold, that was called a noble deed, and the height of sanctity and most perfect purity. But what was it? There is the word of God: “Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother.” Had they regarded that as holy and pure, they would have shown their mother and their neighbor all honor, love and friendship: on the contrary, following their own notions and self-chosen holiness, they cut themselves off from them, and by their very attempt to be the purest they most shamefully defiled themselves before God ; just as though the most desperate scoundrels could not have such thoughts and put on such an appearance that one would have to say: “These are living saints, they can despise the world and hold intercourse only with spirits;”—yes, with spirits from the bottom of hell. The angels like nothing better, than when we familiarly handle the word of God; with such they love to dwell. Therefore let the angels be undisturbed up there in heaven, and look for them here below, upon earth, in your neighbor, father and mother, child and others, that you may do to them what God has commanded, and the angels will not be far away from you.

I speak thus, that one may learn in this matter of purity to order himself aright, and not go so far to hunt for it as the monks do, who have thrown it quite out of the world and stuck it in a corner or into a hood; all of which is stench and filth, and the true harboring-place of the devil; but let it be where God has placed it, namely in the heart that clings to God’s word, and uses its calling and all creatures in accordance therewith, in such a way that both the entire purity of faith toward God is embraced therein, also outwardly shown in this life, and everything is done in obedience to the word and command of God, whether it be bodily clean or unclean

You are a unique Gospel that God wants to write: Life or lie message?

You are a unique Gospel that God wants to write: Life or lie message?

In “You’re not the message,” Chris Rosebrough’s podcast episode of “Fighting for the faith,

he takes Ken Shook to task for saying that the Gospel is all about Jesus but then spends the rest of his sermon showing his listeners how the Gospel is all about them.

Before we look at Shook, what is the Gospel. It’s what Jesus did.

1 Corinthians 15: 1-4

1. Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For lI delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day pin accordance with the Scriptures…”

The Gospel is about the Atonement, of which the personal relationship of “at-one-ment” with God is the result. “The atonement through Christ, says R. C. Sproul, is the core of the Gospel. What happens is, the Gospel becomes a personal relationship within Jesus. The devil has a personal relationship with Jesus. What kind of personal relationship, what is the ground of that personal relationship. Obviously, being a Christian involves having a personal relationship with Jesus but there is content to that relationship. When you lose the Gospel you lose Christ.” (The White Horse Inn podcast, “Interview with R. C. Sproul)

Here is Ken Shook’s sermon, punctured en route by Rosebrough’s poignard. My comments are in italics.

Shook

It seems we’re always trying to turn Christianity into some religious words or sermons or slogans. But Christianity is not a sermon or a slogan, it’s the savior. Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship with Christ.”

The devil has a relationship with Jesus; not a very good one. In the review of “For the World: Essays in Honor of Richard L. Pratt Jr; Edited by Justin S. Holcomb and Glenn Lucke,” the reviewer writes:

The chapter on “Redeeming the ‘R-Word:’ Paul against and for Religion” was intriguing and relevant since it addressed the contemporary Christian cliché that “Christianity is not a religion.”  Reggie Kid, the author of this essay, noted how Paul was against bad religion (what in the Greek is called asebeia) but this in no way implies that Paul or the Bible ever pit Christianity against religion per se.  There is, biblically speaking, room for good “religion,” and good religion is one which adheres to right doctrines and also right practices.  The author made a good point that whatever value and advantages gained in using the mantra that “Christianity isn’t a religion,” it can in the long run be counter-productive against the church’s effort in evangelism and discipleship.  Hipster Christians need to read this chapter!

Shook – It (the Gospel) is not a bunch of words; it’s the Word, Jesus Christ.

Rosebrough – So, it’s all about Jesus. But watch what he does here. Misdirection. Magic trick, illusions. Magician – artist of misdirection. Rick Warren begins his “Purpose-driven life” with it’s not about you, but the rest of the over 300 pages IS about you.

S – The Gospel is not about we say but all about what we do and how we are Jesus to the world around us.

R – Did you catch that. What we do, we are Jesus. No, Christ died for our sins he rose on the third day. Anything about what you did, no.

S – St Francis said preach the Gospel a all times and when necessary use words.

R – Francis never said that. False. Debunked. The only way to preach the Gospel IS through words.

At a church cell group I attended, we were talking about “love one another.” One of the group told us she helped an elderly woman at the Supermarket. I asked her, “Did you talk about Jesus.” The group seemed taken aback as if to say “Why talk Jesus when you can do Jesus?” Simple: Muslims, Jews, atheists often “do Jesus” far better than many Christians. More importantly, faith comes by hearing not by doing. The Gospel (good news) consists of words not deeds. And, of course, faith (in the Gospel) without deeds is dead.

Romans 10

12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[f]

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

S – I want you to look out for a unique story that God wants to write. Open your Bibles to John’s Gospel 1.

R – Who is that about? Jesus. John 20:30-31: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

John 1 is not about you getting yourself in alignment with some story for your life and your purpose. It’s about Jesus and what he has done. Very God of very God who came into the world. He (Shook) starts off with he wants to start a church that’s all about Jesus. He’s preaching you.

S – (Shook quotes John 1:1-14) – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Shook then prays:

Oh God I thank you that within each of us, you placed a life message and you want us to discover it with your life message because you created us and you know how we work best so we can find fulfilment in true meaning….it’s all about you…this church is not about the past but stepping out in faith…”

R – John 1 – Yes, all about Jesus.

S – We read the Bible not to get to know the Bible better but to get to know Jesus better.

I once wanted to find a “house church.” I met the leader at a restaurant in our city and told him that what I would love to do is for members to dig deep into the scriptures. He said his group is not into “bibliolatry.” What counts, he said, was caring for one another. And that is how we come to know Jesus. How in heaven are we to know Jesus (that is, personally) unless we have knowledge of Jesus, facts about Jesus, and facts are always conveyed by words. Content knowledge (facts) cannot be separated from words. If you kill the words, you kill the facts. That’s how language works.

During a debate between Sye Ten Bruggencate and Matt Dillahunty, Turrentinfan reports the following audience question:

One gentleman asked why everyone isn’t saved, if every one knows/believes that God exists. As Sye explained, the problem with the question was that it presumed that it is enough for salvation for people to know the truth of the gospel (i.e. understand the content), or enough for salvation for people to assent to the truth of gospel (i.e. acknowledge that it is true). Instead, salvation is about trusting in and relying Jesus Christ alone for salvation, which we could describe as viewing the truth as good and desiring it for oneself.”

The Reformers of the 16th Century divided true saving faith into three parts: notitia, assensus and fiducia.

Notitia comprises knowledge, such as belief in one God, in the humanity (1 John 4:3) and deity of Christ (John 8:24), His crucifixion for sinners (1 Cor. 15:3), His bodily resurrection from the dead, and some understanding of God’s grace in salvation.

Assensus is belief. This belief hasn’t yet penetrated the heart; it is still on the mental level – a mental assent. “I believe it, that settles it.” Of course, when you say that your mental assent is more of a mental descent. To understand why it is a mental descent, you need to ascend to the the third level of faith: fiducia.

Fiducia is full trust and commitment, it’s the heart knowledge of Jesus’ prayer to His Father in John 17. (See Two conversions: The mind (notitia) and the heart (fiducia) of faith in Blaise Pascal).

Bible doctrine, says Stanford Murrell, is essential to proper spiritual maturity (Proverbs 4:2; 1Titus 4:13). Sound doctrine is the foundation of faith (Titus1:9). What people believe about sin, salvation, the Scriptures, and the Savior will determine their eternal destiny, as well as their relationship with us God the Father (John 7:17). Doctrine does not divide the Church as much as it unites the saints around the truth that has been entrusted for preservation and proclamation (Jude 1:3). Any attempt to minimize the importance of doctrine should be challenged (2 John 1:9-10). The Church of Jesus Christ would not be the powerful force it is in the world today apart from the faithful defence of basic Bible doctrine. While it is unfortunate that controversies about doctrine occur, such discussions are necessary (1Co 11:18-19) as they form an essential part of the history of the Church.

(Stanford E. Murrell, 2014. “A glorious institution/The church in history, Parts 1 and 2. Free ebook.

S – We read God’s word and we study the bible not to fill our heads with Bible knowledge but to get closer to Christ because Christ is the Word. The really good news is that the word became flesh and dwelt among us…God became one of us so that we could understand his life message he was communicating to us, which was the Gospel, the good news.

R – Good news that Christ died for our sins.

S – And then he experienced all the things we go through so that we could relate to him. Pain, rejection and temptation. Never once did he sin. And he went to a cross and shed his perfect blood so that we could receive forgiveness. Then he rose again. And he ascended to heaven and he said “I’m going to leave my spirit with you.

R – Elements of the Gospel there. He’s going to pull the switcharoo here on us in a second.

S – Receive me and you become a child of mine and I will put my spirit in your life literally so that you will be my body and I can live through you. And so Jesus in you is the Gospel.

R – No. The Gospel is Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures and rose again on the third day. Not Christ in me.

S – … So therefore you are the Gospel.

R – No, I am not, What Jesus did is the Gospel. Galatians 1: “[6] I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—[7] not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. [8] But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. [9] As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” If you believe you are the gospel, you are damned eternally.

S – You are the good news. This is what this series is about. You are the good news. Your life message is the Gospel….Every one of us has a unique life message, a unique expression of the Gospel as God uses us and works through our personality and gifts…So my life message is this: my unique expression of Christ to the world. And until you discover your unique life message then you’re just existing instead of really living. You will always be in a fog of confusion in life not really having clarity of why you are on this earth.

Shook is laying on his hearers the burden of a works salvation. An impossible cross to carry. It’s not what you do what saves you but what Jesus did – for you. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you do in life, this temporal state; it’s about trust, which saves to eternal life. From this trust flows obedience, which is evidence of your trust.

R – Talk about fog of confusion. That is what he is spewing right now out of his mouth.

S – Until you discover your life message, you’ll never discover your voice. You’ll never have clarity on why you are here. You’ll always have a dissatisfaction, a disequilibrium of the soul. Something will always be missing. ..If you can find your voice and come alive …you are the message. So how do I discover my life message… listen for the divine whisper.

Shook has perverted “And you hath he quickened (raised to life), who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) into quicksand, into which his narcissistic followers plunge.

R – Discover your unique Gospel? You are the Gospel? Divine whisper? Where are you getting this!

KS – It’s ironic, when you stop talking you find your voice. Practice the ancient discipline of solitude in silence.

R – Where in the bible does it say all this? Must first practice divine solitude? God will whisper to you your divine purpose which becomes our gospel?

S – The problem is we can’t hear his whisper. We always have the noise going…

Rosebrough asks “Where is he getting this?” I suggest not the marquis de Sade but indirectly from the Jesuit priest Jean-Pierre Caussade via a Karl Keating or a Richard Foster.

Here is the French Jesuit,
Jean-Pierre Causssade, famous among Roman Catholic contemplatives for his 
handbook “Abandonment to divine providence,” Here is an excerpt from Caussade for whom the Gospel is merely “a tiny stream” in comparison to the river that God 
is dying  to pour into you.

The Holy Spirit continues to
carry on the work of our Saviour. While helping the Church to preach the
Gospel of Jesus Christ, He writes His own Gospel in the hearts of the just. All
their actions, every moment of their lives, are the Gospel of the Holy Spirit.
The souls of the saints are the paper, the sufferings and actions the ink. The 
Holy Spirit with the pen of His power writes a living Gospel, but a Gospel that
 cannot be read until it has left the press of this life, and has been published on 
the day of eternity….Teach me, divine Spirit, to read in this book of life. I desire to become Your 
disciple and, like a little child, to believe what I cannot understand, and cannot
see. Sufficient for me that it is my Master who speaks. He says that! He
 pronounces this! He arranges the letters in such a fashion! He makes Himself 
heard in such a manner! That is enough. I decide that all is exactly as He says.
I do not see the reason, but He is the infallible truth, therefore all that He
 says, all that He does is true. He groups His letters to form a word, and 
different letters again to form another word. There may be three only, or six;
 then no more are necessary, and fewer would destroy the sense. He who reads
 the thoughts of men is the only one who can bring these letters together, and
 write the words. All has meaning, all has perfect sense. This line ends here 
because He makes it do so. Not a comma is missing, and there is no
 unnecessary full-stop. At present I believe, but in the glory to come when so
 many mysteries will be revealed, I shall see plainly what now I so little 
understand. Then what appears to me at present so intricate, so perplexing, so
foolish, so inconsistent, so imaginary, will all be entrancing and will delight me
 eternally by the beauty, order, knowledge, wisdom, and the incomprehensible
 wonders it will all display.” (Mystical YOUnion: Do you want God to write a Gospel about you or are you aching to write it yourself?). 

Something is amiss in this mystical effusion, namely, the belief that besides the “Gospel” proper, which for Caussade means the scriptures, there is another Gospel, a Gospel for you and for me. It seems quite possible that God takes copious notes on each individual’s story, but should we call that individual story another Gospel, even if we mean it metaphorically? The word of God in the scriptures “is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16). The focus of Christians should not be on the memorable, momentous “Gospel” God is writing about their lives, but on the historic remarkable life of Jesus Christ. 

(See My gospel: much about noting).

The mystical kind of spirituality is very popular today among all kinds of religions and non-religions. Those who get tired of the world yearn for an experiential connection to God. But, this yearning downplays the place of faith and Scripture. It exalts “transcendental” experiences that propel the person out of the mundane into a higher “spiritual” plane. But this talking with God is not Biblical prayer. If any practice – be it prayer, or some other contemplative practice – does not square with the Bible, it is not of God. For this reason, mystical meditation and “centering” (Richard Foster, Abbot Thomas Keating) is more a flight of fancy than Biblical Christianity. Biblical spirituality involves the study and meditation upon the literal truth of the Scripture; mystical spirituality, in contrast, looks for a “deeper meaning”, where scripture is regarded as allegorical rather than literal (the normal meaning of grammar, meaning and context, where history does not become allegory).

(See In search of French past (7): The hermit, the poet and the clown).

Finally, the Gospel does not, can never, should never, become “my Gospel” – not allegorically and – God forbid – literally, as in Shook. The only one who has the right to talk of “my Gospel” is the apostle Paul, because it is God-breathed, that is, Christ’s Gospel:

Romans 16

25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from[f] faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

J.C. Sproul said above: “When you lose the Gospel you lose Christ.” When you find the Gospel you find Christ. When you find your Gospel you lose Christ.

My Gospel: Much ado about noting

 

There are fictitious stories and non-fictitious stories. French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, said that we tell stories because human lives need and merit to be told. Writing stories is one of the noblest employments of the mind and soul. Most good stories aim at knowledge and wisdom. This aim is most evident in life stories: biographies. For many professing Christians, most of the value of Bible stories lies in what they tell them about themselves, not what they tell them about God. Story, writes Leslie Leyland Fields, is all the rage. Everyone pants to tell their personal narrative or to give the Bible a simpler and more relevant plot. Maybe it isn’t such a good idea.” (The Gospel Is More Than a Story: Rethinking Narrative and Testimony). (See The Gospel is more and less than a story).

I’m reminded of Reconstructionist-Reform Judaism (most Jews fall in this category), which sees the Bible as man-made stories that bind the Jewish community together. Actually, it’s much more than about community. In a sense, the Bible is often less than about community; it’s about self.

You yourself, and I myself, says Martyn Lloyd Jones, are our greatest enemies. The 
curse of life is that we are all self-centred. We live for self instead of for God, and thus we are selfish, we are jealous, and we are envious. As Paul puts it, we are ‘hateful, and hating one another’ (Titus 3:3). Why? Because we are out for ourselves. Instead of living 
to God, in worship of Him and to His glory, we have all made ourselves [into] gods.” That’s, at bottom, the meaning of “total depravity”: we have made ourselves gods rather than God’s. (See Kinda Christianity”: The Bible as stories about ourselves; our gods).

Here is the French Jesuit,
Jean-Pierre Causssade, famous among Roman Catholic contemplatives for his 
handbook “Abandonment to divine providence,” Here is an excerpt from Caussade for whom the Gospel is merely “a tiny stream” in comparison to the river that God 
is dying  to pour into you.

The Holy Spirit continues to
carry on the work of our Saviour. While helping the Church to preach the
Gospel of Jesus Christ, He writes His own Gospel in the hearts of the just. All
their actions, every moment of their lives, are the Gospel of the Holy Spirit.
The souls of the saints are the paper, the sufferings and actions the ink. The 
Holy Spirit with the pen of His power writes a living Gospel, but a Gospel that
 cannot be read until it has left the press of this life, and has been published on 
the day of eternity….Teach me, divine Spirit, to read in this book of life. I desire to become Your 
disciple and, like a little child, to believe what I cannot understand, and cannot
see. Sufficient for me that it is my Master who speaks. He says that! He
 pronounces this! He arranges the letters in such a fashion! He makes Himself 
heard in such a manner! That is enough. I decide that all is exactly as He says.
I do not see the reason, but He is the infallible truth, therefore all that He
 says, all that He does is true. He groups His letters to form a word, and 
different letters again to form another word. There may be three only, or six;
 then no more are necessary, and fewer would destroy the sense. He who reads
 the thoughts of men is the only one who can bring these letters together, and
 write the words. All has meaning, all has perfect sense. This line ends here 
because He makes it do so. Not a comma is missing, and there is no
 unnecessary full-stop. At present I believe, but in the glory to come when so
 many mysteries will be revealed, I shall see plainly what now I so little 
understand. Then what appears to me at present so intricate, so perplexing, so
foolish, so inconsistent, so imaginary, will all be entrancing and will delight me
 eternally by the beauty, order, knowledge, wisdom, and the incomprehensible
 wonders it will all display.” (Mystical YOUnion: Do you want God to write a Gospel about you or are you aching to write it yourself?). 

Something is amiss in this mystical effusion, namely, the belief that besides the “Gospel” proper, which for Caussade means the scriptures, there is another Gospel, a Gospel for you and for me. It seems quite possible that God takes copious notes on each individual’s story, but should we call that individual story another Gospel, even if we mean it metaphorically? The word of God in the scriptures “is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16). The focus of Christians should not be on the memorable, momentous “Gospel” God is writing about their lives, but on the historic remarkable life of Jesus Christ. 

Owing to the fact that Caussade is both a Roman Catholic and a contemplative, and a Jesuit,  it comes as no no surprise he writes in such an imaginative way; the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola’s “Exercises” (in imagination) are famous among Roman Catholics. Caussade’s drift seems  to be that unless the Gospel story is faithful to “my story,” it has little significance. Martin Luther would execrate such chutzpa. Many modern Lutherans would do likewise. There are other Lutherans, however, who would love Caussade’s idea of one person, one Gospel – a typical postmodern pursuit. For example, Walter Brueggemann does not consider theology and Bible interpretation a matter of certainty but of fidelity; fidelity to 1. the “divine office of creative imagination” (Ignatius Loyola?) and 2. to the “other.” 

For Brueggemann any interaction between 1. certitude, which he considers limited because it is restricted to a single meaning (univocity) and 2. fidelity, should be discarded. We should rather, as Jacques Derrida says, remain open to “an unlimited number of contexts over an indefinite period of time,” and thus to unrestricted interaction between suffering persons desiring to tell their personal stories. The biblical story for the imaginative is about always departing never arriving, unless it arrives at the front door of my singular story. (The postmodern pursuit: Always departing, never arriving). There are many Lutherans, thankfully, who have not taken this postmodern turn.

Compared to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our “Gospel” is much ado about nothing. If you don’t agree stop singing those silly songs, “It’s not about me Lord, it’s all about you-hoo-hoo-hoo.” Who again?

 

 

 

God is Me: The divinisation of Self in mysticism

 

La France. C’est moi (Louis XIV “France is me”).

 Here are a few examples of Roman Catholic mystics who teach the divinisation of those in whom God is confirmed in the soul. The quotations are from “Mystical Marriage and Divinisation in True Life in God” written by a hermit nun living in Wales:

Alphonsus Liguori

“In the spiritual marriage, the soul is transformed into God and becomes one with Him, just as a vessel of water, when poured into the sea, is then one with it.”

Teresa of Avila in “The Interior Castle”

“Besides, this company it enjoys gives it far greater strength than ever before. If, as David says, ‘With the holy thou shalt be holy,’ doubtless by its becoming one with the Almighty, by the union of spirit with spirit, the soul must gather strength, as we know the saints did, to suffer and to die…”

John of the Cross, “The Spiritual Canticle”

“This (the spiritual marriage) is, beyond all comparison, a far higher state than that of espousals, because it is a complete transformation into the Beloved; and because each of them surrenders to the other the entire possession of themselves in the perfect union of love, wherein the soul becomes Divine, and, by participation, God, insofar as it is possible in this life. I believe that no soul ever attains to this state without being confirmed in grace in it, for the faith of both is confirmed; that of God being confirmed in the soul…For granting that God has bestowed upon it so great a favour as to unite it to the most Holy Trinity, whereby it becomes like unto God, and God by participation, is it altogether incredible that it should exercise the faculties of its intellect, perform its acts of knowledge and of love, or, to speak more accurately, should have it all done in the Holy Trinity together with It, as the Holy Trinity Itself?

Anne Madeleine de Remuzat

I found myself all at once in the presence of the Three adorable Persons of the Trinity…I understood that Our Lord wished to give me an infinitely purer knowledge of His Father and of Himself than all that I had known until that day…How admirable were the secrets that it was given to me to know in and by this adorable bosom!…My God, Thou hast willed to divinise my soul, so to say, by trans-forming it into Thyself, after having destroyed its individual form.”

In Newsweek, Sept 2005, appeared a feature article  “Spirituality in America.” It said: “Americans are looking for personal, ecstatic experiences of God.” The article went on to describe the Catholic use of Buddhist’s teachings. For example, Father Thomas Keating, the abbot of St. Joseph’s Abbey, noticed how attracted Roman Catholics were to the Eastern religious practices As a Trappist monk, meditation was second nature to the Abbot. Americans, like everybody else, is looking for transcendental prayer, transcendental meditation (TM), which could, it seems, also stand for “Trappist Meditation.” I recently heard Thomas Keating, the Trappist monk, say that the goal of contemplation is to discover that the self and the “Other,” which is God are identical.

Chris Rosebrough’s “Fighting for the faith” exposes the Christianese in so many seeker-drivel churches today. In his “The Inventor Of Centering Prayer Teaches Us What It Is For.” These seeker-driven churches focus on a variation of one message” “Grab your vision; let your creative pants down.” Lately, though, they’re raising the vision higher and higher into prayer itself. This is where “centring prayer” comes into the picture, which can be summarised as “go into your closet, close the door, sit down, shut up, your mind, and let God.” In so doing, you will come to see that…, but let’s hear from a famous Trappist monk, Thomas Keating, one of the inventors, perhaps the main inventor, of “centering prayer,” who is the feature speaker on “The Inventor Of Centering Prayer Teaches Us What It Is For.” Here is a snippet from Keating (Minute 20 ff).

Questioner: What is the journey from the false self to the true self?

Keating: “The spiritual journey is the realisation, not just the information, the interior conviction that there is a higher power or a God, or to make it as easy as possible, an Other, capital O. Second step: to try to become the Other, capital O.”

I used to read Paul Brunton avidly. He coined the term “Overself,” which is the source of all being, which is found deep in the the human heart. That centre, said Brunton is the “Overself.” In his notebooks, published after his death, he wrote:

“No one can explain what the Overself is, for it is the origin, the mysterious source of the expanding mind, and beyond all its capacities. But what can be explained are the effects of standing consciously in its presence, the conditions under which it manifests, the ways in which it appears in human life and experience, the paths which lead to its realization… The point where man meets the infinite is the Overself, where he, the finite, responds to what is absolute, ineffable and inexhaustible being, where he reacts to That which transcends his own existence–this is the Personal God he experiences and comes into relation with. In this sense his belief in such a God is justifiable.”

The Overself is the point where the One Mind is received into consciousness. It is the ‘I’ freed from narrowness, thoughts, flesh, passion, and emotion–that is, from the personal ego…Because of the paradoxically dual nature which the Overself possesses, it is very difficult to make clear the concept of the Overself. Human beings are rooted in the ultimate mind through the Overself, which therefore partakes on the one hand of a relationship with a vibratory world and on the other of an existence which is above all relations. A difficulty is probably due to the vagueness or confusion about which standpoint it is to be regarded from. If it is thought of as the human soul, then the vibratory movement is connected with it. If it is thought of as transcending the very notion of humanity, and therefore in its undifferentiated character, the vibratory movement must disappear. It is a state of pure intelligence but without the working of the intellectual and ideational process. Its product may be named intuition. There are no automatically conceived ideas present in it, no habitually followed ways of thinking. It is pure, clear stillness.”

That capital O – call it the “Other,” call it the Overself is, in reality, the SELF, the uber dragon in the dungeon of the soul, not glorifying, but lauding Self over, God. The seeker seeks to become God, not to worship Him. A fantasy game – “Dungeons and dragons” where “one person gets to be the dungeon master and he plays the role of the quote – “supreme god” in the world. He creates a world for his players. His tools are maps, dice, miniature figures, rule books, and so forth. And a game can last for several years. And the players will play through those years for hours and hours and hours. What is the ultimate fantasy of man? The ultimate fantasy of man is that man should be God. This speaks of that fantasy. (John MacArthur, “Reasons for the wrath of God 4).

The “self is God” defines Buddhism in a nutshell. Thomas Merton, another Trappist monk, and the most famous of modern Roman Catholic monks says: “I see no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity. The future of Zen is in the West. I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can.”

And not only now and zen”, as a Yiddish “Jubu” (Jewish Buddhist) might say. (Thomas Merton’s “I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can”: All roads, including to Rome, lead Home). 

The pure, clear stillness of Home.

 

 

 

 

Mystical YOUnion: Do you want God to write a Gospel about you or are you aching to write it yourself?

Did you know that everyone has a Gospel story inside aching to be
written – and a world screaming to listen?

“God, says Bill Johnson, has ideas; he puts them into words and speaks them.
And those words form inside the heart of surrendered individuals, and from
that comes a demonstration of who Jesus is.” Chris Rosebrough asks “where is
he getting this – and much else – from? Bible verse please.” (“Birthing the
what? Last 45 minutes, Rosebrough’s “Fighting for the faith.”).

Johnson continues: “The Lord wants to bring forth something out of every life,
out of every heart, something that is absolutely impossible. God loves
manifesting himself through your gifts, your history, your family, the good the
bad and the ugly. He loves being recognised by others as your God in the
midst of that. I’m not wanting to do a study of the gospels, I just want to say,
you’ve got your story too, and Jesus is wanting to bring something out of the
impossible through you. I want to challenge every believer. There is a miracle
that God has been planning in eternity past, a miracle, something
impossible,something that can only be brought forth in its purest form through
you. It cannot be done by someone else. it is a representation of this
wonderful saviour, this wonderful king, it cannot be brought forth accurately,
powerfully, purely except through you. The world is looking for, the expression
of Jesus through you. You’re highly favoured (Johnson compares believers with
the mother of Jesus, but on a less exalted level), set aside for the impossible.”

And, which is the inspiration behind my title:

“I want to see the expression of Jesus in and through you in ways that the
world is aching for. Some of you carry some gifts and praises on you that are
so unique that there is a gospel to be written. Every one of you has a gospel
story that can be only told through your life experience. There’s a book to be
written in and through your experience with this wonderful saviour that will
touch people whether it’s the Greeks or the Romans.There’s a gospel story to
be written through your life, by countless numbers of people that will represent
him (the saviour) well in a way they can relate to. And that’s the miracle of
this mother’s day.

The last sentence explains Rosebrough’s title “Birthing the what?” Only
mothers give birth. You o man can give birth too; so mother’s day is also for you. Indeed you are a mother.

I ask: Is the world really aching to see the expression of Jesus in and through
me, or Bill Johnson or anyone? Absolutely not. The world doesn’t give a toss.
Ask Jesus: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated
you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but
because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore
the world hates you (John 15:18).

Here, in a similar vein to Johnson, is Walter Brueggemann.He distinguishes between “certitude” and “fidelity.”   For Brueggemann, any interaction between 1. certitude, which he considers limited because it is restricted to a single meaning (univocity) and 2. fidelity,

should be frowned upon. We should, therefore, be open, as Jacques Derrida
says, to “an unlimited number of contexts over an indefinite period of time,”
and thus to an unrestricted interaction. The main focus of the Bible, for
Brueggemann, is suffering persons desiring to tell their personal stories. For him,
there is no no such thing as the (objective) True story, but only
hurting people telling their “true-for-me” stories, which are the only stories
that ultimately matter. And if the Bible stories are able to buck – and back –
them up, thank you Holy Spirit.

Jesus says: The Truth will make you certain and free. Brueggemann says The
Truth will make you uncertain and flee.

The Truth necessarily brings suffering and makes you feel very unsafe. Unsafe
in the world, yes; for the supernatural reason that the biblical story clashes
with the world’s story/stories (the world system).

This is what the Cross means to Brueggemann: “The symbol of that (fidelity) is
the way of the cross. The way of the cross is always to be departing certitudes
so that we may be in the company of Jesus.” Now, one can feel certain about
something yet it may not be true, that is, objectively true (Truth). In
Brueggemann, however, “certitude” is synomymous with Truth; as we read
earlier, he says “certitude” is restricted to a single meaning (univocity), that is
the normal meaning of words; in their context, of course.

According to Brueggemann, fidelity means being in the company of the
crucified Jesus, but this can only become a reality if we “depart” from our
“certitudes;” If language has consensual meanings, I presume Brueggemann
means by “certitudes,” all certitudes. Surely, though, if we are to be faithful
(fidel) to the way of the cross, as Brueggemann suggests, we need to be
certain that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he
was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the
Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

Jacques Derrida, Jean Paul Sartre, Andre Gide, Albert Camus, as well as every
postmodernist, poststructuralist, deconstructionist, in fact, anyone who doesn’t
believe in Certitude, would ask the question: “What fun’s left once you find the
Messiah, once you’ve found the “Cross?” After all, the ideal, says Renan, is
fundamentally a utopia. What is more utopian than Truth? (See my Certainty
and Fidelity in Biblical Interpretation: The Deconstruction of Walter Brueggemann).

Where do Bill Johnson and Walter Brueggemann get all this stuff from? It
seems that Postmodernism has influenced Brueggemann. And Bill Johnson?
He’s into contemplative Spirituality. In his Sozo manual on inner healing, he
writes:

“Sozo is a Christian based prayer ministry helping to heal people from the
effects of sin and wounding, of delivering individuals from the resulting
influence, control and dominion of the demonic, and of restring them to
relationship with God. This is accomplished through prayer and the guidance of
the Holy Spirit, during which He uncovers past and present lies believed,
reveals sin issues, as well as points of entry or access. When we remove the
ground for this access, the spirits lose their ability and right to influence and
control our lives. It is then that blessing and obedience can be established. The
primary purpose of Sozo, at its best, is to move through healing and freedom,
and into restoration of the relationship with Papa God and out of that
relationship, to reestablish destiny, purpose and direction.” (The Shack’s Mamma Papa God?)

Sozo (which is Greek for “salvation”) reminds me of the French Jesuit,
Jean-Pierre Causssade, famous among Roman Catholic contemplatives for his
book “Abandonment to divine providence,” highly recommended by Thomas
Keating, founding member and spiritual guide of “Contemplative outreach”
extending beyond the monastery into the home. Here is an excerpt from Caussade. For
him, the Gospel is merely “a tiny stream” in comparison to the river that God
wants to pour into us. If, however, you want the river to swim in you, you’ll
need a guide – like Thomas Keating. I italicise the parts in Causssade that
resonate with Bill Johnson and Walter Brueggemann. Caussade is describing
the gospel that God is writing on contemplative hearts:

The Holy Spirit has pointed out in infallible and incontestable characters,
some moments in that ocean of time, in the Sacred Scriptures. In them we see
by what secret and mysterious ways He has brought Jesus before the world.
Amidst the confusion of the races of men can be distinguished the origin, race,
and genealogy of this, the first-born. The whole of the Old Testament is but an
outline of the profound mystery of this divine work; it contains only what is
necessary to relate concerning the advent of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit has
kept all the rest hidden among the treasures of His wisdom.

From this ocean of the divine activity He only allows a tiny stream to escape,
and this stream having gained its way to Jesus is lost in the Apostles, and has
been engulfed in the Apocalypse; so that the history of this divine activity
consisting of the life of Jesus in the souls of the just to the end of time, can
only be divined by faith. As the truth of God has been made known by word of
mouth, so His charity is manifested by action. The Holy Spirit continues to
carry on the work of our Saviour. While helping the Church to preach the
Gospel of Jesus Christ, He writes His own Gospel in the hearts of the just. All
their actions, every moment of their lives, are the Gospel of the Holy Spirit.
The souls of the saints are the paper, the sufferings and actions the ink. The
Holy Spirit with the pen of His power writes a living Gospel, but a Gospel that
cannot be read until it has left the press of this life, and has been published on
the day of eternity. Oh! great history! grand book written by the Holy Spirit in
this present time! It is still in the press. There is never a day when the type is
not arranged, when the ink is not applied, or the pages are not primed.
We are still in the dark night of faith. The paper is blacker than the ink, and
there is great confusion in the type. It is written in characters of another world
and there is no understanding it except in Heaven. If we could see the life of
God, and behold all creatures, not as they are in themselves, but as they exist
in their first cause; and if again we could see the life of God in all His
creatures, and could understand how the divine action animates them, and
impels them all to press forward by different ways to the same goal, we should
realize that all has a meaning, a measure, a connexion in this divine work. But
how can we read a book the characters of which are foreign to us, the letters
innumerable, the type reversed, and the pages blotted with ink?

Teach me, divine Spirit, to read in this book of life. I desire to become Your
disciple and, like a little child, to believe what I cannot understand, and cannot
see. Sufficient for me that it is my Master who speaks. He says that! He
pronounces this! He arranges the letters in such a fashion! He makes Himself
heard in such a manner! That is enough. I decide that all is exactly as He says.
I do not see the reason, but He is the infallible truth, therefore all that He
says, all that He does is true. He groups His letters to form a word, and
different letters again to form another word. There may be three only, or six;
then no more are necessary, and fewer would destroy the sense. He who reads
the thoughts of men is the only one who can bring these letters together, and
write the words. All has meaning, all has perfect sense. This line ends here
because He makes it do so. Not a comma is missing, and there is no
unnecessary full-stop. At present I believe, but in the glory to come when so
many mysteries will be revealed, I shall see plainly what now I so little
understand. Then what appears to me at present so intricate, so perplexing, so
foolish, so inconsistent, so imaginary, will all be entrancing and will delight me
eternally by the beauty, order, knowledge, wisdom, and the incomprehensible
wonders it will all display.

End of Caussade

Caussade’ description of God as the arranger of “type” (letters) evokes the
Jewish system of Gematria described in the Zohar where the 27 letters of the
Hebrew alphabet in different combinations have the power to release the riches
of your unconscious mind. Materialists would agree that the human being, at
bottom, is a concatenation of letters but only four – in the DNA, but you’re not
going to find the “Endless One” (Ein Sof) there. So, if that’s what you want to do, see your doctor.

To return to Caussade. In the gospel that God is writing on Caussade’s heart,
Caussade sees himself – as I understand him -in a glass darkly, and says when he shucks off his mortal coil, he would see himself as he really is. Is that what the Bible says,
see himself as he really is? Frankly I only want to see God as he really is – and
myself covered in his light. Here is the Gospel of the scriptures?

1 Corinthians 13:9-12

“I know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is
come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as
a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we
see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but
then shall I know even as also I am known.”

What shall I know even as also I am known (by God)? God.When Causssade says:

“At present I believe, but in the glory to come
many mysteries will be revealed, I shall see plainly what now I so little
understand,” he is not talking about what is written in the scriptures, but what
has been left out of them; what has been written in the mystical realm – about
Caussade, and you and me. If only, as Thomas Keating says, we would dare to
enter our closet, sit down, shut up and allow God to write Himself – much of
whom is not found in the “little stream” of the scriptures – into our hearts.
Contrast this self-preoccupation of Johnson, Brueggemann and Caussade with
the Gospel writers, for example Matthew’s cameo appearance, who only
mentions himself is in the third person. “And as Jesus passed forth from
thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and
he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him” (Matthew 9:9).

For our three kissing cousins described above, scripture is insufficient. For them,
there’s the patchy universal Gospel story in the scriptures, which becomes heavily
supplemented by your story/gospel that God is writing on your heart or
you are aching, if you’re Johnson, to write in a book. Paul warns us in
Galatians 1:6-10:

“6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the
grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7 Which is not another; but there be some
that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But though we, or
an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we
have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so say I
now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have
received, let him be accursed. 10 For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I
seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of
Christ.”

In the Roman Catholic Church, tradition interprets and supplements scripture,
where “tradition” is generally understood as 1. those sacraments not found in
the biblical material, for example, confession and holy orders (the priesthood,
etc) and 2. dogmas such as those about Mary, the mother of Jesus,
indulgences, purgatory and papal infallibility. There is another domain of
Roman Catholic tradition, namely, the mystical/contemplative tradition as in
Caussade. In the last decade, many who call themselves “evangelical” such as
Bill Johnson are embracing mysticism. As someone said, what begins in a
myst, ends in a schism – the Gospel (about God) and gospels about oneself.
Caussade spoke of the Scriptures as a little stream. I prefer Jonathan Edwards’
puritan fountain, which taps into the pristine ocean of the scriptures:

“God is the highest good of the reasonable creature. The enjoyment of him is
our proper; and is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To
go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant
accommodations here. Better than fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or
children, or the company of any, or all earthly friends. These are but shadows;
but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams;
but God is the sun. These are but streams; but God is the fountain. These are
but drops, but God is the ocean.”

The night of the senses and the sense of God in Augustine of Hippo

As far as the senses and the sense of God are concerned, I think Augustine of Hippo had it just right; Augustine’s “Confessions,” Book 10:

“But what is it that I love in loving thee? Not physical beauty, nor the splendor of time, nor the radiance of the light–so pleasant to our eyes–nor the sweet melodies of the various kinds of songs, nor the fragrant smell of flowers and ointments and spices; not manna and honey, not the limbs embraced in physical love–it is not these I love when I love my God. Yet it is true that I love a certain kind of light and sound and fragrance and food and embrace in loving my God, who is the light and sound and fragrance and food and embracement of my inner man– where that light shines into my soul which no place can contain, where time does not snatch away the lovely sound, where no breeze disperses the sweet fragrance, where no eating diminishes the food there provided, and where there is an embrace that no satiety comes to sunder. This is what I love when I love my God.”

Inviting Jesus into your aorta: Personal and Mystical Union at the White Horse Inn

Isaiah calleth heaven his “seat,” and earth his “footstool,” but not his dwelling; therefore, when we long to seek after God, we shall be sure to find him with them that hear and keep his Word, as Christ saith, “He that keepeth my Word, I will come and dwell with him.”

(Martin Luther, “Table Talk”)

————————————-

God in Christianity is very personal: “You have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father (Romans, 8:15) and “they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me (Jesus’ prayer to hid father – John 17:20b). I often hear Christians say “Christianity is a relationship not a religion.” Trite but not complete tripe. More correct is it to say that the heart of the Christian religion is relationship; vertical first, between God and Christians, and horizontal second, between Christians. 

I focus here on the meaning of “personal relationship.” I draw on some thoughts from three sources on the issue: Calvinist Mike Horton’s White Horse Inn discussion “Your own personal Jesus”, John Piper’s lecture on Martyn Lloyd Jones, and Martin Lloyd Jones from his sermon on Ephesians 2: 6-9, where he explains what it means to be “in Christ.” 

People assume that sin is the absence of God, but it is the presence of God; of his judgments. For this reason, all of us are born into a relationship with God, and thus God is not separated from any human being. The question is whether for you God is a God of wrath or a God of forgiveness. 

Much of modern popular Christian culture is obsessed with self-discovery techniques where the church is set aside in favour of savouring one’s own personal Jesus. Christians do have a personal relationship with Christ but this depends on faith and trust in what Christ has done in history. Instead, we see personal relationship displacing knowledge: “I don’t wanna know about Jesus, I wanna know Jesus.’’ Such thinking is a disaster waiting to happen. It indicates that you know little Christianity. How in a future heaven or on this or a future earth can you have a personal relationship with someone you know little about? Knowledge, like books, is not everything, but it ain’t nothing. Indeed knowledge of the kind we are concerned with often comes from books, or someone bookish. 

Similarly with the mind. “The mind isn’t everything” doesn’t mean the mind is nothing. When it comes to living the Christian life, reading and listening (and thinking, of course) are important. As is very clear from the scriptures, minds can be darkened by more than a lack of information. For example, the Gospels are very clear that most, if not all, of the disciples, were “slow of heart” to understand Jesus. Peter got it most in the neck from Jesus. Jesus kept on telling the disciples that he was to suffer, die and rise again, but they couldn’t take it in because they didn’t want to; they were not expecting a suffering Messiah but a victorious one. 

So you’re determined to know nuttin because your (impersonal) noggin, you insist, will only get in the way of your snoggin (personal encounter with God). Religion, you say, is knowledge and stuff, which can only smother your time with God. Forgive, but you’re a silly ass. Don’t you know the basics, that the Spirit of God works through knowledge and religious practices, and so does not usually work immediately upon the heart. The Spirit of God speaks through tangible means such as the word, water baptism, the Lord’s supper. He confines Himself, generally, to these measures for our benefit. “Confine” makes us think “box.” “Don’t put God in a box,” you say. Scripture is only a box in the sense that your brain is a box. Are your thoughts confined to your neurons? Of course not. 

Here is an example from scripture of the connection between knowing God and knowing about God. A large section of the New Testament deals with explaining what is meant by “Jesus is the Son of God; for example, Paul spends much effort – mental, analytical effort – explaining what “Jesus the Son of God” means. Walking hand in hand with Jesus will have to also involve thinking about and trying to understand who he is. Our thinking is “analytical.” So walking with Jesus should also involve analysing Jesus (the concept) for ourselves and (unless we do it ourselves we can’t do it) explaining him to others. “Analyse” means use your reason to give reasons for the faith that you have received, and to defend the body of teachings (doctrines) that pertain to this faith. The Bible is clear: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” ( 1 Peter 3:15). There are many examples of Jesus and Paul reasoning (analysing, and synthesising) with their listeners. One important topic in this regard is the authenticity of the historical events in the scriptures. The Son of God mediates with the world through events – past, present and future. Without this knowledge there can be no trust, no personal relationship with God. 

Very close to the idea of having a personal relationship with Jesus is “inviting Jesus into your heart.” Where in the Bible does it say that? Inthe Bible we do see God pouring his love into unregenerated hearts, but that involves no invitation from the sinner to God, but is a unilateral sovereign act of God. It’s called amazing grace.

The general Reformed (Calvinist) position, represented by Mike Horton’s “White Horse Inn,” is that the relationship we have with Jesus is based on the premises that he has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of  the  father. So, he is not with us in the same way  that people are together in a room. We don’t, says the White Horse Inn panel, see Jesus in a  face-to-face relationship. He has ascended on high, so if I am going to relate to him it is through the power of the Holy Spirit and my trust in his work for me. This trust in Christ, is granted by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit somehow unites me too a personal Jesus who is not even in the room. The “invite Jesus into your heart” people think, says a member of the White Horse Inn panel, that Jesus can take up “residence in your aorta” – the pipeline to your heart. 

Paul says the Spirit has been sent into our hearts to cry out “abba father”‘ (Romans 8:28). To be in the spirit, says Paul, is to be in Christ, and to be in Christ is to be in the Spirit. We don’t ask Jesus into our heart – dead hearts can’t invite; we trust in him that his work and mercy will  exchange our sin nature for his righteousness (making us right with God; 2 Corinthians 5:21). 

I think, though, that the personal relationship with Jesus has been largely ignored. Jesus says:

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me” (John 15:4), and Paul tells of his “commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). This is the language of “mystical union” in Christ by the Spirit. Christ is not climbing down from heaven into our hearts. 

I now focus on the nature of this mystical union, where I take issue with the common Reformed (Calvinist) position – typified by the panel of the “White Horse Inn.” Within the Calvinist scheme, there exist two contrasting two paradigms; the first, the right view, the second the wrong one: 

1. The gospel is outside of me. Jesus Christ died for my sins and rose from the dead; a historical event. This view of the gospel draws me out of myself to the Body of Christ, the Church, and into a relationship with God in Jesus Christ.

2. Inviting Jesus into your heart  calls you away from the public, away from the Church, away from a communal relationship into an individualistic gnostic relationship. An example is the evangelistic call: “close your eyes; it’s between you and God.” The White Horse Inn panel says no, don’t close your eyes, keep ’em peeled. Look in the book of Acts. People were saved and baptised and brought to maturity through connection to other members of the body. Believe in Jesus, yes, but confess it publicly. Statements such as “invite Jesus into your heart” and “make Jesus your personal saviour” create, says the White Horse Inn panel, an atmosphere where the average Christian is not schooled on the substance of the faith. These statements become the substance. They need to be replaced with key biblical passages such as trust in Christ, and the significance of the resurrection. 

What stands out for me in the White Horse Inn discussion is their emphasis that God is most close to Christians through the body of Christ, that is, in communion with other Christians. In a previous post I asked whether a Jew can singly cleave to God in private, or is this best achieved in public, in community

There are relatively few Torah-observant Jews who believe he or she can meet God One-on-one in a personal relationship, because the majority of them follow the Oral Torah/tradition, which teaches that God only becomes fully present in community; the Jewish community. I once wrote (see above ) that the traditional Christian view, in contrast to the Jewish view, is that there is no true religion without a close personal relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ, his incarnate Son. I think I was wrong, because traditional Western Christianity up to the Reformation was embodied in the rituals of the Roman Catholic Church, where the ordinary believer got closest and most personal to God (and still does) in ”communion” – eating the literal body and blood of Christ (under the appearance of bread and wine), which suggests something more palpable than a mystical union. Not only does Jesus enter your aorta but your stomach as well. The point is that the more you go to communion the more you become like Christ, the more you eat Jesus’ aorta, the more present he becomes in yours. That is not the Protestant view of getting close to Christ, of the “mystical union.” The White Horse Inn Panel (chaired by Mike Horton) discussed above represents, I would think, the majority of the Reformed position, which is similar to the Jewish position that one gets closest to God through community. 

The Jewish position is that owing to the fact that God is a consuming fire (Rashi), it is wiser to approach God mediated through the community represented by the authority of the sages and their rabbinical disciples, who bind the community together unto God. The Reformed tradition (Calvinists) generally agrees that the best way to cleave to God is through communion with other Christians, but not (as in the Jewish case) because God is a consuming fire but because Calvinists (not all) are wary of experiential (”experimental,” the old term) intimacies with the divine, which may easily lead to ”Christ is everything; doctrine, nothing,” and further on to ”Christ is nothing, or only something, while God is everything.” And the next thing you know you’re praying before a Catholic tabernacle with a squatting Buddha atop.

 

But there is more to worry about. There’s all this ”God is my daddy and Jesus is my buddy” stuff. The holiness of God flounders around at the bottom of your shopping basket of ”he will supply all my needs.” That worries the Calvinist, and rightly so.

I return to the ”personal Jesus” in the light of another Calvinist, Martyn Lloyd Jones, who, although one of the most respected defenders of Calvinism (he’s the founder of the Calvinist “Banner of Truth” publishing house) does not fit into the usual calvinist mold. Jones agrees, as all Calvinists do, that unbelievers are indeed living with God; the God of wrath, not the God of love. ”All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath (”Ephesians 2:3). In an effort to shed the doctrine of ”radical corruption” (total depravity), there is the view that ”nature” here means ”second nature” (habit); so the text has nothing to do with original sin (what about ”all have died in Adam?”), but with personal sin accrued during one’s lifetime. But I digress.

Where Jones differs radically with the usual Calvinist position is that he believes that ”regeneration (always done by the Spirit) is distinct from the the Pentecost experience of ”Baptism of the Holy Spirit’,” which brings us into intimate communion with God, and which fans the flames of devotion and revival. Whereas the Jew, to avoid being burnt up in the raging fire of the divine presence, avoids a close direct communion with God and prefers to cleave to God by cleaving to the rabbis, Christians who believe in the ”Baptism of the Spirit,” as defined by Jones, pray that the fire will fall on them, burn in them. Jones says to the typical Calvinist, indeed to the typical ”evangelical,” ”Don’t quench the Spirit.” 

There is a close connection between a personal relationship with God and the gifts of the spirit, and I believe that calvinists see this as well. Perhaps this is why they throw the ”getting close and personal” baby out with the “gifts” bathwater. 

Jones distinguishes between ”customary assurance” and ”full assurance.” For Jones, unless one has a personal experience of Jesus, which the Baptism of the Spirit affords, one cannot have full assurance. Signs and wonders that accompany the Baptism of the Spirit are, says Jones, God’s way of strengthening the presence of God and the desire to evangelise. The stock Calvinist response is to denigrate post-apostic gifts of the Spirit, and trot out ”Jews demand signs, and Greeks wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). The reasoning is that “signs and wonders” serve merely as a captivating diversion from the real business of the Gospel. Such reasoning, though, is very simplistic; after all, Peter and Paul, didn’t think that the gifts took the edge off their witnessing. So, why should we think so now? 

Lloyd Jones was disillusioned with the Church’s negative attitude towards the gifts. He believed that the spiritual gifts are essential for revival, because they ”authenticate the truth of the Gospel to a desperately hardened world” (Piper). Piper quotes Jones: ”This is why I believe that we are in need of some manifestation, some demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit.” Jones warned against being too interested in the exceptional. Yeah right, says the typical cessationist (gifts have ceased); the Gospel is something better. But, says Jones, better to be gullible than smug. 

And my view on the gifts? There is so much drivel today. Prophecy is one example. Once in a church I was attending – be careful not to be smug now – a bloke stands up and says, wait for it: ”We’re living in the end times.” The pastor of the church writes all prophecies in a book. So that one was added. That’s enough to make any Jewish Calvinist (moi) become a cesssationist. And miracles? All that Benny Hinn stuff. I attended one of his presentations. There were dozens of people in wheelchairs. None of them were healed, but there was lots of falling over – backwards, of course; they only fall forwards (Ezekiel, John the Apostle) in the Bible. Although I don’t practice the gifts – mainly, I suppose, because of all the silly stuff going on (woof woof), the jury, if not the Jewry, is still out on this one. (I was once a practising “charismatic”). 

As a counterweight to the typical calvinist aversion to “Jesus living in my heart,” let us now turn to Martyn Lloyd Jones’ sermon ”In Christ Jesus,” which deals with the personal relationship the believer has with Christ. Jones’ text is Ephesians 2:4-7: 

2 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

The ‘but’ (verse 4) is the transition between despair and the introduction to the Gospel, which is about hope, our only hope. Suddenly (sudden transition ”but’) we have this astonishing message. God has done this when we could do nothing. The Apostle Paul makes clear to us what God has done to us. Here – in verses 4-7 – we have one of the profoundest descriptions of what happens to a sinner. The essence of Christianity is union with Christ, to be seated in heavenly places. Not, in contrast to the Roman Catholic and the Jew, that we did anything to achieve this. The primary fact of Christianity is that when we were dead in sin, God raised us up and put us in heavenly places. It is not something we strive to do. It is what God has done to us, not what we have done to ourselves. So far, Jones is a kosher calvinist. 

Now here is where he tries to convince the kosher Calvinist (imbibers of the White Horse Inn, for example) that bacon can also be kosher; if it comes from Nazareth. Jones distinguishes between the ”objective” (kosher) and ”subjective” (bacon) view of ”raised in heavenly places.” These terms need explanation. There are two meanings of ”subjective” – 1. not real and 2. immediate personal experience. By “subjective” Jones means the latter. By ”objective,” in contrast, Jones means something not experienced yet, in other words, something that has not been taken up into the subject’s (person’s) experience; it is still outside himself. Jones beef with the traditional calvinist is that they like objective talk, but not subjective pork. Many Christians (not only calvinists) take merely an objective view of “raised in heavenly places,” which means that we will only be raised and share a life of glory later on – at the resurrection or when we die. So far, says our traditional calvinist, “raised in heavenly places” has only happened to Christ, whereas we have faith that this future glory will be ours as well. Jones says it is wrong to interpret this verse only in this way. The whole tenure of Ephesians 2:6 is something that has happened to those who believe. Paul is praying that believers may know what God is doing  now, not only in the future. 

Both the objective (future state of glory in the heavenlies) and the subjective (present state of glory in the heavenlies) are true. Furthermore, it is wrong to teach that in the now it is all in Christ and nothing in me at all. On the contrary, scripture always emphasises the subjective, the now in me.  And that brings us back to the White Horse Inn’s traditional calvinist view. Recall their position, which is that the relationship we have with Jesus is that he has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of  the  father. So he is not with us in the same way  that we are together on earth; we don”t see him in a  face-to-face relationship. He has ascended on high, so if I am going to relate to him it is through the power of the Holy Spirit and my trust in his work for me, which the Holy Spirit gives me. The Holy Spirit does not, they say, unite me to a personal Jesus who is not even in the room, whereas, the “invite Jesus into your heart” types believe, they say, that Jesus does not only come into your room, he takes residence in your right ventricle. 

I wonder what they’re mixing with their White Horse at the Inn. To maintain that a believer, even an over the top “charismatic” believes that Jesus is living in their lub-a-dub-dub in the same way Jesus is physically present in the Catholic Eucharist, is wrong. It’s not a toss up between the physical and spiritual presence of Jesus, but the degree to which he is spiritually present; through the Holy Spirit, of course. What most calvinists don’t like in Lloyd Jones his view that born again Christians have been given now the fullness of Christ’s life and that what they need to do is appropriate it, that is, not make it a prop, but make it proper to them, that is, make it their own (Latin proper “own”), by experiencing it in their inner being. Most calvinists accept ”mystical unions” – what other way is their around ”we’re seated in the heavenlies – but are uncomfortable with mystical (that is, very personal) encounters with God. Owing to the excesses in mysticism, they do have a point. Christians, though, are meant to experience (feel) the presence of Christ/God here and now. That is no big stretch, because when we are born again, we are lifted up to the heavenlies (no not necessarily “up”). Yet we remain caught ”up” in this corruptible body, struggling, sinning, and groaning for the redemption of our bodies.

One of the most marvelous of all the Christian doctrines is our union with Christ (Romans 5 – 6; 1 cor 15:2). Our union is not only in Christ’s life but in his death: “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:19-20). Are these just “objective” words (outside of me) that I believe, or can they be a personal encounter with God? Both. 

”I am the vine, you are the branches (John 15) shows us how the corporate aspect of the mystical union comes into play between parts of the body with Christ as the head. This does not mean, though, that the believer only comes alive (to the presence of God) when he or she is united to other believers (the Church). When I am born again, I meet Christ, person to person, in a mystical way of course. Yet just because this meeting is not physical, this doesn’t mean that it is not personal, this doesn’t mean that Jesus is not taking up residence in my ”heart.” We are given, says Jones, a new power, a new direction, a new disposition – we’re seated in the heavenlies. This power is given by Christ, not the church. This power is consolidated by the church (fellow members of the body). The key issue, though, is that if anyone be in Christ, he is a new creature, a new person. Why? Because he has met the person Christ – in his “heart” – but (first) in his head. 

In summary, here is the “mystical union” in a nutshell (the “Truth Project,” Lesson 8): 

The Mystical Union between:

A. Husband and wife

B. Christ and His church

The Body of Christ – Making many One (i) Many members – we form one body with unique gifts and roles (ii) The Mystery of Christ – “… for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (III) Jesus’ vision for the church 1. John 17: 20-23 ” …that all of them may be one …so the world may believe that you have sent me …may they be brought to complete unity …”

C. God and the individual – the Unio Mystica 1. Colossians 1:27 “Christ in you” 2. John 15:5 “If a man remains in me and I in him” 3. John 14:16-17 “for he lives with you and will be in you” 4. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 “God’s Spirit lives in you.” 

Section C was the focus of this discussion. All sections, though, are necessary for a proper understanding of the Gospel and the en-joy-ment of the Christian life. 

Time to get down (not completely now) off our high (objective) horse. And please let’s not be scared to ride our feelings. Side saddle, if you prefer.

The Night of the Senses: Belief and Understanding in John of the Cross

Summary

All translations (no matter the language) of the Hebrew of Isaiah 7:9b is “If you do not believe, you will not be established (you will not last, abide). In contrast, translations of the Septuagint’s Isaiah 7:9b (the GREEK translation of the Hebrew Bible) have the following translation, which John of the Cross quotes (in Spanish, of course): 9b “but if ye believe not, neither will ye at all understand.” The Church fathers, for example, Augustine of Hippo and Anselm used this Septuagint translation to coin 
credo ut intelligam (Anselm of Canterbury) “I believe that I may understand” and  crede, ut intelligas (Augustine), “Believe so that you may understand.”

The Greek word in the Septuagint that is the occasion (the cause are the translators) of all the trouble is SINETE. There are two possible translations of SINETE: the first (because the more probable?) is “being together” and the second “understand.” In English, we say about someone who has miraculously not made a hash of his life that “he has it together.” The (Latin) Vulgate (which is a translation from the Septuagint) is the same as the original Hebrew, namely, si non credideritis non permanebitis “if you will not believe, you will not stand firm,” where “stand firm” is the FIRST meaning of the Septuagint’s SINETE.
So, the Vulgate took the first meaning of the Greek (Septuagint) word SINETE “bring together (having it all together, established, stand firm), whereas John of the Cross (Spanish) and several English translations use “understand.”

NOW THIS IS WHERE THE Theological TROUBLE BEGINS. Edith Stein following John of the Cross uses the translation “if you don’t believe, you will not understand” to maintain that if you want to understand (God) you have to “turn off the light of your knowledge.”

Did John of the Cross intentionally ignore the Vulgate rendition of Isaiah 7:9b in order to establish his “night of the senses” upon the Septuagint version. If John had used the Vulgate instead of the Septuagint he might have ended up with a “day of the senses.” But then that may not be so good for monks.

Introduction

Google “night of the senses.” Of the ten sites on the page, the first nine are about erotica. The 10th is my topic. 

I was reading Edith Stein‘s “The Science of the Cross,” which is a paraphrase of “The Ascent of Mount Carmel” of John of the Cross, when I came across this piece:

We can only accept, says Stein, what we are told by turning off the light of our knowledge. We have to agree with what we hear without having any of the senses elucidate it for us. Therefore faith is a totally dark night for the soul. But it is precisely by these means that it brings her light: a knowledge of perfect certainty that exceeds all other knowledge and science so that one can arrive in perfect contemplation at a correct conception of faith. That is why it is said: Si non credideritis, non intelligetis ‘If you do not believe. you will not understand.’ Isaiah 7:9.”

(Edith Stein is a Jewish convert to Roman Catholicism). 

Edith Stein, Breslau, 1926

I was not familiar with this translation of Isaiah 7:9, for all the English translations say “if you will not believe, you will not be established/stand firm” or something similar. So does the Vulgate; so does the Hebrew Bible say the same.

When I investigated the matter, which involved the comparison of translations of different languages and reading John of the Cross, the journey led me much further than linguistic meaning (linguistic sense) but to another sense of “sense,” into the deeps of John’s “Dark Night of the Senses.”

 Faith and understanding, God created both. Which is the cart, and which the horse, which comes first? Is it true that credo ut intelligam (Anselm of Canterbury) “I believe that I may understand?” Augustine of Hippo was more imperative: crede, ut intelligas, “Believe so that you may understand.” 

There are two kinds of believing: believing that (something is true/real) and believing in (something or somebody), that is, trusting. You can have the first kind of belief (belief that something is true) without believing in the second kind (trust), but you cannot have the second (trust) without first believing that what or whom you trust (believe in) is true. Believing that, therefore, logically precedes believing in (trust). 

Believing in” in Hebrew is called emunah. A Jew (or a Christian) does not have to prove  the existence of Him in whom he trusts. “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1) should be enough, and if not, then the person doesn’t have a biblical bone in his body. “Biblical man, says Buber, is never in doubt to the existence of God. In professing his faith, his emuna, he merely expresses his trust that the living God is near to him as he was to Abraham and that he entrusts himself to Him” (“Two types of faith” 1962). (See my Faith and Understanding: the Biblical view). 

Is it true that traduttore, traditore :“to translate is to betray?”  Is Robert Payne, Chairman of the Translation Committee of the American PEN Organization, correct when he says: “The world’s languages resemble infinitely complicated grids, and the basic patterns of these grids scarcely ever coincide. [Except] on some rare occasions translation does succeed – beyond all possibility.” And:“Whenever we translate exactly and accurately it is a coincidence–in the sense of the purest accident. And the task of the translator is to move sure-footedly among these accidents, he cannot do it by logic.” (Payne, Robert. “On the Impossibility of Translation”, The World of Translation. New York: PEN, 1971, pp 361-4). 

If Robert Payne is right, this would mean that the structure of a language defines the structure of thought. There is much research, however, to show that traduttore, traditore “to translate is to betray” is not as radical as the Payne claims. I think there is a bigger problem than the translation between languages, which is the miscommunications and misunderstandings between people who speak the same language/s. (See my Translation, transflation and betrayal: Plato’s Gorg(i)as). 

In this article, I examine a few problems in the translation of a sentence in Isaiah 7 “If you will not believe, you will not understand” (Isaiah 7:9b) which is one English translation of the Septuagint’s (Greek) translation of the original Hebrew. The Septuagint – also called the LXX because it was purported to have been produced by 70 knowledgeable and pious Jews – was used by the majority of Jews between 250 BCE and 100 CE. Most Jews at that time used Greek as their lingua franca, and were like the majority of modern non-Israeli Jews, whose Hebrew knowledge is at best, middling and at worst, piddling. 

My intention is not merely to take a linguistic excursion into the minefield of translation, but to explore how one’s theological or mystical presuppositions can turn dark into light, and light into dark. The “one” I am referring to is, according to Edith Stein and many Catholics, the greatest mystical mind of the Roman Catholic Church: the medieval Carmelite monk, John of the Cross, whom Edith and her Carmelite Order refer to as “Our Holy Father.” I shall focus on John’s “Night of the senses” in his Ascent of Mount Carmel, which contends that God cannot be reached through the (five) senses, and so, in order to understand faith and the cross of Christ, we have to flee the senses, without, I presume, taking leave of our senses. 

In section 1, I briefly explain the difference between word meaning, sentence meaning and discourse meaning, and then in section 2, I examine translations of Isaiah 7:9b (quoted above), which is pertinent to Section 3 where I examine John of the Cross’s argument that sense experience is enemy of faith and the Cross. 

1. The meaning of words, sentences and discourse 

The meaning of a word within a sentence often cannot be established without consideration of the other words in the sentence, and indeed, without consideration of the larger context (discourse). 

Discourse occurs when sentences come alive and function in communication. A sentence in isolation is inactive; it only has the potential to function. It is this potential which has to actualised in discourse. For example, the sentence “I am reading” is understood by anyone who knows English grammar and vocabulary. This is called the “meaning” of the sentence, which you can derive from a dictionary and a grammar book. When, however, this sentence comes alive in a communication (that is, in discourse) we have more than the meaning of the sentence but also what the speaker/writer means by the sentence – how a person uses the sentence. I gave an example (in Jacob Neusner and the Grammar of Rabbinical Theology (Part 2), where I showed that the sentence “I’m reading” in answer to the question “What are you doing?” may have a wide variety of meanings; for example, 1.“Please don’t disturb me,” or 2. “Get out of my face.” 

Geoffery Leech (“Pragmatics,” 1983) explains. There is: 

the meaning of a X (a word or a sentence),

which is the semantic/sentence/grammatical meaning (the three terms are synonymous),

and

what you mean by X ,

which is the discourse/pragmatic/sociolinguistic meaning.

To illustrate the difference between 1 and 2, I shall be using Isaiah 7:9b quoted by John of the Cross in the section “The night of the senses” of his Ascent of Mount Carmel. Here is Isaiah 7:9b in its larger context:  

 1. And it came to pass in the days of Achaz the son of Joatham, the son of Ozias, king of Judah,there came up Rasim king of Aram, and Phakee son of Romelias, king of Israel, against Jerusalem to war against it, but they could not take it. 2. And a message was brought tothe house of David, saying, Aram has conspired with Ephraim. And his soul was amazed, and the soul of his people, as in a wood a tree is moved by the wind. 3. And the Lord said to Esaias, Go forth to meet Achaz, thou, and thy son Jasub who is left, to the pool of the upper way of the fuller’s field. 4. And thou shalt say to him, Take care to be quiet, and fear not, neither let thy soul be disheartened because of these two smoking firebrands: for when my fierce anger is over, I will heal again. 5. And as for the son of Aram, and the son of Romelias, forasmuch as they have devised an evil counsel, saying, 6. We will go up against Judea, and having conferred with them we will turn them away to our side, and we will make the son of Tabeel king of it; 7. thus saith the Lord of hosts, This counsel shall not abide, nor come to pass. 8. But the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus, Rasim; and yet within sixty and five years the kingdom of Ephraim shall cease from being a people. 9a And the head of Ephraim is Somoron, and the head of Somoron the son of Romelias: 9b but if ye believe not, neither will ye at all understand; or: “If you will not believe, you shall not understand). 

I now examine some of the problems in the translation of verse 9b, where the main focus falls in the second part: “…you shall not understand.” 

2. Isaiah 7:9b, “If you will not believe, you shall not understand.” 

The English version of Isaiah 7:9b “If you will not believe, you shall not understand in John of the Cross, who writes in Spanish, is translated from the Septuagint. This English translation is not uncommon among translations of the Septuagint. Translations from the Hebrew text itself, however, such as English translations and translations into many other languages, rarely, if ever translate the original Hebrew as “…you will/shall not understand. Here is the original Hebrew of Isaiah 7:9b: אִם לֹא תַאֲמִינוּ, כִּי לֹא תֵאָמֵנוּ. im lo ta-aminu, ki lo tei-ameinu

 The triliteral (three-letter) root aleph-mem-nun אמן (as in aminu, ameinu), is a play on words. This root means to be firm, confirmed, reliable, faithful, have faith, believe; hence “If not ta-aminu (if you will not believe), not tei-ameinu (you will not be established, remain, stand firm).” 

Here is the Greek Septuagint translation of the original Hebrew of Isaiah 7:9b: 

καὶ ἐὰν μὴ πιστεύσητε οὐδὲ μὴ συνῆτε

 καὶ AND/ALSO

ἐὰν IF-EVER

μὴ NOT

πιστεύσητε YOU(PL)-SHOULD-BELIEVE/ENTRUST-WITH

οὐδὲ NEITHER/NOR 

μὴ NOT

συνῆτε  1. YOU(PL)-WERE-BE-ING-TOGETHER-WITH, 2. YOU(PL)-SHOULD-BE-BE-ING-TOGETHER-WITH; 3. YOU(PL)-SHOULD-UNDERSTAND 

 The bit we’re interested in is the final word (underlined)

 οὐδὲ NEITHER/NORμὴ NOTσυνῆτε (sinete) (YOU(PL)-WERE-BE-ING-TOGETHER-WITH, YOU(PL)-SHOULD-BE-BE-ING-TOGETHER-WITH;YOU(PL)-SHOULD-UNDERSTAND.

 As we see, there are two possible translations of sinete: the first (because the more probable?) is “being together” and the second “understand.” In English, we say about someone who has miraculously not made a hash of his life that “he has it together,” “he has a firm grip on things,” “he stands on his own two feet.” Other translations from the original Hebrew text (English, German, French), however, do not have “you shall not understand.” Here are the French and English translations of the Jewish Mechon Mamre’s JPS 1917 Hebrew text:

 French Mechon Mamre – Et la tête d’Ephraïm, c’est Samarie, et la tête de Samarie, c’est le fils de Remaliahou. Si vous manquez de confiance, vous manquerez d’avenir. In English – If you don’t trust, you’ll have no future.

 English Mechon Mamre – And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son. If ye will not have faith, surely ye shall not be established.

 The Mechon Mamre English translation, “you shall not be established,”is the most common of English translations. Other translations have a synonym of “not be established” such as “not stand firm,” “not remain steadfast.” Luther’s translation is at its pithy best:Gläubt ihr nicht so bleibt ihr nicht, literally, “believe you not, then abide/survive you not.” I am reminded of another of Luther’s gems, in connection with Roman Catholic indulgences; over the top, but nevertheless very telling: Wenn die Münze im Kästlein klingt, die Seele in den Himmel springt. “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” 

Here is a French translation of the Septuagint by Pierre Giguet, 1872)Et si vous ne me croyez point, c’est que vous manquerez d’intelligence. And my English translation: “And if you don’t believe me, it’s because you lack intelligence.” 

How did Giguet arrive at that translation? I think the reason is this: συνῆτε sinete is a combination of two parts, sin “with” and ēte “put/send.” Somebody who is not “with it” is “out of it,” he is not “together,” he is at a complete loss, he doesn’t think straight, he doesn’t understand; he’s stingily endowed upstairs. So, the idea of “not understand” is contained in “lacks intelligence.” Also, not to forget that it is the person’s own fault that he doesn’t understand, or lacks intelligence, and not the fault of his genes or external circumstances such as parental neglect or a falling out of a tree when he was three. 

Edith Stein, in her “Science of the Cross” uses a Latin translation attributed to St Augustine, si non credideritis, non intelligetis “if you will not believe, you will not understand,

” which is also a possible translation of the Septuagint. The Vulgate, in contrast, si non credideritis non permanebitis “if you will not believe, you will not stand firm,” which is another possible translation of the Septuagint. Permanebitis is the second-person plural future active indicative of permaneō, stay to the end, hold out, endure; last, survive, continue, persist, persevere. devote one’s life to, live by. A modern Spanish translation (Biblegateway.com) is similar to the Latin of the Vulgate: “no creen en mí,
    no permanecerán firmes,” which is understandable because Spanish, a Latin (Romance) language, is relatively close to Latin. In the last two words, we can see the English words “permanent” and “(stand) firm.” 

In our main text (Isaiah 7:9b), there are two kinds of “establishing”: holding things together in 1. your noggin and in 2. your life. They are, of course, complementary: if you can’t hold your thoughts together, life falls apart; and if things fall apart, it could very well be (but certainly not always) because you’re a klutz – you’ve lost your senses; which brings us to our main (dis)course.

3. Understanding the Night of the Senses in John of the Cross 

Here is Edith Stein’s paraphrase (in her “The Science of the Cross”) of John of the Cross’s understanding of Isaiah 7:9b, “If you will not believe, you will not understand (which I cited in the introduction): 

We can only accept, says Stein, what we are told by turning off the light of our knowledge. We have to agree with what we hear without having any of the senses elucidate it for us. Therefore faith is a totally dark night for the soul. But it is precisely by these means that it brings her light: a knowledge of perfect certainty that exceeds all other knowledge and science so that one can arrive in perfect contemplation at a correct conception of faith. That is why it is said: Si non credideritis, non intelligetis ‘If you do not believe. you will not understand.’ Isaiah 7:9.” 

Here is John of the Cross in the same vein in his Ascent of Mount Carmel Chapter 3:3: 

The light of natural knowledge cannot inform us of these things, because they are out of proportion with our natural senses. We know them because we have heard of them, believing that which the faith teaches us, subjecting thereto our natural light, and making ourselves blind before it: for, as it is said by St. Paul, faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ. Faith is not knowledge that entereth in by any of the senses (italics added), but rather the ascent of the soul to that which cometh by hearing. Faith, therefore, far transcends the foregoing illustrations for not only does it not produce evidence or knowledge, but, as I have said, it transcends and surpasses all other knowledge whatever, so that perfect contemplation alone may judge of it. Other sciences are acquired by the light of the understanding, but that of faith is acquired without it, by rejecting it for faith, and it is lost in its own light. Therefore it is said by Isaias, ‘lf you will not believe you will not understand.’ 

To summarise John,  if you want to understand faith, you need to enter the night, the dark night, the dark night of the soul. (The only dark night most have heard of is the celluloid version, the Dark Knight). 

Theologians distinguish between three aspects of “faith” – information(notitia), mental assent to this information as fact (assensus) and belief (trust) in those facts. (See Two conversions: the mind (NOTITIA) and the heart (FIDUCIA) of faith in Blaise Pascal. John of the Cross would have no disagreement with that as long as the sense of hearing and seeing is confined to the cell of holy content; which is alright for a monk. What is more disturbing is what he says a little later: 

It is evident that faith is a dark night to the soul. and it is thus that it gives it light: the more it darkens the soul the more does it enlighten it. It is by darkening that it gives light. According to the Words of the prophet,’If you will not believe, that is, ‘if you do not make yourselves blind you shall not understand.’” 

In the discussion of “if you do believe, you shall not understand(Isaiah 7:9b) we were concerned with whether this was the correct translation. It now appears that John is using what he thinks is – and indeed seems to be – an acceptable translation of the Septuagint to promote his interpretation of it, namely, “if you do not make yourselves blind, you will not understand.” For John, unless you are blind, or rather, make yourself blind – to the natural world, you can never have any supernatural knowledge. The Bible, in contrast, says otherwise. There is no need to make yourself blind, for you were blind from birth, worse, dead from birth. Jesus comes to open the eyes of the blind because they cannot and don’t want to see unless Jesus makes them want to see. “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (John 9:39). That is why faith is an unmerited gift of God: 

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:4-10 ESV). 

In support of his “If you do not make yourselves blind, you will not understand” John quotes Romans 10:17: 

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” I don’t see anything here related to “if you do not make yourselves blind, you will not understand.” Even less so when Romans 10:17 is read in context (verses 14-17): 

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?[c] And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. 

When Isaiah 7:9b is seen in the larger context of the whole of Isaiah 7, the Targum gets it right, even though it adds words to Isaiah 7:9: 

If ye will not believe; the Targum adds, ‘the words of the prophet;’ surely ye shall not be established, or remain; that is, in their own land, but should be carried captive, as they were after a time; or it is, ‘because ye are not true and firm’; in the faith of God, as Kimchi interprets it; or, ‘because ye are not confirmed’ (that is, by a sign).” (Targum).

Someone on the translation panel of the English Standard Version of the Bible liked Kimchi. Here is the ESV: “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.”

 And John Calvin (on Isaiah 7:9b):

Hence we ought to draw a universal doctrine, that, when we have departed from the word of God, though we may suppose that we are firmly established, still ruin is at hand. For our salvation is bound up with the word of God, and, when this is rejected, the insult offered to it is justly punished by him who was ready to uphold men by his power, if they had not of their own accord rushed headlong to ruin. The consequence is, that either we must believe the promises of God, or it is in vain for us to expect salvation. (Commentary on Isaiah volum e 1 p. 183 – 184). 

Assume that the sentence “If you will not believe, you will not understand” is a good translation of the both the Septuagint and the Hebrew, this still doesn’t justify using it to change the larger (discourse) context of the passage, which is not about throwing your senses (in both senses of the term) out of the window of your blind soul,making it even blinder, but about the dire judgements of God on those who do not believe God’s promises. 

Conclusion 

Earlier we read in John of the Cross that “Faith is not knowledge that entereth in by any of the senses.”  Sense” has at least two senses as in “physical senses” and in “making sense.” If we don’t understand the larger (discourse) context of “If you will not believe, you will not understand” (Isaiah 7:9b), we may end up getting our theological wires crossed. It would, however, be foolish to write off John of the Cross or the mystical element in religion, for how else to describe union with Christ other than as a “mystical” union? John shows us, in the words of A. W. Tozer that man “has become a parasite on the world, drawing his life from his environment, unable to live a day apart from the stimulation which society affords him.” ( “The Great God Entertainment,”pp. 22-25. In Jeremy Walker). 

Our senses have indeed become parasites on the world, sucking the lifeblood out of its environs, unable to exist a day without the stimulation the world affords our senses. This fact, however, should not encourage us to flee, as occurs in all kinds of mystical systems, the world, for to do so is to flee from the historical, from the incarnation of God in history, God in the flesh, who did not teach us to shuck off our mortal senses but rather to use them in the way Christ and the Apostles make so clear – to me, at least. The bugbear of mystics, whether Christian, Buddhist or Sufi, is that “their yearning after God Himself can never endure the trammels of the historical.” (Wilhelm Herrmann, 1906,“Communion with God”). It’s not through the senses, of course, as John of the cross makes clear that we fulfill the deep “sense” of our need, but through faith in Christ and its corollary – “take up your cross and follow me.” It’s not, however, the use but the abuse of the senses – sight, taste, touch, hearing, smell – that drags us away from the light into the darkness. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:13). But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).

As far as the senses and the sense of God are concerned, I think another saint had it just right; Augustine’s “Confessions,” Book 10:

But what is it that I love in loving thee? Not physical beauty, nor the

splendor of time, nor the radiance of the light–so pleasant to our eyes–nor the sweet

melodies of the various kinds of songs, nor the fragrant smell of flowers and

ointments and spices; not manna and honey, not the limbs embraced in physical

love–it is not these I love when I love my God. Yet it is true that I love a certain

kind of light and sound and fragrance and food and embrace in loving my God, who

is the light and sound and fragrance and food and embracement of my inner man–

where that light shines into my soul which no place can contain, where time does

not snatch away the lovely sound, where no breeze disperses the sweet fragrance,

where no eating diminishes the food there provided, and where there is an embrace

that no satiety comes to sunder. This is what I love when I love my God.

And what is this God? I asked the earth, and it answered, “I am not he”;

and everything in the earth made the same confession. I asked the sea and the

deeps and the creeping things, and they replied, “We are not your God; seek above

us.” 

 

Of mysticism, cooking and them goose bumps

Teresa of Ávila, Ulm, Germany

St. Francis of Assisi (circa 1182-1220)
St. Francis of Assisi (circa 1182-1220) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This morning, a good friend, whom I haven’t seen for more than 20 years, phoned me from Belgium. I asked a variation of my pet question, which I used to ask a phalange of friends my daughter used to bring home from school: “Have you read any good books lately.” The insult – not that her friends were aware of the insult (there I go; another insult) – was double: not merely books, any books, but good books. I would, of course, never ask my friend – or an adult, unless I was very mad, or mad at him or her – such a double-barbed question; not even the single barb alternative (Have you read any books lately?). Besides I know he loves books. So, I simply asked, “What are reading?

He said St Francis of Assisi, especially the classic biography. “The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi” by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Hang on a mo….there, click, click, I’ve downloaded a free pdf into Goodreader on my ipad.

Also Teresa of Avila and a few others were mentioned. In my “Catholic” days, I loved reading how the arrows of divine love pierced Teresa’s heart and made her swoon. There’s nothing wrong, indeed there can be everything right about swooning. I’m not the typical Calvinist who advises you, if you show symptoms of “mysticemia” or any kind of religious experience, to repent or see your doctor.

One atypical Calvinist is Martyn Lloyd Jones – respected by all Calvinists – who in the early part of his sermon series on Ephesians (somewhere between Ephesians 1 – 3, I forget) says that it’s silly (my word for what he respectfully said) to imagine that if God comes to live in those born of God that the regenerated person cannot, indeed should not, feel a thing.

I want to specifically address my Calvinist brethren: There’s a TV advert for shampoo or whatever where a pretty girl says, “It’s all about feeling – AND feeling.” She is, if course, not distinguishing between two kinds of feelings, but merely emphasising that it’s all about feeling; life is all about feeling – “Let’s get physical, physical, I wanna get physical, let’s get into physical, Let me hear your body talk, your body talk, let me hear your body talk.” In the spiritual domain, there are also two kinds of feeling, which requires discernment. There’s goose bumps AND good bumps. The one kind will cook your goose, whereas the other may provide deep insights into what’s cooking. Mysticism does not necessarily, as someone said, begin in a mist and end in schism.

The Jew as a piece of God? What do the scriptures say?

The only reason Israel was a elected by God was because God wanted it that way. The traditional Jewish view, in contrast, is that God’s elect is a “piece of God above,” and consequently has a higher soul than the non-Jew. The Hindu also believes in this “piece of God” concept but he would be more democratic and say that all men including Jews are a piece of God. What, however, does the scripture say?

“The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut 7:7-8).

God chose Abraham, a Gentile, not for anything good in him, but because He wanted to choose him. The traditional Jew believes in a divine oral Torah. The guide to his perplexed mind (as Maimonides could have said) is not the scriptures but the Talmud – and commentaries on it such as Maimonides’ “Mishneh Torah.” The Talmud, for the pious Jew, is his guide to understanding Deut 7:7-8 (above). The Talmud claims to dig deep below the surface text to reveal the SOD (the hidden secrets) of the mind of God. I find this view not only a linguistic aberration but, more reprehensible, an esoteric falling away from the word, from the commandments, of God. The commands of God are not difficult to understand but often difficult to do; for example, Deuteronomy 30:11-14:

11For this command which I am commanding thee to-day, it is not too wonderful for thee, nor [is] it far off.

12It is not in the heavens, — saying, Who doth go up for us into the heavens, and doth take it for us, and doth cause us to hear it — that we may do it.

13And it [is] not beyond the sea, — saying, Who doth pass over for us beyond the sea, and doth take it for us, and doth cause us to hear it — that we may do it?

14For very near unto thee is the word, in thy mouth, and in thy heart — to do it.

Jewish mysticism and Absorption into the Universal Soul

Christianity teaches that God created the world out of nothing. It bases this doctrine on the first words of the Hebrew Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In Genesis 1:26, “God said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness (Hebrew root dama, from which we get ADAM).

What does the Bible mean by man being created in the image, in the likeness  of God? What is certain – if we accept that God is Spirit (in Christianity, when the Word was made flesh, the picture changes, of course) –  is that man is a composite of spirit and flesh, while God is pure Spirit. Genesis 1:26 does not specify what it means by man as the “image of God.” When a Christian examines the rest of scripture, the following human attributes emerge, which man shares with God: creativity, power to reason, power to make decisions, moral conscience and personal relationships. These are called the communicable attributes of God. The attributes that God does not share with man are God’s incommunicable attributes, for example, his omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful) and eternality (no beginning), immutability (unchanging).

Traditional Judaism of which a large part is mystical Judaism (Kabbalah, Chassidim) teaches that man’s soul (neshamah) is a piece of God. Some parts of the Talmud say that only the Jewish soul is a piece of God. Most Jews maintain that the Talmud says no such thing. But see here. Reconstructionist Judaism, in stark contrast to traditional Judaism, says that traditional Judaism has got it all back to front. So, to put the record straight, a little reconstruction is needed: Man is not a piece of God; God is a piece of man (God is a human construction). (See Logotherapy, Torah Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism: God, man and God-man).

I’d like to focus on two prominent rabbinical scholars of Kabbalah: Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet and Rabbi Akiva Tatz. In his “Mystical Judaism,” Rabbi Schochet sets his sights on donkey scholarship:

“The sterile type of life and ‘scholarship’ of the “donkey loaded with books,” unfortunately, is quite symptomatic of the modern age and its method of alleged rational inquiry, of ‘logical positivism’ and its atomizing games of linguistic analysis. The mystical dimension forcefully counters this and bears a pervasive message of special relevance to modern man. With this message we are able to extricate ourselves from the contemporary mind- and soul-polluting forces that threaten to stifle us, and to find ourselves. For it is the tzinor, the conduit connecting us to ultimate reality. It is the stimulant causing “deep to call unto deep” – the profound depth of man’s soul calling unto the profound depth of the Universal Soul to find and absorb itself therein. Thus it brings forth and establishes the ultimate ideal of unity, of oneness, on all levels” (p. 36).

 For Rabbi Akiva Tatz, the tzinor does not only connect human beings to ultimate reality, but every else in the universe as well. In his Thirteen principles, part 5, 45th minute:

“The worlds above are like water, sometimes described as light…but if you take the world of water in the upper spheres. Water is undifferentiated, all the parts look the same. Imagine water in a bath. Underneath the bath there are small holes. What happens is inside the bath the water is all one, but outside it is flowing in specific channels, which are called tzinorot (צינורות) … a pipeline. You have the undifferentiated oneness in the higher world, but it comes into this world as specific differentiated channels that bring it down. Each channel is bringing an object into existence, or an event or a phenomenon. And of course you don’t need to look at the object, you can look at the channel and you will know more or less how the object will be or what will happen.”

All religious systems, by definition, assume a close connection between “ultimate reality” (Schochet) and the universe, which consists of human beings, objects and other (invisible) beings. Schochet and Tatz derive their views from the Kabbalah/Zohar, of course. While Schochet’s tzinor (pipeline, conduit) connects the human soul to the “Universal Soul to find and absorb itself therein,” Tatz’s tzinor connects ALL created beings to “the world of water in the upper spheres,” which is a different description of Schochet’s “Universal Soul.” The two descriptions – ”Universal Soul” and “the world of water in the upper spheres,”are metaphors for the “Endless One” (En Sof).

Schochet’s “Universal Soul to find and absorb itself therein,” is Buddhism – or Pythagoreanism – without idols. Kabbalah and Pythagoras have much in common. This does not necessarily mean that Pythagoras, or a similar system, influenced Jewish mysticism, for what is more expected than human beings wanting to become absorbed in the ”Universal,” or “Upper Waters.” Jews often insist that Greek and Jewish thought are poles apart. On the contrary, Jewish mysticism, Greek mysticism, Eastern mysticism, or any other kind of mysticism all sing the same absorbing universal tune.

Thomas Merton’s “I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can”: All roads, including to Rome, lead Home

I was speaking to a Christian who does Yoga – I’ll call the person C.Y. He says he only does the physical part, the Hatha part. Hatha Yoga is purification of the body, and so its focus is on exercises and breathing, which are intended as the preparatory stage for meditation. “Hatha Yoga brings about the Unity of the mind, body and spirit. Through this practice, the body is toned, strengthened and healed so that a transformation in consciousness can occur.”

C.Y. said that he doesn’t go into the spiritual side of Yoga – that side is reserved for Jesus. Having practised Hatha Yoga and meditation myself as a young man, I remarked: “When you do the breathing exercises, you feel very relaxed and at peace.” “Yes, he said beaming, and I find that this peace is a great opportunity to witness to my non-Christian Yoga friends. I tell them that the peace they feel, they can have it more deeply if they knew Jesus.”

The fact is that the Yoga breathing exercises are not merely physical. C.Y. proved it with his claim to find through these breathing exercises the door to inner peace. I can see why C.Y. fell for this deception. After all, didn’t the Lord Jesus say much about peace. I don’t, however, believe that Yoga peace and Christian peace are compatible, because the peace found through Yoga creates the conviction that the answer to life’s problems is all about finding peace, which is not the Christian message at all. The Christian Gospel is about sin, repentance and Jesus Christ as a substitutionary sacrifice who pays the penalty for the believer’s sin. Christianity is about becoming a child of God, a God who is distinct from His creatures. Christianity does not teach that “we share a common Self, and that inner peace and Love are in fact all that are real…” (Gerald Jampolsky). From personal experience, I know that when you do Hatha Yoga (you don’t have to go into any deeper kind of Yoga), you have the experience of sharing a common Self (with a capital S) – a deceptive form of “The Kingdom of heaven is within you.” But then, many Yoga practitioners will tell you a similar story. And this search for inner peace is the force that drives so many, including many Jews,among them many young Israelis who “leave the army and go to India looking for wisdom, so that they can make sense of the spiritual world.”

Where there is peace, there is love; and love and peace are believed by many to be the goal. One cannot, the gurus say, achieve peace nd love without a transformation of conscioussness.  This transformation of consciousness is the foundation of Eastern thought systems such as Buddhism and Yoga, which has become a key ingredient in Western psychotherapy. “Hatha Yoga brings about the Unity of the mind, body and spirit. Through this practice, the body is toned, strengthened and healed so that a transformation in consciousness can occur.” The ultimate aim of this transformation of consciousness is, in the Jewish psychiatrist’s words, is a “search for a better way of going through life that is producing a new awareness and a change of consciousness. It is like a spiritual flood that is about to cleanse the earth. This transformation of consciousness is prompting us to look inward, and as we explore our inner spaces, we recognize the harmony and at-one-ment that has ALWAYS (Jampolsky’s emphasis) been there. As we look inward we also become aware of an inner intuitive voice which provides a reliable source of guidance…listen to the inner voice and surrender to it…In this silence…we can experience the joy of peace in our lives” (p. 11. my underlining).

I now elaborate on the mystical strivings of Eastern thought and it’s influence on Christianity with  specific reference to the “Catholic Buddhist,” Thomas Merton, who has had a massive influence on “universalist” thought in Catholicism. By “universalist” I mean “all paths, including Rome, lead Home.” In the 1940-60s,  many Catholics joined monastic orders under Merton’s influence.

In the previous post, I examined the Catholic Carlo Carretto’s mystical musings on universal love. In what he calls his “mystical” communion with God, Carretto says, “love and all becomes logical, easy and true.” (Carlo Carretto, “I sought and I found, 1985, Orbis Books, 1985, p. 64). Carretto describes his visit to the “the temple of Kamakura, some hundred kilometres from Tokyo. It was a marvellous morning. And for the Japanese it was the day the birth of life was celebrated. Prospective bridegrooms were escorting their brides-to-be before the great Buddha…I was enchanted by all this beauty, and by such throngs of people at prayer…such vitality, such hope. Look how many ‘are finding’…How many have found! See how they love one another! See how they hope! Don’t be afraid! God is the living one!”

Religions share many common features such as faith, hope and love, and many other features. For example, certain parts of the Bhagavad Gita, a core Hindu text, resonate well with other religions, as well as with all philosophies, even materialist ones. Here is a verse from the Gita:  “One cannot remain without engaging in activity at any time, even for a moment; certainly all living entities are helplessly compelled to action by the qualities endowed by the material nature.” (Chapter 3, verse 5).

You don’t have to be religious to appreciate that living creatures can’t help it: they always have to be doing something. But, the Gita is saying more than this. It is this frenzied compulsion to action that is the cause of much human misery. All religions agree on this. The first chapter of the King Solomon’s book “Ecclesiastes”  (1:1-3) begins:

The words of Koheleth son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, said Koheleth; vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What profit has man in all his toil that he toils under the sun?”

(Koheleth is Hebrew for “gatherer”, “assembler”. Koheleth is the Hebrew name of the book of Ecclesiastes).

There are other verses in the Gita that resonate with the Bible.

From the Gita: “But if a man will meditate on Me and Me alone, and will worship Me always and everywhere, I will take upon Myself the fulfilment of his aspiration, and I will safeguard whatsoever he shall attain. (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17).

From the Bible:  “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me….. If you keep My commandments, you shall abide in My love, even as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. I have spoken these things to you so that My joy might remain in you and your joy might be full” (John 15:4-11).

The Gita says: “I am the source of all; from Me everything flows,” and  “Of all the creative Powers I am the Creator…” (Ch. 10, The Divine Manifestations). The Hebrew Bible and the Christian Gospel say similar things to the Gita. There is, however, much chalk in the Gita that clashes with the cheese of the Bible. One overarching  difference is the nature of the divine being. Here is just one verse that shows the difference:

Know that among horses I am Pegasus, the heaven-born; among the lordly elephants I am the White one, and I am the Ruler among men.” (Ch. 10 “Divine Manifestations”). Who is this “I am”, this individual consciousness? It is my Self, THE Self, Ultimate Consciousness. The “divine manifestations” pervade everything.

When I was a devout Catholic, I read the great Catholic mystics such as Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. I was still wet behind the mystical ears, and had no idea that you could be a good Catholic and a good Buddhist at the same time. According to Thomas Merton, Buddhism and Catholicism are two sides of the same same Koinona (communion); they participate, according to Merton, in the same communion of divine fellowship where each is a different door to God, human solidarity and brotherhood. Yet, Christ said: “Truly, truly (that is, I am telling you the absolute truth), I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” ” If Merton’s – and Carretto’s – universalism is right, then surely this must mean that Christ is wrong.

Merton’s classic work is his autobiography “The Seven Storey Mountain” (1948). The title of the book refers to the mountain of Purgatory in Dante’s “Divine Comedy”. When young, Merton was exposed to nominal protestant Christianity.  Like many others, he found little satisfaction in academic study and political commitment. In 1938, at the age of 23, he had a dramatic conversion experience, and found his ultimate truth in Roman Catholicism.

Merton’s struggles of the flesh and his eventual conversion, related in “The Seven Storey Mountain,” have been compared to the “Confessions” of St Augustine. Whereas Augustine kept on stressing how depraved he was, he doesn’t provide any salacious detail. Merton, in contrast, did go into some detail. His superiors of the monastery would not permit publication of “The Seven Storey Mountain,” (1947) until he had lopped off the bawdy bits.

I had converted to Catholicism at the age of 19, in 1960, in my second year at the University of Cape Town. Contrary to Merton, I found great satisfaction in academic study. It was the brilliance of Thomas Aquinas, the lucidity of French Catholic writers like Etienne Gilson and Gabriel Marcel, and the apologetic aplomb of Bishop Fulton Sheen that compelled me to bow the intellectual knee and acquiesce to Rome.

Soon after publication of The Seven Storey Mountain, the book had a great influence on vocations to the priesthood and to the monastic life. Many of those entering the religious life arrived with a copy of The Seven Storey Mountain tucked in their suitcase. Together with their Bibles? Albert Nolan, the well-known South African Dominican priest, was greatly influenced by Thomas Merton to enter the religious life. Albert entered the Stellenbosch priory in the early 1960s. I encountered his gaunt radiance often when I stayed at the priory.

When I read Merton’s story in the early 1960s I also got caught up in the majestic sweep of the book’s all-encompassing spirituality. I went on frequent visits to the Dominican priory in Stellenbosch, and spent weekends and even part of the university holidays living the life of an honorary monk.

Merton entered the Abbey of Gethsemani  as a trappist  monk in 1941. Over the next 20 years he wrote on a wide range of topics from contemplative prayer to economic injustice. He was one of the first Catholics to not only commend Eastern mysticism but to absorb Eastern philosophy and practices into Catholicism. What made Merton so attractive was his universalism. He embodied the glorious quest for unity and compassion among men.  If he were alive today, he would have been, as was Mother Teresa, a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. And like Mother Teresa, won it.

Some of the things that Merton said make it very difficult to understand how he can reconcile his Catholicism with Buddhism. Merton wants to be both a Buddhist and a Catholic. He says: “I see no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity. The future of Zen is in the West. I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can.” “And not only now and zen”, as Issy, my father, would have said – if the penchant had arisen to become a Buddhist; a Jewish Buddhist; “Jubu.”

Was Merton, a Catholic Buddhist or a Buddhist Catholic? Without doubt, he wanted to be both a good Catholic and a good Buddhist. But what mattered most to Merton was to become a saint . “Saint” and “holy” connote the same idea. “Saint” comes from the French “saint” through Latin sanctus;  “holy” comes from the Germanic halig, heilig.  Merton wanted to become a saint more than anything. The problem, he recognized, was that if you try to become a saint, the trying itself disqualifies you. If I want to be a saint,  I musn’t try to be one. If I see myself becoming holy, I must hide it; not only from the world, but from myself. It is hard to square the idea of “not trying” with the Catholic and Buddhist notion of works of purification; of climbing the ladder of perfection, of purification – in short, the ladder of sainthood. Not is there only the unbiblical problem of works as a condition of salvation, but there is also the hard job of trying to keep the works for God’s eyes only.

The Biblical view is that if you thirst for holiness, it is because God gave you that thirst. The natural man hates God and, therefore, is totally unable to love the things of God. Man’s nature is to love himself and to hate God. Is there anything that the natural man hates more than God, and will fill him with fury? I think there is: he hates more than anything to be told that he hates God. It’s not only natural man that hates to be told that he is dead – totally dead – to the things of God. Many Christians also block their ears and fume at the “blasphemous” idea that in Christian salvation, there are no ladders to climb or even little fingers to wiggle.  All flee from God; unless He calls:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,

I am He Whom thou seekest !

(“The Hound of heaven” – Francis Thompson)

Christ gives the believer a new nature, a holy nature. There are two parts to becoming holy (sanctification). I have mentioned the first part. The second is that we grow in holiness. That is what the Bible means by “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). This does not mean that we must now try to finish the job that God “merely” kick-started. Much effort and suffering is often involved: “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”. Don’t, however, forget to read the next the word in the sentence “for” , and see what it is there for: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” It is God who works in his children, through his children. In the Bible, I don’t see any striving, any travailing, any climbing of ladders of perfection, any ascetic purifications in pursuit of God. But then I’m a sola scriptura (ok, solo scriptura if you’re a Catholic and also like jokes) man.

Universalism, Love, and the Mystical Desertion of the Gospel

In Christian theology, there are two kinds of “universal salvation.” The first kind  is described in one of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, “Nostra Aetate,” which is the Declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions proclaimed by Pope Paul VI, October, 1965. Nostra Aetate rejects the papal (infallible) bulls of previous centuries by stating that salvation can be attained in other religions if adherents remain faithful to their beliefs and follow universal moral laws of love (See my Buddhism, Judaism and Catholic Nostra Aetate).

The second kind of universal salvation states that every human being will be reconciled to God, no matter what their beliefs or non-beliefs or their (im)moral behaviour. This was the belief of Carlo Carretto. Carretto was the leader of the Italian post-World War II youth movement known as Catholic Action. In 1954, He resigned from that position and joined the Little Brothers of Jesus at their novitiate in the Sahara desert. The Little Brothers of Jesus movement was inspired by the life and writings of Charles de Foucauld.

In 1983, five years before his death, Carretto wrote “I sought and I found,” which was a response to Augusto Guerriero’s (Ricciardetto) “I sought and I did not find.”  When Ricciardetto died, Carrretto said of him, “Now he is in the light.” Carretto writes:

Word of his death reached me in Japan one sunny Sunday while I was visiting the temple of Kamakura, some hundred kilometres from Tokyo. It was a marvellous morning. And for the Japanese it was the day the birth of life was celebrated. Prospective bridegrooms were escorting their brides-to-be before the great Buddha…I was enchanted by all this beauty, and by such throngs of people at prayer. And if Ricciardetto had been there with me, he too would have been moved to behold such vitality, such hope. Look how many ‘are finding,’ I would have told him! How many have found! See how they love one another! See how they hope! Don’t be afraid! God is the living one!” (Carlo Carretto, “I sought and I found, Orbis Books, 1985, p.7 – Translation of the Italian edition published in 1983).

I spent more than 20 years in the Catholic Church (age 19 to 41) and all the relatives on my wife’s side are Catholics. My impression, after wide exposure to Catholics and reading modern Catholic literature (like Carretto), is that a large number of Catholics believe, with Carretto, not only that God is love but that love is God, that is, if you are loving towards another, you are a child of God, a child of the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. These Catholics regard the following papal Bulls – ex cathedra (infallible) declarations – as a mystical heresy:

We declare,say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” (Pope Boniface VIII, the Papal Bull ” Unam Sanctum”, 1302 A.D.)

The most Holy Roman Catholic Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her. ( Pope Eugene IV, the Papal Bull ” Cantate Domino”, 1441 A.D.).

Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, outside the (Catholic) Church there is no salvation.”The Catholic Church is the Vine , you the branches: he who abides in the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church in him, the same bears much fruit, for without the Catholic Church you can do nothing. If anyone is not in the Catholic Church , he shall be cast forth like a branch and wither, and they shall gather him up and cast him him into the fire, and he burneth” ( John 15:5-6).He who is not with the Catholic Church is against the Catholic Church; he who gathers not with the Catholic Church scatters” ( Matt: 12:30).Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name – than the Catholic Church – under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved  (Acts. 4:12).

In a loving nutshell: “Love and all becomes logical, easy and true.” (Carlo Carretto, “I sought and I found, 1985, Orbis Books, 1985, p. 64). This view of love (for others) fills much modern Jewish thought as well; for example, Gerald Jampolsky and Jerry Weintraub whom I discussed elsewhere. Towards the end of his book, Carretto says: “The grandest thing I can say about God is that he is merciful, and I believe in universal salvation” (p. 133). What, however, does the Lord Jesus say?

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).

Carretto would say, like the majority of professing Christians, that “world” means everyone in the world. But then come the verses that contradict Carretto’s “universal” salvation view.  “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:18).

I mentioned above that when Ricciardetto died, Carrretto said of him, “Now he is in the light.” Not so, according to the next verse: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light… (John 3:19).

About Jesus loving universally (everybody in the world), Jesus prays in his “unity” prayer:

“[6] I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. [7] Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. [8] For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. [9] I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours (John 17:6-9 ESV, my italics and emphasis).

God’s love and mercy – and light, – infuriatingly, for universalists and many others, are only for those the Father gave (from eternity) to Jesus out of the world. These are those who “believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

There is the further question of how those whom the Father gives the Son come to believe. Simple – for God, but not simple for the human ego:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44). And those who come will certainly be sanctified and glorified and raised on the last day:

For those whom he foreknew (which means “foreloved,” of course) he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30 ESV). Now, “do not grumble among yourselves” (John 6:43) over God’s sovereign choices.

Universalism finds its greatest supporter in the “mystical” experience of being close to God. One of the greatest mystical heroes in Roman Catholicism is Thomas Merton. Carretto was, like Thomas Merton, a Catholic mystic who believed that other religions such a Buddhism was a valid path to salvation (See John 17 and Catholic Universalism: That they may be One – (Reformed) Protestants need not apply). Indeed, Buddhism to Merton was not merely another way to union with God.

There is a growing number of contemporary Catholic monasteries and parishes that hold Buddhist retreats and workshops. A Jesuit priest come Zen master, Robert E. Kennedy, holds Zen retreats at his “Morning Star Zendo”. Kennedy asks “students to trust themselves and to develop their own self-reliance through the practice of Zen.” ( I’m not recommending Kennedy’s Zendo, but merely citing my sources, which  I like to do not just now and zen, but often).

Some of the things that Thomas Merton said make it very difficult to understand how he can reconcile his Catholicism with Buddhism. Merton wants to be both a Buddhist and a Catholic. He says: “I see no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity.”It’s difficult to understand how one can be both a good Zen Buddhist and a good Catholic. It seems Kennedy was more interested in converting Catholics to Buddhism than in Catholicism itself. “The future of Zen is in the West,” he says.  And the future of Catholicism? That was too limited in scope, too Roman; not universal enough, not catholic enough. The future lay in the emergent union to be born out of the merger between East and West. Merton had the backing of his illustrious and saintly predecessor, St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, who proclaimed: “All that is true, by whomever it has been said, is from the Holy Spirit.” Could we also say “all that is deep, by whomever it has been said, is from the Holy Spirit.” Merton was influenced by Gandhi who advocated that the way to finding the deeper roots of one’s own religious tradition is by  immersing oneself in other religions, and then returning “home” to see one’s own traditions and beliefs in a clearer light.

The Catholic Church, since Vatican II (1961), has radically changed its attitude towards inter-religious dialogue. Merton and other Catholic devotees of Eastern thought had a significant influence on changing Rome’s attitude to non-Christian religions. The papal encyclical Nostra Aetate (“In Our Time”) states: (Nostra Aetate is the Declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions proclaimed by Pope Paul VI, October, 1965)The Church therefore has this exhortation for her sons: prudently and lovingly, through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, and in witness of Christian faith and life, acknowledge, preserve, and promote the spiritual and moral goods found among these men, as well as the values in their society and culture” (Nostra Aetate 2). (See Buddhism, Judaism and Catholic Nostra Aetate).

Mother Teresa, another universalist, would never have dreamed of bringing the Gospel to the sick and the dying:

We never try to convert those who receive [aid from Missionaries of Charity] to Christianity but in our work we bear witness to the love of God’s presence and if Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, or agnostics become for this better men — simply better — we will be satisfied. It matters to the individual what church he belongs to. If that individual thinks and believes that this is the only way to God for her or him, this is the way God comes into their life — his life. If he does not know any other way and if he has no doubt so that he does not need to search then this is his way to salvation.” (Her Life in the Spirit: Reflections, Meditations and Prayers, pp. 81-82).

In the biography Mother Teresa: Her People and Her Work, she is quoted by Desmond Doig as follows: “If in coming face to face with God we accept Him in our lives, then we are converting. We become a better Hindu, a better Muslim, a better Catholic, a better whatever we are. … What approach would I use? For me, naturally, it would be a Catholic one, for you it may be Hindu, for someone else, Buddhist, according to one’s conscience. What God is in your mind you must accept” (Doig, Mother Teresa, Harper & Row, 1976, p. 156).

At the beginning of this piece, I mentioned that Caretto joined the Little Brothers of Jesus at their novitiate in the Sahara desert. Carretto writes:”The desert – the real desert, the one made out of jackal howls and starry nights – was the place of my encounter with God…No longer did I wish to discuss him. I wanted to know him…I sought the God of all seven days of the week, not the God of Sunday…It was not hard because he was there ready waiting for me. And I found him. And this is why I say with joy, and dare to testify to my brothers and sisters in the Spirit: ‘I Sought and I Found’” (p. 10).

The desert is a favourite locus for mystical encounters of universal love, where one can become so absorbed into that love that it is easy to forget – or to ever consider – that “whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son”(John 3:18) – a forgetfulness that is a desertion – of the Gospel.

Buddhism, Judaism and Catholic Nostra Aetate

(See related post “John 17 and Catholic Universalism: That they may be One – (Reformed) Protestants need not apply”).

There is a growing number of contemporary Catholic monasteries and parishes that hold Buddhist retreats and workshops. A Jesuit priest come Zen master, Robert E. Kennedy, holds Zen retreats at his “Morning Star Zendo”. Kennedy asks “students to trust themselves and to develop their own self-reliance through the practice of Zen.” ( I’m not recommending Kennedy’s Zendo, but merely citing my sources, which  I like to do not just now and zen, but often).

It’s difficult to understand how one can be both a good Zen Buddhist and a good Catholic. It seems he was more interested in converting Catholics to Buddhism than in Catholicism itself. “The future of Zen is in the West,” he says. And the future of Catholicism? That was too limited in scope, too Roman; not universal enough, not catholic enough. The future lay in the emergent union to be born out of the merger between East and West. Merton had the backing of his illustrious and saintly predecessor, St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, who proclaimed: “All that is true, by whomever it has been said, is from the Holy Spirit.” Could we also say “all that is deep, by whomever it has been said, is from the Holy Spirit.”

Merton was influenced by Gandhi who advocated that the way to finding the deeper roots of one’s own religious tradition is by  immersing oneself in other religions, and then returning “home” to see one’s own traditions and beliefs in a clearer light. The Catholic Church, since Vatican II (1962), has radically changed its attitude towards inter-religious dialogue. Merton and other Catholic devotees of Eastern thought had a significant influence on changing Rome’s attitude to non-Christian religions. The papal encyclical Nostra Aetate (“In Our Time”) states:

(Nostra Aetate is the Declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions proclaimed by Pope Paul VI, October, 1965)

“The Church therefore has this exhortation for her sons: prudently and lovingly, through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, and in witness of Christian faith and life, acknowledge, preserve, and promote the spiritual and moral goods found among these men, as well as the values in their society and culture” (Nostra Aetate 2).

Wayne Teasdale comments that the (Catholic) church has yet to realize the full implications of the above statement.

The encyclical Nostra Aetate started out (in 1961, the year of Vatican II) as a “Decree on the Jews.” The final text of Nostra Aetate consisted of five sections:

  1. Introduction.
  2. Hindus, Buddhists, and other religions.
  3. Muslims.
  4. Jews.
  5. Conclusion.

The Vatican starts out with the best of intentions towards the Jews. Let’s try and sort out this Jewish millstone hanging round our necks of Pope Pius and the Holocaust. (Pope Pius XII was on the papal throne during the Holocaust). The Jewish view is that he could have done more to save the Jews.  We’ll stop telling the Jews that they killed their Messiah. We’ll write an encyclical and say, “it is wrong to call them an accursed people,…or a deicidal people,…”.  Hang on. Why waste a whole encyclical on the Jews.  While we’re about it, let’s go the whole hog and bring in the Muslims and the East as well. Let’s be truly catholic.” The monotheistic Jews end up as the last item behind the monotheistic Muslims. But who gets first prize? The new darlings on the Catholic block – Buddha and Krishna.

In October 2010, “Why Israel” reports, a Catholic synod called at the Vatican to discuss increasing persecution of Christians in the Middle East.  Much of its final statement was related to the Vatican’s demand to Israel to end its “occupation” of Arab lands. In his final statement at the synod, Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros of Boston said that Biblical  promises made by God to Israel “were nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people.”   The Editor of “Why Israel” concludes, “the Vatican’s commitment to its earlier declaration regarding the Jews and God’s promises to them remains at least partially in question.” What commitment? It’s all tripe.

I’ve been scathing, which most would consider inimical to interfaith dialogue. My view is that much interfatih dialogue  is mostly, and often  sentimental; but not spiritual.  In interfaith dialogue, there are religions that have contradictory revelations from the same God. Only one can be true. Each of these religions, if they want to remain faithful and true to their own, should not budge on their major doctrines (which they believe comes from God). What, therefore, is there to dialogue about except “let’s respect the UN Charter on Human Rights, and not violate our right to free speech and free assembly, and so forth”? In a nutshell “Let’s not harass or persecute one another, and let’s also try to find a way to  make the world a better place for all;” which is the clarion call of all (secular) humanists.

Let me consider further the problem of interfaith relations. Here is the attitude of a Rabbi and a Priest (Catholic?) to each other. Rabbi Blech sincerely wants his fellow Jews to have more respect for the goyim. He mentioned a “priest” he met at an airport who asked him for a blessing.

Priest: “May I ask you a very important favour?”

Rabbi Blech: Sure

Priest: All my life, I’ve been waiting to meet a rabbi because I know that you are God’s chosen people, and all my life, I’ve been waiting to ask a rabbi for a blessing. I would love a blessing from a rabbi, could you do that for me.”

Rabbi Blech: (To his audience) By the way. How would you respond. Some people would say, “Ah, a goy,” – and I gave him a blessing. I said a posik (portion) for him and translated for him and this man walked away as if he had been given the greatest gift in the world, a brocha (blessing) from a Jew. Do you understand where the Bible belt in America is today? Do you understand how much respect there is in America today for Jews? There’s a whole world out there that thinks that knows that acknowledges that recognises that we are God’s chosen people, that puts us on a higher level. I said to myself I was a Rabbi in young Israel for 40 years, nobody came to me and said, Rabbi, you know you are the ultimate, give me a brocha..

Blech believes we are living in the pre-messianic soon return of Messiah. “One of the signs is that the goyim will start to do tchuva (Repentance). What I have written above is part of a much longer piece. I go on to speak of Pope John Paul’s desire to do tshuva (repentance). I wonder how much influence Thomas Merton and his sympathizers had in the drafting of “In Our Time” (Nostra Aetate). Earlier I quoted from the Nostra Aetate:

“The Church therefore has this exhortation for her sons: prudently and lovingly, through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, and in witness of Christian faith and life, acknowledge, preserve, and promote the spiritual and moral goods found among these men, as well as the values in their society and culture” (Nostra Aetate ).

I quoted Wayne Teasdale earlier: “the (Catholic) church has yet to realize the full implications of the above statement.”  The Vatican was cautious of Thomas Merton. It had reason to be so.

Merton doesn’t worry about the radical differences between the two faiths. But then “differences” imply dualism. Religions shouldn’t duel because dualism is an illusion. Merton’s universalistic monism defies logic. Some may argue that logic is a Greek fabrication. Aristotle says that A cannot be not-A. Aristotle cannot be and not be (Aristotle). Who says? Aristotle. But listen to “The science of sciences and the mysteries of mysteries” of the Bhagavad-Gita: I am Being and Not-Being (Chapter 5). The Jews, and ergo the Catholics are unscientific.

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am . This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”  (Exodus 3:13-14).

Here is the Buddhist adaptation:

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am NOT . This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM-NOT-AM has sent me to you.’ ” (Exodus 3:13-14)

A Buddhist ditches the law of contradiction into the ocean of life and death, but no Catholic can do so. Catholic theology without logic is like Socrates without his dialectic: a diuretic. But we don’t have to appeal to theology. We can go right to its source: the Christian scriptures. But the Buddha first.

Buddha’s final words to his disciples were:

“Make of yourself a light. Rely upon yourself; do not rely upon anyone else. Make my teachings your light. Rely upon them; do not depend upon any other teaching.”

Contrast that with the words of John the Baptist: “He was not himself the light, but was to bear witness to the light” (John, 1:8). John the Baptist continued to proclaim that Christ “is the true light that enlightens every man who comes into the world” (John, 1:9). Christ says “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). Christ is the light. No human being has any light IN himself waiting to shine forth.

To return to the Jews, the original inspiration for Nostra Aetate. The Pontifical Biblical Commission statement (2002), entitled “The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible,” states: “The Jewish messianic expectation is not in vain. It can become for us Christians a powerful stimulant to keep alive the eschatological dimension of our faith. Like them, we too live in expectation. The difference is that for us the One who is to come will have the traits of the Jesus who has already come and is already present and active among us.”

How could such an expectation be not vain, given that they refuse Christ, the only Messiah, who has already come? This means, if taken to its logical conclusion, that the refusal of the mystery of the Incarnation, of the birth of our Divine Savior in the flesh, is no longer a sin of infidelity, is no longer a grave sin against the Faith. If this were the case, how could it still be true for Our Lord to say to the Jewish false believers:

 

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

(John 8:24-45)

These were  “Jews who had believed him.” This belief was obviously not in who Jesus said he was but in what these Jews wanted to believe about Jesus. In sum, according to Jesus, they were sons of  the father of lies.

(See related post “John 17 and Catholic Universalism: That they may be One – (Reformed) Protestants need not apply”).

 

John 17 and Universalism: That they may be One – (Reformed)

The Silence of the Gaps: Dom John Main’s Mystical Mutilations in Romans

If someone were to say that the Holy Spirit plays a central role in the Christian life, no Christian would argue, if what the person means by central is  “very important,” and “crucial.” We would say the same about the Father and about the Son. However, if we compare the roles of the Son and the Holy Spirit, I think it would be correct to say that Christ is at the centre of  Salvation, and the Holy Spirit, graciously, plays a supporting role. In the light of this supposition, consider the following excerpt from “Words in Silence.” The author is Dom John Main, a Benedictine monk. On p. 3, he quotes (New English Bible – C.H. Dodd) St Paul’s letter to the Romans 1:1-5:

I have underlined pertinent sections. Notice the gap between “ours” (end of verse 2) and “because,” (second half of verse 5). shortly.

Romans 1:1-5

Verse 1

    . Therefore, now that we have been justified through faith, let us continue at peace with God through the Lord, Jesus Christ, V

erse 2

    . through whom we have been allowed to enter the sphere of God’s grace, where we now stand. Let us exult in the

hope

    of the divine splendour that is to be

ours

    …..

Verse 5bbecauseGod’s love has flooded our inmost heart through the Holy Spirit he has given us.”

Dom Main comments: “His (St Paul) great conviction is that the 1. central reality of our Christian faith is the sending of the Spirit of Jesus; 2. indeed our faith is a living faith precisely because the living Spirit of God dwells within us, giving new life to our mortal bodies.”

Dom Main’s point 2 is right; his point 1 is wrong: the sending of the Spirit of Jesus (the Holy Spirit) is not, according to the Bible, the “central reality of our faith”.

Dom Main is right when he says that it is the Holy Spirit living in Christians that breathes life into their faith. But he is wrong to say that Paul thinks – or any Christian should think – that the sending of the Holy Spirit is the “central reality of our Christian faith”. It seems that Dom Main’s view is a common “mystical” (my term) interpretation. The Bible, in many places, clearly states what the centrality of faith is. Here is one passage. Jesus is speaking, after the resurrection, to his disciples (a short while before His ascension into heaven).

Luke 24:44-48 (I’ve marked two relevant sections, A and B):

“He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. And he said to them, “Thus it is written that:

A. the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

B. You are witnesses of these things. And (behold) I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Dom Main says that B is the “central reality”. I would say the central reality is A: the suffering (death), the rising from the dead, and the repentance of sinners and forgiveness of sins for those who have faith that Christ has died, Christ has risen (and Christ will come again):

“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1Cor 15:3,4).

What is the Holy Spirit’s role in the “economy” of salvation? He is the “sealer” of the Faith, the Counsellor, the Comforter, the Revealer of truth, the Power from on high that equips us – to learn, to understand, to love, to witness. And to suffer for the Gospel. Nothing the Holy Spirit does can be divorced from the Word of God. Whenever, we read the Word the God, we should truistically read it in context. What is the context of the references to the Holy Spirit in Romans 5:1-5?

I return to Dom Main’s quote of Romans 5:1-5, and the dots between “our” and “because”, which indicates that Dom Main had left something out. Well, he left out half of Romans 5:1-5.  (He said he was quoting verses 1-5). Dots within a quote indicate that the quoter thinks the part he omits  is not central to his purpose. Dom Main is correct. They are not central to his purpose;. What is his purpose? His purpose is to show that the Bible considers the “central reality of our Christian faith” to be “the sending of the Spirit of Jesus” (Dom Main above).

Let’s see what Dom Main skipped in Romans 5:1-5. Here is the restored passage verses 1–5. The part in bold is what Dom Main left out. Pay special attention to the word “hope” in different parts of the passage.

1 Therefore now that we have been justified through faith, let us continue at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have been allowed to enter the sphere of God’s grace, where we now stand. Let us exult in the hope of the divine Splendour that is to be ours. 3 More than this: let us even exult in our present sufferings, because we know that suffering trains us to endure, 4 and endurance brings proof that we have stood the test, and this proof is the ground of hope. 5 Such a hope is no mockery, because God’s love has flooded our inmost heart through the Holy Spirit he has given us.

In Dom Main’s mutilation of Romans 5:1-5 (slicing off verses 3,4 and a part of 5) , “hope” refers only to “the hope of divine splendour”. But what does the unmutilated text say. The “ground” of “hope” is not divine splendour, but  being proved through “present sufferings”, “endurance”, and standing the “test”; in one word – through the cross; where the hope of divine splendour/glory shines through. Through Christ Jesus.

“Did you know then”, to quote Paul again, a chapter later, that “all of us  who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?” (Romans 6:3). “Baptised” here is not so much the physical act of immersing your body in water, but immersing yourself in Christ’s suffering and death – and, consequently, in your own death as well.

“Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptised with the baptism with which I am baptised?” (Mark 10:38).

In “The Passion of Bach: The Heart of Tragedy”, I described a well-known conductor who told of the deep effect Bach’s tragic “Passion of Christ” had on him. Not that he believed that the person being crucified was anything but a man. “You don’t, he said, have to be a Christian to feel the pain and the tragedy of such suffering.” From the Christian point of view, he didn’t understand that this Death meant much more than a human tragedy; it was a Death that brings life. I concluded that failure to grasp the meaning of this Death is what lies at the heart of tragedy.

With regard to Dom Main’s mutilation – with its “spirit-filled” intentions, there could also be a tragedy there. While the music conductor was ignorant of the Bible (for reasons known to God), Dom Main displaced the centrality of Christ by giving us a Holy Spirit-centred Gospel. As I mentioned above, the work of the Holy Spirit is to reveal  Christ, and to strengthen us in Christ. Of course, it is absolutely valid, and very good, to learn as much as we can about the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Trinity. What I think was not so good was the manner in which Dom Main went about excluding from Romans 5:1-5, “3 More than this: let us even exult in our present sufferings, because we know that suffering trains us to endure, 4 and endurance brings proof that we have stood the test, and this proof is the ground of hope.” In Romans 5:1-5, Christian faith is grounded in sufferings that trains a Christian to endure to the end, and ultimately he will be taken up to the divine splendor of Christ, his Saviour. The Holy Spirit is the One who helps the Christian on the Way.

The conductor of Bach’s “Passion” sobbed over the death of a man called Jesus. Or was it the music itself that brought on the sorrow? Music does that. The Conductor doesn’t know (and/or care) about scripture. Dom Main, on the other hand, has studied much, and also, no doubt, cares much about scripture. All the more reason that he should  “divide” the word with more diligence, without cutting it up so.

“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that need not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

The greatest danger of mysticism for the Christian is to displace Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, a more universal term, which appeals to mystics across the religious smorgasbrod.

P.S. Dom John Main can’t respond to my criticisms, because he died in 1982. But someone else may wish to do so.

The Torah Sacrifice to Demons

In “Sacrifice and the Weaning of the Primitive Jew,” I discussed two contrasting Jewish views of sacrifice. There is an embarrassment of Jewish views on the meaning of the Temple sacrifices. They all seem to be on a different literal page (of Torah). As long as there exists different levels of meaning – the “revealed” meaning (the grammatical historical meaning), the “allusional meaning” and the “secret” meaning (sod) – Jewish interpreters of the Torah, in their belief that God has ordained these three levels, can find themselves in more than deep water. How deep – and hot –  is what I want to talk about here.

Baruch Levine[1] writes:

“expiation addressed itself to the presence of impurity, the actualized form of evil forces operative in the human environment. This was the function of expiation as a phenomenon. It was not so much that Yahweh had to be appeased for the offenses committed. To the extent that this was the case, such mollification took the form of sacrifice, itself. The accompanying expiation through blood, as distinct from the sacrificial gift, itself, became necessary because Yahweh demanded that the forces of impurity, unleashed by the offenses committed, be kept away from his immediate environment” (p.62).

YHVH was wrathful, says Levine, not so much for being disobeyed, but mainly “for his own protection.”

How, asks Levine, does YHVH protect himself? Through the blood “offered to the demonic forces who accept it in lieu of God’s “life,” so to speak, and depart, just as they accept it in lieu of human life in other cultic contexts” (P.62).

So, the Holy One of Israel is relegated to the level of a whimpering Baal worshiper propitiating the demons through animal (and human?) sacrifice.

“What advantage then hath the Jew? …Much in every way: chiefly, because unto him were committed the utterances (logion λόγιον) of God” (Romans 3:2)

In Levine’s case, this cannot be  true. Where does he get these allusions from? Not from the words on the page; not even from the allusions bouncing off the page. From the secret unwritten knowledge (sod)? Levine plunges the VAV o f Torah into the belly of demons. What does Levine discover in the entrails of Torah? The BLACK kABBAlah of demons!

תורה

 


[1] Baruch A. Levine. 1974. In the presence of the Lord: a study of cult and some cultic terms in Ancient Israel. Leiden: E.J. Brill, pp. 65 – 66. Baruch Levine is the Professor Emeritus of Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at New York University

 

Letters of Hebrew fire – the depth and death of meaning

 

Torah
Torah (Photo credit: quinet)

During the three years I was at Wynberg school, I attended afternoon Kheder (Cheder/Cheider) “Hebrew School” (literally “room”) where we studied for our Bar Mitzvah. I remember the classes well. Reverend Gordon (in the 1950s a rabbi was called “Reverend”) of the Wynberg Synagogue was our teacher. He was a small man in his sixties with a husky voice, a wide-brimmed perennial black hat engulfing his pasty wrinkled face. We had to learn long bits of the Tanakh by heart. No one in the class understood what they were reading.This mindless recitation is common among non-Israeli Jews.

”When I was called to the bima, relates Avram Yehoshua, who hails from the US,  to read the haftara portion (the portion of Scripture from the Prophets that the bar Mitzva boy reads), I chanted it melodically and without mistake. The only problem was that I had no idea what the Hebrew words meant or what I was doing, except that today I would ‘become a man.’”
Back to Stuppel in Wynberg, South Africa. Stuppel was the star of the show in the chaider class: he vomitted large chunks of discourse at full speed, without dropping a single fiery letter. I was stuppelfired. His feat consigned the best fire-eaters to the flames.

Hebrew is a phonetic language with a very simple stress system like Italian and Afrikaans. It is possible, therefore, to read fluently but only understand effluently. There may indeed be an emotional bond with the letters filling the eyes and the sounds rattling off the tongue. How many Jews will tell you that they have this warm feeling when they look at or mouth Hebrew letters? But what about what it means? I do not mean that the structure of a language (the language code) has no value. What I mean is that the structure without the meaning is just an empty shell. If all you do is throw egg shells around, people might think you’re cracked. On the other hand, a Kabbalist will probably tell me that I’m a שמאָק (shmok) because I don’t understand that the ש and מ and אָ and ק each have meaning in themselves, and that the mindless(?) recitation of these letters influences the mind and heart in ways that the goyim and ignorant Jew fail to grasp. Islam says the same thing about Muslims who recite the Arabic Qur’an without understanding it, which comprises the majority of Muslims. The Arabic word qur`ān means “recitation”, which is related to the Hebrew kara “read, call, call out, name”.

The emotional bond with Hebrew (-looking-sounding words) is no different from the feelings that different sense impressions evoke – sights, smells, sounds, textures. Yesterday I bought a roll mop

(Philo "Judaeus") von Alexandreia/Ph...

(Philo “Judaeus”) von Alexandreia/Philo(n) of Alexandria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(a strip of herring wrapped around pickle and onion rings impaled on a toothpick) because it reminded me of all the lovely pickled herring my mother used to make. It felt so heimish (like home).   [mop – German for “bulldog face”. Roll mop – slimy silvery skin of a bulldog’s mug].  I place the roll mop on a plate, go sit under the tree in the small lush garden, unwrap the slab of herring, peel the loathsome silvery grey skin off the back, tear off little slabs, which I deftly deposit  in my mouth. Lots of things can make an old Jew feel heimish: when it comes to food – chicken soup, chopped liver, kiegelech, teigelech; or when it comes to music – Sophie Tucker and Kol Nidre.

Barry Freundel, in his “Contemporary Orthodox Judaism’s response to modernity” (pp. 11-12) says:

“The revelatory character of the material in the Bible serves as a rationale and multiple[level analysis of these texts that one finds in the rabbinic literature called the oral law. The Bible represents miraculous information. As such, while it can and should be read on its most idiomatically understandable level (what we call peshat) other levels of interpretation are also available because of the very nature of the origin of the text. These other levels are called derash, or deeper analysis, remez, or hints, which includes such things as gematria (numerological parallels and notarikon (words whose deeper meaning is revealed by the abbreviations hidden behind the letters); and sod, or secret analysis, meaning esoteric or mystical interpretation. All of these, even at the most basic level of peshat, can and do involved a great deal of intellectual effort and debate before one arrives at a final conclusion.”

So, each occasion Moses imparted to the Hebrews what God revealed, they applied a great deal of intellectual effort and debate before they arrived at a final conclusion. Is that perhaps the reason why they spent 40 years in the desert walking round in circles? Take, for example, the many occurrences of “Thus says the LORD (YHWH)” כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה, in Exodus 8:1: “And the LORD spake unto Moses, Go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me” (Exodus 8:1).
How did Pharoah react? Did he enter into an intellectual and linguistic debate with Moses on the deeper levels of meaning in the sentence “Let my people go” and in the letters of L-E-T? But then Pharoah wasn’t Jewish. (See my “Thus says the Lord in the Torah. And in the Prophets?”

In his “Approbation” of “Philistine and Palestinian” (1995) by Matityahu Glazerson (originally published in Hebrew a year earlier), the Johannesburg Rabbi J. Zalzer states:
“Rabbi Glazerson disproves the tale that it makes no difference in which translation language you happen to read the “Bible” (Zalzer’s inverted commas). He demonstrates that the Hebrew language possesses certain values which you hardly find elsewhere: a simple word expresses, in fact, deep ideas which the real meaning of the word includes. The Torah is not reading material for leisure, but needs much effort in order to be able to penetrate its real meaning and discover its real beauty beneath the surface.”

These deep ideas are, according to the Kabbalah, in the letters themselves. In the Preface (which contains an excerpt from “Letters of Fire”), Glazerson says:

“The deeper significance of the letters and words is discussed extensively in the literature of Kabbalah. It is a subject as wide as all Creation. Every single letter points to a separate path by which the effluence (italics added) of the divine creative force reaches the various sefirot (”spheres”) through which the Creator, Blessed be he, created His world.” Glazerson draws from “this store of knowledge regarding the varied significance of the Hebrew letters and words.”

( “Effluence’ is not a felicitous translation of the original. The word has three meanings: sewer water, waste water, and outpouring. The author obviously meant the third meaning. Unhappily, “effluence” is never used – this is the first time I have seen it used in such a manner – to mean “outpouring.” When I used “effluently” earlier on, I would assume that readers would get the sewer pun).

Glazerson has a chapter “On the unique status of Hebrew, the Holy Tongue” (from Rabbi

Moshe Cordovero’s Pardes Rimonim, Sha’ar Ha-Ottiot, Chapter 1).   (Pardes Rimonim  פרדס רימונים “Garden [of] Pomegranates” of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, 16th century. Sha’ar Ha-Ottiot – “Gate of letters”). Here is an excerpt:

“Many have supposed that the letters of the Hebrew alphabet are a matter of symbolic convention, that the Sages decided and agreed among themselves that certain signs would represent the sounds of speech….In the same way, other peoples also have symbolic representations for the sounds in other languages. According to this view, there is no difference between the Hebrew letters and the alphabets of other nations. The Hebrew letters are the conventional symbols used by the Israelite nation on the advice of Moshe through his prophetic inspiration, and the other alphabets are the conventional symbols of the other nations.”

Who but the ignorant would think that Hebrew is the product of Moses? Was there no Hebrew before Moses? But I don’t want to get my linguistic knickers caught up in that particular bramble of a ramble. So let’s move on to the nub of Rabbi Moshe’s argument, which I paraphrase:

There are words and there are meanings. For example, if you’ve got a headache and swallow the instructions in your painkiller box, you’ll end up with two aches, one in your head and one in your stomach. Moral of the story, don’t swallow instructions, especially written ones – even if you can stomach them; swallow only what you’re meant to swallow: the painkillers. Once you have understood the instructions on the pamphlet, you can throw it away. You can do that because it has no intrinsic importance in curing you of your headache. On the other hand, if you don’t ensure that you understand the instructions, you could do yourself untold harm.

According to those who hold this pragmatic view of language – I’m still paraphrasing Rabbi Moshe Cordovero – as a vehicle that conveys ideas (that is, a form that expresses content), the Torah is to them like that pamphlet in the painkiller box, or like any medical textbook: “its purpose is to reveal the inner meanings and processes necessary for the perfection of the soul and if one does not master the required knowledge, he gains no benefit from his studies.” But Rabbi Moshe says that this pragmatic theory cannot be true because the “Halachah obligates the reader to read the weekly portion, twice in the original Hebrew and once in the Aramaic translation, and this includes even seemingly meaningless place names (underlining added) such as Atarot and Divon (Bamidbar 32:3 “Numbers” 32:3)…The spiritual concept of each and every letter contains a glorious light, derived from the essence of the sefirot…each letter is like a splendid palace, containing and corresponding to its spiritual concept. When one of the letters is pronounced aloud, the corresponding spiritual force is necessarily evoked…these spiritual forces inhere not only in [the vocalized letters] but also in their written forms.”

So even when Glazerson says the words “seemingly meaningless”, the letters themselves (the phonemes and graphemes) in reality exude, Glazerson says, a “glorious light.” My view of the Bible (Tanakh and Newer Testament) is more prosaic and for all that more glorious, that is, it gives more glory to God. My view is that God reveals meanings through sounds (phonemes) and letters (graphemes), which are the building blocks of spoken and written words. The Bible is at bottom about repentance and how God reconciles the sinner to Himself. Simple but not simple-minded at all. The Jews of old looked for miraculous signs, the Greeks of old for wisdom. The Kabbalist looks for both: miraculous letters and the wisdom of the spheres. The grapheme by itself is no more meaningful than a rapheme is to Raphy (that’s me). Jews should not be ”spellbound” by names, nor by letters; many Jews, however, certainly are. Here is a useful summary of the issue:

“Interpreting Scripture from the method of PaRDeS often robs the Bible from its straightforward meaning, because the sod or hidden level is considered the ultimate as it is mystical and enables us to understand the so-called secrets of God. While so-called sod level interpretations have been able to tickle the ears of many in the Messianic movement, they often subtract the value of the Biblical text and its practical application for modern life. No longer do we have people examining the Tanach for what it is as narrative, history, prophecy, and wisdom literature, but people are searching it for hidden meanings. This means that when David struck down Goliath with a sling and five smooth stones, we cannot accept the text as meaning what it says, as there has to be a hidden, esoteric meaning behind it. Even worse, PaRDeS has been applied to parts of the Apostolic Scriptures by some Messianics, for which it has no remote context. Messianics who employ PaRDeS often fail to look at the New Testament for what it is as Gospels, history, and epistles. When Yeshua and His Disciples walk down a road together, it can no longer be treated as them walking down a road. What this does to us in the long run is reveal our inadequacy for using standardized hermenutics which examine literary structures in a Biblical text, taking into examination texts as a whole and its source language(s), in addition to required historical background information. Author Tim Hegg makes the following valid remarks in his workbook Interpreting the Bible: “It is therefore a mistake to think that such a hermeneutic was in place in the 1st Century, or somehow that Yeshua and His Apostles would have interpreted the Scriptures from this vantage point. To postulate such a scenario would be entirely anachronistic.”

Is it possible to be a Torah Jew without holding this “letters of fire” view of Hebrew? Very possible; indeed, you don’t have to know any Hebrew at all and still be a good Torah Jew. This applies not to the modern Jew but to Jews as early as the first century A.D. For example, while Josephus, who grew up in an Aramaic-Hebrew enviromment, was proficient in Hebrew, Philo, his predecessor, in contrast, probably knew, at best, a smidgen of pidgin.

“Philo’s writings imply several things about the kind of teaching he and other children had in the synagogues of Alexandria. The first is that the Alexandrian synagogues primarily, if not exclusively, used the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Tanakh) as the basis of instruction rather than the Hebrew Bible. While Philo knew some standardized meanings for Hebrew words, his interpretations reflect a significant ignorance of the Hebrew language. His citations always come from a Greek translation”  (“A brief guide to Philo” By Kenneth Schenck, 2005, p.11).

Having said that, the form of words (in the Septuagint) were very important to Philo; for example, peculiarities in the singular or the plural, the verb tense, noun gender,  the presence or omission of the article.

Hegel uses the term aufhebung (“sublation”) to describe the dual nature of language – structure and meaning. In order to grasp the meaning, you need to let go (in your mind) of the structure. The structure must “die” to your consciousness so that the meaning may live. Yet without the structure, there would be no meaning. Language is like music: you have to learn the notes, but iof you want to play well you have to forget the notes. The notes are still there lurking in the subconscious. if you want to play fluently, you have to leave the notes behind you. If they pop back into the forefround while you’re playing, you could fudge it. I believe that the truth lies in the music of the Cross, not in the music of the spheres (sephirot).

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians, 1:18-25).

is it possible to be a Torah Jew without holding this “letters of fire” view of Hebrew? I think it is very possible; indeed, you don’t have to know any Hebrew at all and still be a good Torah Jew. This applies not to the modern Jew but to Jews as early as the first century A.D. For example, while Josephus, who grew up in an Aramaic-Hebrew enviromment, Philo, his predecessor probably knew at best little Hebrew.”Philo’s writings imply several things about the kind of teaching he and other children had in the synagogues of Alexandria. The first is that the Alexandrian synagoues primarily, if not exclusively, used the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Tanakh) as the basis of instruction for instruction rather than the Hebrew Bible. While Philo knew some standardized meanings for Hebrew words, his interpretations reflect a signifcant ignorance of the Hebrew language. His citations alsways come from a Greek translation”  (“A brief guide to Philo” By Kenneth Schenck, 2005, p.11).