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Why I am Abandoning the Term ‘Mystic’ (and Most Terminology)

I had a conversation with a friend today that caused me to rethink my approach, positions, and even my writing style. I realized from this conversation that although my stance may not be one of pointing fingers, calling people morons, and generally telling the world why my view is better than someone else’s, I may (at times) come across that way.

If you have been a commenter or lurker on “The Infinite in Everything” for a while, you have likely heard me rant about fundamentalism, atheism, liberalism, biblical scholarship, calvinism, and most recently mysticism. I love talking about these subjects, but recently it has come to my attention that my snarky attitude (as funny as I may think it is) can really be quite unhelpful. This blog is my playground, so I conduct my theological experiments here in wanna-be-Albert-Einstein-esk ways. Sometimes it works, but like all experiments, it fails at times too. So, maybe it is time for a little self- and blog-evaluation.

What if my approach has been entirely wrong? What if I need to abandon the terminology I use to articulate my views on faith in favor of something that is more helpful? Here’s an example. I thought my story about the guy who wrote me off because I was a mystic was funny, but a commenter, who went by Paulos, was quick to correct me, when he said:

I think there needs to be some level of making sure you're speaking the same language as the person you talk to. While calling your self mystical is true, I think the meaning was lost on the dude who talked to you. If you said "I'm not a hippy, but I believe that the presence of God is real" or "I believe that the Holy Spirit is real" or pulled out some[thing from] Colossians 1 or John 1 about Jesus and all things[,] he might not have been so dismissive. … [That] can open up more conversation. If people don't understand the labels then they aren't helpful.

Obviously some people will still be dismissive of what they don't like or don't understand, but a lot of things are issues in language. Different Christians/groups of Christians can so easily use different terms to describe the same thing and talk right past each other.

Dear Paulos, I am beginning to think you were right. Maybe I need to reconsider my use of the term ‘mystic’ and my use of terminology in general. Perhaps the whole notion of defining where I align or diverge with parts of the Christian movement is altogether wrong.

What if in the midst of defining ourselves, we have lost sight of our ultimate goal? To demonstrate the love of Christ to others—regardless of where they came from or who they are. What if we have sacrificed simplicity and embraced complexity? It’s not that I believe theology is simple, or that explaining our religious experiences is easy, but isn’t love simple?

Now before you think my last name should be Lennon or that I should attend the next Woodstock, think about what I am getting at here. War is complicated; love is not. Destruction happens from complex plans, but order comes from a God whose plan is simple: Let’s create order together (you, me, and all of humanity).

Maybe it’s time we abandoned terminology in favor of what we all hold true: Love is good. And a God who loves is good too. Experiences and theology can find their place within that framework. And if they don’t, then I think we should reject them. Simple, but I think it works. What do you think? How can this framework help us to see the Infinite God in everything?

Comments

It may well be helpful to describe where you're coming from and where you've been Biblicaly instead of using a label. Labels are useful shorthand, but only if everyone has the same background and understanding.
I agree with you that love is good. And God is good. But I don't agree that love is "simple." Anyone who has raised children has faced the complexity and divergent vector forces of love. Contemplating the love of God can be frightening, His love for us being so great that it caused the death of Christ. I am stunned by God's love and in awe, sometimes cofused. Why would He allow Good to suffer evil for the sake of His enemies? Love is complex, whether we are dealing with people we love or reflecting on God's love and the implications and demands it makes on us as His followers.

Doc,

Some great feedback here. Thanks for chiming in.

I see where you are coming from. Yes, loving someone (or God) through a difficult experience can be a complex process. But I think it is the process -- our circumstances and their circumstances -- that make everything complex, not love itself. This is precisely why love is profound -- the simplicity of it overcomes the complexity of everything else. Christ's death was for a simple purpose: "I love you this much." The act of love overcomes everything, as Christ so demonstrates. His circumstances were complicated, but the reason why he acted was indeed simple: "I care for humanity more than myself." (And that's love.)

Anyone else want to chime in on this? Is love simple? (Try to think about it in terms of what makes life complicated.)

--John

"Is love simple?"

Perhaps you should read D. A. Carson's book "The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God" before answering (or even asking?) that question. I agree with Carson that it isn't "easy" at all in terms of what most folks consider to be easy. In fact, I would say that it is difficult enough that even Carson himself ran into a wall and had to essentially "quit"--he couldn't follow the road to its conclusion because it would have radically diverged from his theology. Still, the book is highly recommended. I believe it is available from Logos Bible Software...have you heard of them?

dp

David Paul,

Thanks for your comment.

I have read portions of Carson's book, but I must admit that I have not read the full thing. I like quite a bit of what Carson writes, but I am not enthralled by the conclusions he draws in this book. Let me try and lay out my view for you.

I think we need to adopt a stance against chaos and destruction (which I know Carson would agree with). However, here is where my view of love diverges. The only way to adopt such a stance is to side with the God of order and simplicity. When I read Genesis 1 to 2, I see God asking us to do just that. I see a God who calls us to make the world orderly, as he has done so. It is a simple command and one that is driven out of his love for creation and us. I simply don't see what else could be a motivator. (I have a post about this here: http://www.conversantlife.com/intelligent-design/the-bible-and-science-c... ).

That same God, in the form of Jesus, then tells his disciples to simply love other people and God (citing Deut 6:4-6). Again, simple. Complicating love by putting parameters on it is part of what drove us as humans to where we are today. There is no "I will love you if/when ..." There is only "I love you." The if/when clause does not fit within the parameters of God's love. His Son's defiance of the powers by laying down his life for humanity demonstrates this more than anything else. Remember, he even says, "Father forgive them for they know not what they have done." That's love -- simple, raw and true.

Loving God really is simple. It is just the means we take to get there that complicates things. Loving other people is likewise simple. But again the means get in the way. So, I am sticking to my guns on this one. Love is simple. I may discuss this further in another post.

--John

P.S. In response to your last comment, I am going to assume that you know Logos Bible Software publishes Bible Study Magazine, which I run. :-) And yes, I do my research using Logos (in case you were wondering): http://www.logos.com I simply love it. :-)

"Meanings are not in words; meanings are in people." (S.I. Hiyakawa)

About love: Perhaps God really is love. I imagine it's tough to be love.

I want to love. At least sometimes -- perhaps on a good day -- I think I do.
We talk about love as if we knew what it is. It's an abstraction. We just don't DO love. I'm sorry, but we don't.

We talk about it. But love can be ... harder than nails. Cold as an iceberg. Hot as the center of the sun. I don't want to go there!

Yet I seem to keep playing around the edges, seeing how close I can get without being burned up, or frozen in ice.

(Me)

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The Infinite God is everywhere, are you looking? I am dedicated to finding God in all aspects of life – the Bible, the news, and the arts. Because I find that the most fulfilling journey of all is searching for heaven here on earth.