It’s Alive

Mysticism is a struggle. We are always trapped in a system that cannot give full expression to what we can discern. Our postmodern Western society is designed to prevent everything that God intended for us. Even those wonderful mercies He offered after the Fall are hidden under vast piles of cultural trash. We wouldn’t even have to call it anything; there would be no need for the distinctions inherent in the term “mysticism” if our entire heritage were not so dead set on denying what is normal and natural for humanity after the Fall.

The whole body of Scripture presumes mysticism. The mindset takes it for granted as the foundation for everything that matters.

Do you understand that God speaks to everyone all the time? He hasn’t been silent for a single moment since the Fall. Every living thing can hear His voice except humans. We have to fight through our fallen nature to restore what is perfectly normal and — well, it’s supposed to be ordinary, but it seems extraordinary because we are born outside of it. Sure, children can do it almost by instinct, but we can’t stay in childhood innocence if we are going to obey the Lord. We have to confront the reality of the Fall. Redemption demands this. There are things we have to do that require engaging human capabilities incompatible with innocence. But we don’t have to lose our mystical capabilities when we surrender our innocence. It’s our culture that demands it; it’s not in the nature of the transition itself.

So it’s not as if we are all natural born prophets, but we can all hear from God and know what He requires from each of us. The mission of the prophet is to pull back from the normal activity of life to some degree and bathe their minds in the bigger picture of revelation. A prophet surrenders some measure of typical daily life in favor of seeing more consistently what other people tend to lose track of in terms of the broader scope of God’s revelation. Prophets forgo the daily commerce of life for this, so we are supposed to support them to make up the difference.

Even more so with priesthood. The idea is to be fully acquainted and focused on the protocols of worship. Priests can scarcely avoid a certain amount of prophetic awareness. They are supposed to be sensitive to the moves of the Spirit of God in worship. What does Our Lord want from us and for us at this moment? What does it take to stand in His glory? You can’t ritualize everything about it; the rituals are not the point. The rituals simply meet the protocols so we don’t forget certain important details. Priests go into a time of worship expecting the Spirit to direct contextual modifications because no two moments of worship are the same. God is a Living Person with all the same whims and moods, but none of our human flaws. Holiness does not mean “stasis.”

The measure of perfection in biblical terms is a mature relationship with a Person. It’s a living give and take. This is the nature of mysticism as an approach to life. We assert to the world around us that we deal with a living God in a living communion. It’s individual and variable; it’s alive and impossible to quantify.

Jesus warned us, as did many prophets before Him, that this is both the norm and wholly atypical. Don’t expect many to turn into this path. There is simply no way to make this a social norm. That is, there is nothing in human capability to turn the whole human race from destruction. Get used to the idea that mysticism will isolate you in many ways. Share what you can when you can, and get excited every time it seems to have an impact. But always remain cynical about even your own persistence.

Why Tribulation?

This shouldn’t be too hard to understand if your mind knows your heart: Divine justice was never punitive in nature. It was always redemptive. Sure, you could cross some threshold and be taken from this world. The manner of execution would always fit the broader redemptive needs of the community involved, so you shouldn’t imagine that it always has to be quick and merciful for the perpetrator. Still, it was never aimed at dehumanizing the bad guy or gal. They could always confess their sin and may well be received into Heaven afterward. You may struggle with that if you still have a wealth of Western notions of “justice,” but if our Creator approves of something you don’t like, then the problem is with you.

I’ve worked closely enough to the American penal system to know it intimately. It’s wrong all the way through. It’s foundation is built at the Gates of Hell. It arises from the world of Beowulf and the cold, spiteful world that spawned such literature. It presumes a world where the deity is lazy and not really interested in people; that deity was intensely selfish. That’s not Jehovah, and the American penal system devours both the guards and prisoners and the society that spawns such a system. It turns everyone into a Grendel.

Once again: The Covenant of Noah, including the vast wealth of cultural and intellectual traditions of the Ancient Near Eastern world, is reality. That covenant rests squarely on the fabric of God’s own moral character. The petty anger of an offended, vengeful and fearful Western society is contrary to reality. That’s on top of all the things we make illegal that aren’t even a threat to us. You have to understand that the entire legal system is designed to protect government privilege, nothing more. Under the pretense of objectivity and “rule of law” it simply pampers government officials. It turns bureaucratic inconvenience into a sin, and the people be damned. When you fight reality as God created it and revealed it, you gain His wrath.

His wrath serves one primary purpose: His glory. It shows His holiness and purity, that He cannot abide sin. However, His wrath is always structured to offer a chance to repent and be made whole, restored to the proper place in a world of shalom. So the wrath of tribulation is God doing things His way, offering the only path to restoration. That a whole civilization of people refuses to understand is their fault. You cannot hold Him accountable to make it easy for you to take it the way you would prefer. His revelation is more than adequate to meet every human need.

The first step in restoration is confession and repentance. That is the gateway to rapprochement with God. It’s personal; it’s between you and God. Then comes petition for terms of restoration. That presumes you will seek to heal the damage you have done to His reputation and His Creation. This includes a presumption that you would meet with the victims and strive to clean up the mess. Yes, in our world that would probably never work. It requires heart-led judges who know God’s Word to moderate, especially when the victims are Westerners full of vengeance and spite. Westerners pickle their whole world in excessive and unjustified grievance. In the end, God is the final Judge decides what is just recompense.

Did it ever occur to anyone that the biblical Cities of Refuge were their version of “pre-trial confinement”? You can’t leave safely, but your restriction is pretty generous. You still have to behave yourself to avoid trouble with local government, but it’s far more sensible than anything we do now. And the trials were nothing like ours.

It’s always possible that there is no path to restoration in this world. Sometimes the perpetrator remains spiteful for whatever reason, or perhaps the harm was simply too great. That’s covered in God’s Law. They still get a chance to confess and repent, but about the only thing it changes here is the manner of execution. That has to fit the nature of the problem, as a symbolic demonstration of divine justice. One size does not fit all, and Western notions of what’s “humane” are based on that same heathen world view from Beowulf.

For example, if the crime was murdering someone, then the victim’s family is obliged to take the criminal’s life in a manner similar to the crime. They can be merciful, but they cannot do worse. Yet Noah’s Covenant demands that they be given the chance to execute; they have to do it themselves. In some instances, the only realistic answer is that the family of the perpetrator has to carry it out on behalf of the victims — and they have to do it themselves. The people closest to the crime are the ones God says should handle the execution. When Genesis 9 says something about taking the life of those who needlessly take human life, it presumes we all know it means either victim’s family or the perpetrator’s family have the burden of acting to execute.

Sometimes the nature of the crime brings it up to the attention of a higher jurisdiction of the family-clan-tribe involved. That should be obvious from the context. A pagan or secular government sins against God when it interferes in this divinely ordained protocol. In God’s eyes, there cannot be such a thing as crime against a secular state, aside from a very direct attack on the government officials and system itself. Even then, it depends on whether the attack was justified under God’s Law. That’s because a secular state is fundamentally contrary to His Law. The New Testament warns that there’s not much we can do in practice to avoid submitting to such a government, but that’s another matter. We are discussing here the ideals of God’s Law.

This is why every nation and civilization comes to an end, and why it always involves tribulation. None of them are just in God’s eyes, so at some point His holiness demands an answer. In our case with the US in particular, and the West in general, it is the relentless anti-heart-led approach to life that calls down His wrath. It is the endless spiteful rejections of God’s revelation that calls for destruction. Pointing out the vast chasm between God’s justice system for fallen men versus the filthy perversion that is called “justice” in the US is just an example. It strikes at the very essence of God’s way versus the world’s way.

Our Crazy Ancient New Religion 3

What’s the difference between a demon and delusion?

In the Old Testament we see little mention of the Devil. He’s there in Eden, mentioned briefly in relation to Saul’s torment, Job, and a few other places. This is not the time and place for in-depth word studies, but the Hebrew text doesn’t ignore them. Rather, the Old Testament writers took it for granted demons existed. We should attempt to reclaim their attitude because it’s the one God gave them. Our biggest problem is shedding the false images typical in Western Christianity.

Further, I’m not really interested in deep theological studies here. We are looking at practical applications: What do we need to proceed with our religion? Religion is not faith, but the human application of faith. One of our biggest problems is false information on how Creation works because we have been taught to approach the Bible with false assumptions.

Given the broad collected mentions of Satan and his activities, one of the best biblical images for his position is Potiphar in Egypt (Genesis 39-40). He was Pharaoh’s “jailer,” whose mission was to take custody of the prisoners as slave labor. Based on their skills and available jobs, Potiphar could rent them out for whatever would earn him income (details varied by local custom and law). Having a noble keep the jail was a common arrangement among Ancient Near Eastern kingdoms. In many cases, the royal jailer was a very substantial noble, it could be a lucrative position. Thus, if you as a subject defy the ruler or cause him to question your loyalty, you could end up pulling a term of slavery.

The applicable part of that image is how God uses Satan as His divine “jailer.” However, there’s a subtle nuance of degrees involved: To the degree you don’t claim your full divine heritage, to that degree Satan owns you. Your eternal future is not at issue here; it’s a question of whether you live by your heart and harmonize with God’s divine character and harvest your share of shalom. The blessings God has poured on Creation for those who love Him are devoured by Satan on behalf of anyone who falls short on loyalty here in this realm of existence. Nothing Satan does can affect someone’s spiritual destiny outside this life.

John’s Apocalypse indicates in symbolic language that Satan holds authority over a third of the angelic beings (Revelation 12:4). They were swept down to the earth; it’s consistent with the Curse of the Fall, where Satan was confined to this realm of existence. His assigned task was consuming mankind insofar as they were more like dust than like God’s family. I keep reminding folks that the essence of living like dust is relying on human intellect and reason and ignoring the heart-mind. So if you return to Eden through the Flaming Sword of revelation and restore the ascendancy of your heart over your brain, you make yourself less available to the Satan’s slavery.

Restated: Conforming to the moral character of God limits Satan’s activity in your life. In a certain sense, obeying the Law Covenants will place you out of reach from the Devil. He is confined by the character of God in Creation, too. So you would naturally think the Devil will work to keep you from claiming your divine heritage. He will present claims on your blessings, and you need to stand close to Christ where God will deny his claims.

Not in the legalistic sense of Pharisaism, not to mention virtually the whole of Western thinking, but God limits Satan in a broad general sense. God is an emperor with a very complicated business of running Creation, so sometimes you’ll fall under suffering for no apparent reason (like Job), but that just means the reason is over your head. The temptation is to listen to the Devil’s lies that you somehow have gotten into hot water with God, so you need to surrender to demonic custody. Satan isn’t harmed by your false image of God and His revelation.

Up to this point in our series, we need to recall that his lies include seduction from letting your heart rule over your health and your interaction with Creation as a whole. Satan would love to make you forget that you can hear Creation’s voices. He would love to deny the truth that your heart tells you, so that the door is open for him to enslave you.

And demons are real “persons” in the sense of being individuals with varied personalities, varied powers and so forth. Satan isn’t going to discuss with you his strategy and why he chooses to assign a very nasty demon to this person — with very apparent “possession” symptoms — and others simply have to face occasional temptation to act with weakness. But deception is the primary weapon. As long as you believe his story about something, you can’t act the way God intended.

What difference does it make whether it seems very obvious this one has a demon, while that one just lives with a very sad delusion? It’s just words; there is no effective difference. Ill health in the awareness is not so different from ill health in some other part of your physical being in practical terms. Either way, the Devil has stolen your privileges.

He does it only because we listen to him; he can’t take what we don’t surrender.

Perfect Tense

The ultimate power on this earth is the power to remain focused on the moral demands of the Spirit Realm. It’s not even a question of the ability to act on such a focus, but merely to keep that focus as an eternal commitment that carries you beyond this life. The power to so act some portion of the time is a gift from Heaven.

As part of the Curse of the Fall, we bear within ourselves a weakness the hinders perfection in our use of that power. There is a sense in which it’s typical to look back and see places where we came up short. Confession that the fault is ours is a critical element in keeping ourselves in the grip of that power. We should never be surprised when we fail, and never surprised when that power overcomes our failures. The interplay between these two is a tense drama that becomes our normal here in this world.

Thus, the Blood of Christ releases us from the ultimate claims of the Curse of the Fall, and we find some varied measure of that release demonstrated here. We rejoice in the potential while longing for the final redemption that takes us out of this shadowy existence into the full light of divine clarity. For some limited time, He keeps us here and we cannot possibly grasp while here the full reason for it. What we can grasp is the utter necessity of wading through this Vale of Sorrow with an eye for ways to glorify Him.

We don’t fight the Curse itself, but we fight whatever it is within us that belongs to the Curse. The Curse remains a part of our existence here because this existence itself is accursed. There will never be a Heaven on earth in any concrete sense; only in the symbolism of our redeemed awareness. The earth itself is not fallen, but we are. We are born under a forfeit to Satan’s dominion over a Creation we were meant to manage for God’s glory. Our fallen presence is how Satan exercises his dominion here where he is confined. We quickly run out of room to explain it in human language; our minds cannot bear the load of such truth because they remain partially under the Curse.

Even the pronouncement of the Curse in Genesis 3 is full of symbols because it is written in Heaven. It characterizes our moral reality while we live in this form here below. The Curse marks a powerful distinction between male and female. This isn’t how it should be for us, but redemption is certainly not found in denying the Curse nor demanding that such distinction be removed. The distinction is a part of the conditions we accept in the challenge to bring Him glory until the final, ultimate moment of eternal glory. A critical element in revelation is both the symbolism which puts the ultimate truth within our moral reach, and the necessity of understanding that we are limited and must reach, indeed.

Throughout human history, beginning very close to the exit from Eden through which humans were expelled, humans have sought to argue with God. The Fall itself was a dispute with God, a decision to usurp the authority God said did not belong to us. Our fundamental fallen nature rests on the native inclination to insist that we are capable of defining what is good and right, that our human reason and understanding is sufficient to discern ultimate truth without having to rest on God’s living communion with us. And a critical element in this endless dispute our fallen nature has with God is a rejection of the natural moral order imposed by His revelation on the distinction between male and female.

Whatever it ought to have been, we bear the responsibility for not keeping it there. In the very act of eating the forbidden fruit, we have passed judgment on God’s declared order of how the sexes are to relate. We are born rebelling against what is in our best interest because we imagine that we could come up with a better way of doing things. We are telling God that if this is what He put into place, He certainly could have done a better job and we proceed to tell Him what’s wrong with His plan by acting contrary to that plan. So a part of the Curse is that things will never be perfect in how the male and female relate while here in this world.

The best we can hope for is still pretty messy. There is a sense in which we cannot possibly live long enough to shed enough of our fallen nature to ever get it quite right. Even if we could get it right, it would never feel quite right. We can strive for perfection, but we have to learn to live with optimal, and optimal includes a certain amount of tension.

(Yes, the title of this post is a pun.)

Psalm 88

The psalm is addressed to the Sons of Korah, but attributed to Heman, son of Zerah, son of Judah by Tamar his daughter-in-law (1 Chronicles 2:3-6). That’s a mouthful and it requires you remember the sad stories of Judah’s sin regarding Tamar (Genesis 38). As such, this represents truly ancient wisdom, as Solomon is compared against the legendary wisdom of this psalmist (1 Kings 4:31) among others.

The Ancient Near Eastern wise men were not witch doctors, but their brand of deep wisdom is surely different from anything commonly found in Western society. Genuine Hebrew mystical awareness recognizes multiple levels of moral consideration in our human existence. This psalm is a contemplation; it is not meant to assert answers but to ask wise questions. It serves to indicate territory for exploration. What you find is between you and God. The contemplation covers only one of the many levels for moral consideration. If you take the language literally, you would conclude these are ignorant savages who don’t really know God. You would also miss the point completely, because from such is the source of our knowledge of God. To these Hebrew wise men He revealed Himself most clearly, so we best guard against the folly of literalism when reading Hebrew mystical poetry.

If we are to conquer our human frailties by faith, we must first explore those weaknesses. There are plenty of songs that celebrate the victory of faith; this one delves into the human experience of depression, the place you have to visit before you can meet God face to face. It is Job without the errors. It is the deepest, darkest sorrow and shows that our Creator understands how it feels and offers no condemnation for those who confront their valleys of death. If you need an answer, it’s hidden in the call on God. That in itself is victory, but this psalm has no happy ending because it addresses itself to human nature, not divine redemption.

Heman begins in the right place, calling out to God. If there is any bright spot in this vale of sorrow, it is the shining light of God’s revelation of redemption. So he calls on God to hear this outpouring of sorrow over his own weakness. Instead of bluntly confessing his sin, he is more artful in simply acknowledging that he is as good as dead. Nothing here pretends that he deserves any better, only that it’s something he could never survive on his own.

Indeed, he emphasizes what it’s like to see death as a near neighbor. This is the death of someone who has not yet found the assurance of salvation. This is a very common dramatic figure of speech based on a whole range of literary symbols that arose far back in ancient Mesopotamia. And while those far ancient folk might have actually believed some of this more literally, it takes its place in Hebrew poetry as a familiar expression, a mere image of death while still in sin. Heman echoes more than once the image of having no friends, because in genuine depression you are unable to see beyond your own sorrow and imagine that anyone else knows what it’s like. Instead, death is closer than any human friend, and death is no friend.

Thus, he makes it sound as if death is not welcome at all. If someone dies in their sin, they have lost that one last chance to engage even the mere ritual of praise and worship. Once into the shadows of death, the miracles of God mean nothing to those who failed to find mercy. The soul’s doom is sealed. Again, nothing here is intended as literal, but as imagery of the sorrow of dying without a vivid connection of the heart to God.

So Heman continues his weeping, crying and calling out for redemption from God. He expresses lavishly how it seems to a man under conviction for his sinful fallen nature. This is the moment of walking into that Flaming Sword to the East of Eden. Will it carve off his sin, or will he be consumed fully? The psalm ends without a resolution for the simple reason that, unless the Lord redeem you in His mercy, there’s nothing left to say.