Monday, October 19, 2009

Unio Mystica

Lesson 8: Unio Mystica

I must admit that I have always been uncomfortable with the common Christian-speak refrain to "accept Jesus as your personal savior." There are two ideas in that short phrase that have always made me feel uneasy. First, I have felt it presumptuous to imply that there is any legitimacy to the idea that the likes of me could ever claim either the capacity or the moral standing to "accept" the omnipotent, perfect Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Rather, it seems to me that it would be more accurate to see salvation as the infinitely gracious act of a God who, only after I recognize and admit to my utter inability to deserve such a thing, makes the decision to accept me.

Second, I have never liked the "personal savior" thing. It hasn't been until recently that I could explain my discomfort with this aspect of the phrase, but it turns out that I have had good reason. For one thing, this notion is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Instead, I have come to believe it is more likely a result of the "it's-all-about-me, I-write-my-own-narrative" culture we have constructed for ourselves over the last 300 years or so. I simply find it unimaginable that people like Martin Luther or the Pilgrims who came to found this nation would have described Jesus as their "personal savior." Instead, it sounds awfully similar to the way we might describe our personal computers, personal digital assistants, or personal water craft.

All that said, the concept of Unio Mystica is a far richer concept than the simple acceptance of Jesus as one's personal savior. And no one can describe the concept better than the Apostle John in his first epistle:
"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" (3:1)

"No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us his Spirit ..." (3:12-13)

"God is love. Whoever live in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us ..." (3:16b)
Though, as Dr. Tackett says repeatedly, it is beyond the ability of mortal human beings to explain or comprehend such a thing as our union with God, we get a glimpse of what it means in these passages and others. God has in some sense "drawn us into the Godhead" and thereby "resides in us and us in Him." Because God is infinite, He can be infinitely present in each of his people and we can share a relationship with Him in that way. Relationship is the key word. This is what makes our union with God "personal." It is a far different thing to say that we can in some way have access to God, and be in a relationship with him than it is to call Him our "personal savior."

This is a mystery, no doubt. But whether we completely get how such a thing works or not, what we can definitely do is draw inferences about how we should see the unio mystica playing out in our individual lives. If we "really believe that this relationship is really real," it should affect every aspect of our lives. Some thoughts about that ...

Discipleship: A disciple is an "apprentice of Jesus" -- a lifelong learner who models his/her life after Christ. In order to cultivate this relationship we have with God requires time, discipline and commitment not only to knowing about Him, but to knowing Him. The "spiritual disciplines" are a way to make our relationship real. There are many disciplines (and that is a topic for an entire study of its own), but the most common and effective ways to nurture our connection with God are through practices like: contemplative prayer, silence, solitude, fasting, meditation on Scripture, frugality, service, and study.

Worship: One who practices the disciplines and whose life is actually centered on, and anchored in, God cannot help but reflect that relationship in worship. This is a far different thing than what we usually think of -- singing songs to God on Sunday morning. Worship is a lifestyle of faith, obedience and sacrifice that reflects our character and how that character has been molded by our relationship with God.

Ministry: If this is the kind of life you live, based on the kind of relationship you have with God, it becomes inevitable that there is no such thing as a separate category of work called "the ministry." We are all ministers, all the time.

Happiness: Our modern culture has, through the exaltation of our own self-esteem and the "writing of our own narrative," convinced us that happiness is a giddy feeling, dependent on external circumstances, that everything is going our way. But this is far from the classical definition of happiness. Translated "blessed" in the Sermon on the Mount, those to whom Jesus spoke understood happiness as: a settled tone that springs from a permanent and stable internal contentment based on a self-denying apprenticeship with God that infects our entire being. In other words, to be infused with the proper relationship with God is to be happy -- regardless of our external circumstances.

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