This is a continuation of a brief series on Christian mysticism. The previous parts included a look at scholastic and mystic approaches to knowing God and a look at the legitimacy of a mysticism based on creation.
But the mysticism based on creation, while legitimate of itself, can only take you so far. It cannot tell you everything you need to know about God; it cannot tell you God's disposition towards mankind. God's full message comes in Christ. Any mysticism -- as any other Christian study -- is not on solid ground if Christ is not the foundation.
Meditation on Christ
As the mystical view of natural theology allows room for awe and wonder and the like, in the same way the mystical view of Christ-centered theology allows for actually appreciating Christ with all our being, not simply analyzing Christ as an object of study. For those who are not used to any mystical approach to Christ, it may be easier to show than to explain the difference. I'll sketch out two brief meditations on the life of Christ. Afterwards we will have a basis for commenting on the approach.
Example Meditation #1: The Message of Creation fulfilled in Christ
Astrologers have long tried to find the secrets hidden in the order and beauty around us. They're a bit of a running joke these days. But the Bible tells us that once -- just once -- a few of them actually got it right. Once, some of them really did find the message of creation. "The heavens declared the glory of God" and they heard it. They left their star charts and went to see ... a small child they had never met in the unremarkable town of Bethlehem. And they were content. Out came the gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Their quest was fulfilled.
Example Meditation #2: "Now I can die content"
A wise old man, renowned for his righteous life, was waiting out his last years in the Temple. He was seeking the Desire of Nations that the prophet had foretold would come before this Temple was destroyed. This righteous old man had been promised that he would live to see that promise fulfilled. When the child Jesus was brought to the Temple, he said that he could now die content. The Liturgical churches still repeat his words each week: "Lord, now let your servant depart in peace. Your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen your Salvation ..." All this over an infant. I think that should have merited its own verse in the song "What Child Is This?"
Meditation and Mysticism
When you look at the examples above, depending on your background, you may or may not see much difference between this and what you are used to doing when you consider Scripture. If your approach to Scripture already gives legitimate place and welcome to this type of meditation, then it is already in some sense mystical. Some might object, "No, no, mysticism is something weird, alien, disconnected, misleading" -- but that's only the worst, most illegitimate forms of mysticism. A Christian mysticism bases itself on Scripture, on creation, and most particularly on Christ. This type of study allows for the mind to do more than just dissect; the mind is also allowed to marvel at the things that deserve it.
A solid Bible study will not be analysis alone; neither will it be meditation alone. There are different useful analysis tools such as histories, word studies, and concept outlines that help us know Scripture better. Lord help us if we ever put them aside. But there is a tendency to think that the best Biblical reasoning is the type that builds systematic theologies; this is a mistake. The best Biblical reasoning is the type that uses God's word in the way that God asked it to be used, for which "systematic analysis" scarcely scratches the surface. Systematic analysis is a tool, not a goal. Meditation is another tool, likewise not a goal in itself. Theology is knowing God, not forming systems. Knowing God is our goal, and God is only revealed clearly in Christ. Therefore Christ is the foundation and chief study of the best theology and the best meditation.
Next I'll look at how the "apophatic" branch of mysticism is a healthy corrective in our knowledge of God. I may also take up other themes in later posts, such as mysticism and a view of the recent cessationist/non-cessationist debate or abuses of mysticism/fraudulent mysticism.