Mystic Challenges to My Christian Worldview
This past summer I traveled to Colombia, where I had an encounter with mysticism. Through an encounter with a cousin whom I met for the first time, I became familiar with his mystic belief, which is characterized by finding God within himself. His beliefs came from a book by Neale Donald Walsch, who has written numerous controversial and best-selling books on the topic of God and humanity. My cousin has developed his beliefs with the help of one of Walsch’s books, Conversations with God. From this text, my cousin has drawn his beliefs that, for instance, man is wrongly conflating his own beliefs with God’s intentions. He thinks that man has been misled all along, and that man should turn to himself to assess whether he is living up to God’s standards. Ultimately, man should not be concerned with what God wants, but should be harnessing God’s energy and acting at a divine spiritual level. I want to challenge the misconceptions of Neale Donald Walsch’s premise that God is made in man’s likeness and not man in God’s likeness. Walsch’s beliefs are based on the false premise that God is not on our side and that we have to turn to our own wisdom instead. My goal is to instill a level of healthy skepticism about living in the way Walsch proposes and what I anticipate will be pitfalls in following this lifestyle from my Christian worldview. My cousin’s beliefs regarding “elevating our level of consciousness,” “evolving,” “reincarnating,” and “using a belief and tossing it if it no longer works for you,” can be intimidating and they should be closely analyzed to better understand them. All of these suggestions perplexed me, and made me wonder why I did not think this way, why I have not achieved this level of enlightened understanding. Is my mind not open enough? Am I suffering from limited understanding? Why do I feel like my faith is so easily challenged in front me, leaving me almost without words and making me feel intellectually inferior?
My cousin kept pushing me, saying that Neale Donald Walsch’s beliefs allowed him to reach spiritual maturity. He claimed that we are obligated to look for the “Truth,” or at least the truth within ourselves. I agree. He said that belief systems are a function of creating better versions of ourselves. I agree, because faith is an instrument to help us advance through the wisdom it provides us. However, wisdom is a double-edged sword that can both guide us towards a better version of ourselves and our world or steer us away from the very same thing. The Book of Proverbs alludes to the two ways in which wisdom can guide our judgement. When people reject God’s wisdom and choose their own, they “[do] not accept [God’s] advice and spurned by rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and will be filled with the fruit of their schemes.” 1 Unfortunately, man often chooses his wisdom over what God would want.
My cousin’s reliance on individual wisdom may work when everything is going well and when an individual never interacts with anyone else. However, the world calls us to interact and change, which reveal people’s different conceptions of wisdom. Only God’s wisdom can be universally communicated and justified in a world of so many competing ideas of what is wise. By understanding God’s wisdom, it will be possible to understand one’s own wisdom and how it may be flawed. Otherwise, we will think that God’s wisdom will take shape around what we think is wise, which is misleading and unexpectedly makes us create idols of ourselves. We end up creating idols of ourselves because we pursue what is best for us without seeking a wisdom that separates our agendas from that of God.
My cousin’s focus on personal progress became imperative to him because institutions that are supposed to perpetuate God’s wisdom in the world have let him down. As a Christian, I believe that the role that church plays in our lives is very important to living a Christ-like life, but I completely agree that the church deviates from Christ’s teachings . However, attacking the church as a replacement for attacking a relationship with Christ is a strawman argument; both Christians and non-Christians alike agree about the imperfection of the church. This apparent irony can be understood in light of the relationship that Paul describes in Colossians that God “is before all things, and in him all things hold together…he is the head of the body, the church.” 2 When we pursue our own will in the church, we detach ourselves from the body, causing everything that would previously hold together to no longer do so. According to this passage, humans are not functioning separate from God, but rather working in conjunction with Him. If we choose to abide by His wisdom and will, according to Scripture, He will hold all things together. However, by going down our own paths of wisdom, we detach ourselves from the joint relationship we have with our Creator and all things will fall apart.
What my cousin did not realize was that by attempting to toss out all semblance of spirituality, he ended up illuminating some of the very Christian beliefs he thought he was against. He argued that religion falls short as he deepens this personal relationship with God. My cousin would agree that God is present everywhere at all times, and that God is eager to have a personal relationship with us through whatever religious rites we follow. However, Walsch believes, as does my cousin, that this should be a relationship in which we are not at all dependent on God to guide our decisions. Walsch states that “God was not made in the image and likeness of man. It is the other way around. Man is made in the image and likeness of God.” 3
I then proceeded to ask my cousin if he thought humans were limitless; he said yes. It is not that I want to disregard the progress of the human race, but the only tool for progress is not our own wisdom; rather our wisdom has also been the source of our wickedness throughout history. By attempting to be limitless, humans become more aware of our limitations as we continually fail. In realizing man’s shortcomings and our need to reach higher levels of understanding, my cousin also illuminated a Christian realization. I challenge Walsch’s beliefs about God in saying that, through faith in God, humans achieve a sense of limitless support and encouragement for our endeavors.When Paul conveys to the Romans what Jesus has done for our eternal salvation through the rhetorical question, “If God is for us, who can be against us,” he gives us a sense of freedom to be victorious. 4 While we may be limited as we fail continuously, our faith in God’s ultimate sacrifice demonstrates that nothing can restrain us individually. With Jesus on our side, there is virtually no barrier too large that can prevent us from fulfilling our aspirations.
In the Book of Colossians, I have encountered contradictions regarding what the ultimate source of my knowledge should be. In Colossians, Paul writes “see to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” 5 This verse points out how we often give in to the beliefs and norms of our society, because they reflect our self-serving desires. The world’s philosophies can perpetuate our needs at the expense of others, who are as Holy and worthy of God’s redemption as we are. To fall into the temptation of believing that we can address our own needs, desires, and problems is misleading: it turns the source of the solution towards us, but we are sinful beings interested in our own progress. Progress cannot continue to be solely made in our individual lives, or happen without an understanding of how and why we desire this progress. We should make sure that we do not lose our “connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.” 6
Humanity should neither accept the realities of this world nor passively watch them happen. Instead, we should actively try to correct them. The crux of beginning to address these problems lies in the person whose wisdom we are drawing from to solve problems. The Book of Matthew calls us out to address the world’s realities and to do it knowing who we allow to guide us by being on the “watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves…Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” 7 As we decide how we are going to contribute and interact with this world, we should know what we are rooted in, for whom, and why. What we are rooted in will inform all of our work. If we are rooted in our preferences without regard for what others, including our Creator, would implore us to consider, we will probably end up idolizing ourselves.
I agree with my cousin that we should look beyond the tools of this world to solve our worldly problems; however, we disagree on the “how.” Our needs today require that we make a paradigm shift away from the prevalence of our individual desires and towards the source of our creation and our real intention as God’s children. To become closer to the source of our real intention on Earth, we should become more conscious of our sin, and move beyond our submission to only what the material world offers us. We must seek to expand beyond the boundaries of the world as it is today, and to do it for the glory of God. We should glorify Him because He is at the roots, the tree of our life, as well as the head to our communities embodied in Him. He holds all things together, as emphasized in Colossians. He should be glorified as the source of what makes us able to be limitless in what we can accomplish. Humanity has yet to unpack all of the principles that Jesus taught us about being human, which is to be completely powerful in His impact on humanity and completely submissive to God. This goal lived out would look like breaking the chains of worldly knowledge to constantly be renewed by “bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” 8