Unio Mystica

My small group recently watched The Truth Project’s eighth lesson: Unio Mystica: Am I Alone? Unio mystica, as defined by Dr. Tackett, is the mystical union between God and man. While many people think that Christianity is primarily a moral, philosophical, or religious system, to the believer it represents “a deep, intimate, and living relationship with a personal creator.” Truly, the bond between the believer and God is beyond human understanding. For me, the question is not am I alone? for I know that God is with me. The question is, how can I explain the glorious union with my Savior?

Dr. Tackett said that the greatest of all the wonders we will contemplate in our study is the fact “that the God of the universe has come to make His dwelling both with us and in us.” It is truly amazing that the Son of God became like a Son of Man to dwell among us. There was nothing glorious or majestic about him. In fact, he was despised and rejected and ridiculed. The Son of God bore our pain and suffering and paid the price for our sins. The incarnation is a mystery beyond my understanding and yet I believe it.

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:2-5

Jesus Christ said mysterious things that were beyond the understanding of the crowds around him, including those who were very religious. Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.

How can this be?

Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

Christ in me, Christ with Me

Even before watching this lesson, I had been thinking about the interesting way that Jesus described his relationship with his followers. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).” “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love (John 15:10).”

The grapevine is a great visual that explains how the believer is one with Christ. We are a branch, an integral part of the fruit producing vine. Yet we can’t produce fruit on our own. If we remain in him, if his word remains in us, he will remain in us and we will bear much fruit.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

In Christ, I am a new creation. The old me no longer lives. Christ lives in me. He gave me the Spirit of truth to be my advocate. The Holy Spirit is in me and with me.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

John 14:16-17

This is the great mystery of my union with Christ. Christ is with me. Christ is in me. Christ is behind me. Christ is above me. For reasons unknown to me, he chose me. I do not understand this unio mystica but I praise God for it.

The Prayer of Saint Patrick

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, 
Christ on my right, Christ on my left, 
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, 
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, 
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, 
Christ in the eye that sees me, 
Christ in the ear that hears me. 

One in Christ Jesus

Another theme of the Unio Mystica lesson is the unity of believers. When Jesus prayed for the disciples, he prayed, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one (John 17:11).” Jesus prayed for people like me who came to believe through the message of the apostles “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”

Christ’s message is a message of unity and inclusion. The old way of excluding Gentiles from God’s promises was replaced with a new covenant. The despised Samaritan became the shining example of what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28

Dr. Tackett pointed out that the words “one another” were repeated often by Jesus and the apostles. See also Romans 12:10, Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:16 and 1 Peter 1:22.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 13:34-35

In my study of The Truth Project, I haven’t agreed with everything that Dr. Tackett says. But on the topic of the intimate, personal relationship between God and man, I agree with him wholeheartedly. There is nothing more wonderful and humbling than the incredible way that God lives with us and in us.

You move us to delight in praising You; for You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You. 

Augustine, The Confessions, Book I

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Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Why does God let evil people prosper?

A recent sermon at my church addressed the spiritual discipline of dealing with wicked people. The sermon was based on Psalm 73, a psalm of Asaph. Asaph was a Levite priest appointed by David to give praise to the Lord. In this psalm, Asaph almost seems to be accusing God as he struggles to understand how God could let wicked people prosper. Even though we lived in very different times, Asaph could have been speaking for me. I have struggled to understand why God lets evil people get away with wickedness. Why doesn’t God punish them? Where is his justice?

Surely God is good…

Asaph started the psalm saying that “surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” Like Asaph, I know that God is good. God is loving. God is merciful. God is faithful. Through his commandments, God has shown me what is good and I know what he requires of me – to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8).

Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
    including every hidden thing,
    whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Surely God blesses the pure in heart. Surely God blesses peacemakers. Surely God blesses the merciful. Surely God blesses the poor in spirit. Surely God blesses those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Surely God is faithful and just. Surely all his precepts are trustworthy.

and yet the wicked prosper…

Asaph saw, just as I see today, that the wicked prosper. They don’t have a care in the world. They enjoy good health. They are strong. They seem to escape the struggles and misfortunes that everyone else faces. They take possession of the earth and their mouths even lay claim to heaven!

The wicked are clearly not doing God’s will. Surely God sees what they are doing. They oppress and mistreat the weak and defenseless. They are violent and abusive and malicious. Their hearts are callous. They are selfish and greedy and arrogant and deceitful.

And yet the wicked always seem to find plenty of people who are willing to defend their immorality and corruption. They think that God is not paying attention. They believe they will never be held to account. Why wouldn’t they be carefree? They have always gotten away with breaking God’s laws. There seem to be no consequences to being bad.

Surely in vain, I have kept my heart pure

Asaph was afflicted, troubled, aggrieved, embittered. He found himself envying wicked people because they seemed to be doing well despite their disobedience. I too have been distressed by the success of the wicked. Why aren’t they being held to account? It seems pointless to be righteous. Where is the reward in being a good person? Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure.

My portion forever

When Asaph entered the sanctuary of God, he understood the things that troubled him so. The prosperity of the wicked is temporary. In the most holy place, in the presence of God, Aspah could see that there is nothing to envy in wickedness. They are destined for destruction. Asaph understood that God will cast the wicked down to ruin. Unless they repent, they will be destroyed, separated from God forever.

When it seems like evil people are getting away with wickedness, when they escape justice at the hands of man, remember this: God will bring every deed into judgment. Be patient and wait on the Lord. Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (2 Peter 3:8).

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Thank you, Lord for always being with me. Thank you for guiding me and showing me your truth. Thank you for showing me that my treasure is in heaven. This earth has nothing I want or need more than you. You are my strength and my portion forever. I will sing your praises and tell the world of your wonderful deeds!

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A psalm of Asaph (Psalm 73, NIV)

Surely God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart.

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
    I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

They have no struggles;
    their bodies are healthy and strong.
They are free from common human burdens;
    they are not plagued by human ills.

Therefore pride is their necklace;
    they clothe themselves with violence.
From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
    their evil imaginations have no limits.
They scoff, and speak with malice;
    with arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
    and their tongues take possession of the earth.
Therefore their people turn to them
    and drink up waters in abundance.
They say, “How would God know?
    Does the Most High know anything?”

This is what the wicked are like—
    always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
    and have washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been afflicted,
    and every morning brings new punishments.

If I had spoken out like that,
    I would have betrayed your children.
When I tried to understand all this,
    it troubled me deeply
till I entered the sanctuary of God;
    then I understood their final destiny.

Surely you place them on slippery ground;
    you cast them down to ruin.
How suddenly are they destroyed,
    completely swept away by terrors!
They are like a dream when one awakes;
    when you arise, Lord,
    you will despise them as fantasies.

When my heart was grieved
    and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
    I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

Those who are far from you will perish;
    you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
    I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
    I will tell of all your deeds.