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

Sociology: the Divine Imprint?

In lesson seven of The Truth Project, Sociology: The Divine Imprint, Dr. Del Tackett asserts that God instituted certain social systems and imprinted his divine nature on them. Tackett claims to see evidence of God’s imprint on six institutions: the family, labor, church, state, community and the relationship between God and man. In the seventh lesson, Tackett focuses specifically on the family and compares the social order of the family to the Trinity. Is this a valid analogy?

I have been approaching the lessons of The Truth Project skeptically. I am probably more “progressive” than most study participants including the other women in my small group. I guard myself against indoctrination and political propaganda. I am not interested in fighting cultural wars. But I do believe that as long as there is a biblical basis for teaching, there are nuggets of truth for the discerning listener.

The Trinity

Dr. Tackett started the lesson by talking about the God of order. I agree with Tackett that there is evidence of order in the design of the universe – the law of gravitation, the laws of motion, the amazingly ordered process of genetic replication. According to The Truth Project, “amazingly detailed reflections of God’s nature” are also “inherent in the social order.” Is there biblical support for the claim that God stamped his divine order on families?

The Christian Godhead is triune, three distinct beings united in One: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity is mysterious and difficult to understand. Dr. Tackett spent a few minutes explaining the Trinity, then went up to the chalkboard and attempted to illustrate it. First he drew a big circle. Then he drew a smaller circle in the upper left quadrant of the big circle, which he labeled as the Father. Next to the Father, he drew another circle in the right quadrant and labeled it the Son. Finally, he drew a circle at the bottom of the big circle and labeled it the Holy Spirit.

Tackett spoke about the roles of authority and submission within the Trinity. Jesus submitted himself to the will of the Father. The Son was sent from heaven, not to do his own will, but to do the will of the One who sent him. Quoting from the Nicene Creed, Tackett said that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, which may explain why Tackett showed the Spirit below the Father and the Son.

“But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me.

John 15:26 Modern English Version

Tackett drew a similar diagram next to the drawing of the Trinity and labeled the smaller circles Husband, Wife and Children. He said that the family reflects the triune nature of God. When a couple marries, we say that the two become one. As Jesus submitted himself to the Father, Paul said that wives should submit themselves to their husbands (Ephesians 5:24). Tackett noted that in modern culture, submission is viewed negatively. Jesus demonstrated that it is good to be humble. He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped (Philippians 2).

On the surface, Tackett’s comparison of the family to the Trinity seems reasonable. The Triune God embodies the best qualities of a family – union, communion, intimacy and fellowship. The members of a family are distinct but united as one. The concepts of authority and submission are found in the family and the Trinity.

And – this is truly amazing – drum roll, please – there are three persons in the Trinity and in the traditional family! Tackett sees threes all over the place. There are three primary colors. There are three states of matter – solid, liquid and gas. There are three realms – physical, spiritual and social. There are three parts to the atom: protons, electrons and neutron.

What’s wrong with this picture?

When you look more closely, you can see that the Truth Project’s analogy is rather flimsy. In keeping with Tackett’s obsession with threes, here are three problems I see.

1. Flawed Theology. The analogy diminishes the Holy Trinity. There is no real equivalency between children and the Spirit or wives and Jesus or husbands and God the Father. God sent the Holy Spirit to be present with us but the Spirit was with God from the beginning (Genesis 1:2). In his post, Truth Project 7: Sociology (The Divine Imprint), Elliot Ritzema says that Tackett gives the impression that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father. People who believe in subordinationism believe that both the Son and the Spirit are subordinate to God the Father.

When you see Trinitarian relationships in anything but the Trinity itself, I think that you are treading on very dangerous ground, because you are making a parallel that the Bible itself does not make. The Trinity is mysterious, so comparing it to things that we know more about can be helpful at times. But comparisons are only just that: comparisons. When we really start to think of the relationships within the Trinity in terms of relationships within the family, we have diminished the Trinity. 

Elliot Ritzema

2. The Sin Imprint. All of us fall short of the glory of God. While Tackett acknowledges the “pathologies” that result when we disregard God’s plans (e.g. divorce), he doesn’t give enough weight to the sinful nature that is always present, even in unbroken families, even if our behavior doesn’t fall to the pathological level. Many families that appear to reflect God’s divine design have the imprint of sin – infidelity, spousal and child abuse.

3. An absence of grace. The Truth Project draws a line between those it sees as being on the side of truth and those who believe what it calls the “pernicious lies” of our culture. Tackett believes that the reflection of God in the social order is even “more indicative of the heart of the Creator than the marvels of DNA replication…” For this reason, Tackett, sees social order as a focal point of the Cosmic Battle between truth and lies.

I was uncomfortable the whole time I watched lesson seven. In a Focus on the Family sponsored discussion of marriage and families, I expected to hear Tackett condemn current culture, especially gay marriage. Thankfully, in a one hour DVD, there wasn’t time for Tackett to include a “lengthy discussion of the pathologies and issues within each social system.”

I believe that God has sufficient love and mercy for all of us. Tackett’s description of God’s divine imprint on the family leaves out singles, couples without children, and single parent families. Not all are meant to marry and not all are meant to have children.

Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.

Hebrews 12:15, NLT

Nuggets of truth

There are nuggets of truth in lesson seven. It is not good for man to be alone. It is good for all of us to emulate the humility of Jesus. It is good to live in unity and to treat each other with love and respect. I also think that when the traditional family is loving and supportive, it is the ideal social structure for raising children.

When things go wrong in families, children are hurt. When Flash, a tattoo artist, tells his story, it’s really hard to hear. His mother wasn’t a mother; she was a monster. I will never forget the night my mom told us that she and dad were getting a divorce. I was twelve. I prayed to God pleading with him to keep them together even though the marriage was not a good one. My prayer was not answered. By the grace of God, we got through it and I learned something about love and forgiveness.

If I were to draw a diagram of the family, it wouldn’t be a single sphere. It would look like Olympic rings – interlaced spheres of different colors. Every family is different. Many families struggle to get it right. We’re all connected. We should look out for each other so that no one misses out on the grace of God.

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Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash