Monday, July 26, 2004

Balthasar on "experiencing God"

Came across these striking passages in my reading this weekend . . . much food for thought. I hardly feel that I'm qualified to comment on them as is expected when blogging. However, I remain interested in the reactions of more wise and knowledgeable folk who make up my occasional audience:
It can be said with certainty that there is no Christian experience of God that is not the fruit of the conquest of self-will, or at least of the decision to conquer it. And among the manifestations of this self-will one must include every autocratic attempt of man to evoke religious experiences of his own initiative and by means of his own methods and techniques. . . .

Here, the Old Testament prohibition of images retains its timeliness even today: if "image" mean what is unequivocally expressed then -- the tangible presence of the divine -- so that the divine entered secretly or openly into the human sphere ofpower by virtue of the moment of experience -- any cult of images is likewise forbidden to us. This applies even to him who is expressly called "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15), Jesus Christ, who always points away from himself to the Father and is present to the world only as one who has died and returned to the Father. A certain icon cult is frequently on the dangerous borderline beyond which unbiblical, forbidden experience begins. The image of God offered in Jesus Christ must by no means be misused in order to give us sensory experiences of God (the bridal mysticism of the Middle Ages also frequently overstepped the limits in this regard). Rather, it exists in order to transform us into his image, as Paul repeatedly urges (Rom. 8:29, 1 Cor 15:49, 2 Cor 3:18), and thus to mediate to us again the correct 'knowledge of God' (Hosea). [p. 28-29]

* * *

. . . It is only when we renounce every partial experience and every subjective guarantee of possessing what is experienced that we recieve totality of being, the divine mystery. God needs selfless vessels into which he can pour his essential selflessness.

The law of renunciation can become very difficult for the individual in times when genuine ecclesial life finds feeble expression and numerous sects offer enticement of immediate "experiences." But no one who experiences this difficulty should think that the mystic, with his apparently immediate experiences of divine things, has an easier life. For every true mysticism, however rich it may be in visions and other experiences of God, is subject at least as strictly to the law of the Cross -- that is, of non-experience -- as is the existence of someone apparently forgotten in the desert of secular daily life. Perhaps the mystic has to pass through dry periods that are even more severe. Where this is not the case, where we are offered acquirable techniques to attain a mysticism without bitterness and the humiliations of the Cross, we can be certain that it is not authentically Christian and has no Christian significance. [pp. 44-45].

Excerpts from "Experience God?" New Elucidations Ignatius Press, 1986.

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