I am ever amazed at how we Christians use the term “Christ” or “Jesus” as if we could really point him out in a crowd. A “christ” is a messiah — a role to be played in the eschatology of Christianity. But Jesus of Nazareth — a man whose body occupied a space and time over 2000 years ago — this man, is gone from the earth. Who or what is left? What does it mean to have “intimacy with a spirit?” That can seem a bit ghoulish. When I encounter a “person,” I encounter a “personality” comprised of multiple components that add up to an “identity.” This “person” is someone with intelligence, physical features, potentialities for good and evil, and who has or will develop an ability to communicate. A “person” is a member of the human species — one of us. But the “person” of Jesus with whom we are called by all devotional writers to be “intimate” is not seen, not smelled, not heard, not touched, nor tasted.
How many of us can hold a thought or abstract image in our minds without distraction for more than a few seconds? This lack of mental or emotional focus makes intimacy impossible. Certainly, our frenetic culture with its short attention span operates to preclude almost all intimacy, even of a physical kind.
To ask: what is it to be intimate with Jesus is not a trivial question. All Christian faiths give lip service to the idea. Either the intimacy in question is real and accessible, or it is “make-believe.” That is, every one has bought into a story called “doctrine” and make believe the “doctrine” describes a real experience. Most importantly, the believers are called believers because they use the term “Jesus” and “Christ” with conviction that they understand what they are saying. They use the names to designate someone they know as a “person.” It is basic but necessary to repeat: this “person” does not exist on the earth in physical form, and no one has seen him in that form for over 2000 years.
So here’s the bottom line: if a Christian tells you that he believes in Jesus Christ as more than a historical figure, he must be a mystic describing a mystical experience. If he goes further and asserts he is intimate with this spirit, you may be convinced he is a madman or an enlightened being living on a higher plane. But if an enlightened being, his experience is simply not subject to the measurements and testings of science, or even the loose evidence permitted in a court of law. And that is fine. Science and the law have very limited domains.
But how many contemplative Christians do you know? How many mystical churches are there in Christendom? How many churches even permit mystics? To the contrary, institutional churches view mystics at best with skepticism and often with hostility.
The result is that people go about in Christianity talking as if they were mystics, when they are not. They use mystical terms, but express open condemnation of mystical experiences as easy instruments of the devil to deceive the “body.” Is it any wonder that the Church is not a vibrant energized community that is revolutionizing human relations across the globe? Who can believe or follow such insanity? The fact is that even the persons labeled as Christians don’t “believe.” Rather they “make believe” like children, going through the motions, but when the theater is over on Sundays, it is time to return to the “real” world. The ‘make believers’ may even tell you when this “person” Jesus came into their lives, but the story seems to end there, and the formulation sounds scripted.
Why do institutional churches resist individual mystical experiences? Fear, greed and power. It is nearly impossible to control individual mystical experience. Church members on the other hand find comfort and assurance in doctrinal uniformity. There is also a whole religious industry that can gains authority, property, and status.
Here’s the way Jesus described the situation according to the Gospel of Matthew [Matt 11:28-30 (The Message)].
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me––watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill–fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Now this was either a time bounded statement limited to those actually walking with him, or it was a mystical spiritual statement having timeless significance for all generations. The term “me” is a reference to a person. This “me” invites company, and offers ease and learning. And there will be two camps on this point: Jesus was a brilliant teacher now dead and we can learn from his example, or he is a living being, still a “person” who can deliver today what he offered then. And he offered “living waters” and eternal life. So, the two camps may equally exhibit good morals, but the stakes are certainly not equal, and the nature of the “intimacy” is completely different.
Conclusion: Christians, especially evangelicals, will say, “I am in love with Jesus.” This statement is the highest order of truth or insanity, and as C.S. Lewis might say, there is no “middle ground.” The world does not take Christianity seriously because Christians talk as if their love was true, but have no actual intimacy — an intimacy possible only if one is courageous enough to break out of religion and enter into the mystical. This intimacy with a non-physical being requires an openness and patience to receive what God is ever ready to offer. Each person has a spirit that can commune with the Spirit of God, expressed in the “person” of Jesus.
Again, in His words:
“I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me––watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill–fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”