We can’t keep quiet about the Silence just yet. If you’ve not read Contemplating Contemplative Spirituality, Part 3 it would be good to go back and read that before this article.
From Part 3 you probably remember that the Silence is an altered state of mind where the “noisy clutter” of thinking has ceased. We should not confuse this with the idea of eliminating distracting thoughts about everyday life so you can zero in and focus on Scripture. The Silence refers to ceasing ALL thought.
In Hinduism this is described as the mind sleeping while the person is awake.
It is claimed by Contemplatives that only in the Silence can someone enter into God’s Presence and hear directly from God (1).
This raises 2 concerns.
First is the assertion that to hear from God you have to have a mystical experience in the Silence. God is in the Silence and you have to go to Him there. Silence is actually said to be “God’s first language” (2). “We are being taught in God’s own language.” (3)
Of course, what then is the Bible if God’s first language is silence? How do we account for the Scriptures if God doesn’t speak in words? Well, contrary to all this, He does speak, and, in the words of Francis Shaeffer: He is Not Silent. God identifies Himself so often as a speaking God He actually uses some of His words to mock non-speaking, mute idols, “Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak…” (Jer. 10:5). Why does He mock idols? Because they are not God, and, yet, men who should be worshipping the true God are instead worshipping mute idols that are not gods at all. The importance that God speaks is beyond the ability to tell. God created everything by speaking (Gen. 1). He revealed Scripture through speaking (2 Tim. 3:16). We are cleansed by His Word (John 15:3). We are saved by believing His words. He holds all things together by His powerful word (Hebrews 1:3). His words give us life (Matth. 4:4). He raises the dead by speaking (John 5:28-29). Can there be anything greater for us to contemplate than the words that come from the mouth that does all this?
This kind of meditation – Biblical meditation – is not entering into the blankness, where thinking ceases and the mind has escaped all thought. Meditation, the Biblical kind, involves actively thinking about God’s Word, contemplating the character of God and working towards deeper and more clear understanding of Scripture. This is done through concentrated thinking. Not by censoring all of your thinking. We are never told to shut our minds off to hear from God. Yet, hearing from God is what we hear from Contemplatives, and, we hear that in order for us to hear God, we have to get into the Silence.(4)
But, is that really how we hear from God? Is that how He speaks, is in the Silence? (Does that sound like a contradiction to anyone else?) What do the Scriptures teach? Hearing from God comes from studying what He has said in His Word, the Bible. The Holy Spirit helps us understand what we read and apply it to our lives (1 Cor. 2:14). Also, the Lord gives us insight as we use our minds to think about what God has spoken in His Word (2 Tim. 2:7; Psalm 1:1,2; 119:15, 97, 148).
We never are told to turn our minds off and stop thinking. (No matter how often it is referred to Psalm 46:10 is not referring to that at all. Rather God tells His people Israel they are to have confidence that He will prevail upon the earth in the end no matter what conflict they are enduring).
Furthermore, we are told to renew our minds (Rom. 12:2), to be made new in the attitude of our minds (Eph. 4:23) and to have the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5) to love the Lord with all our mind (Math. 22:37), to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), to think about that which is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8), and to have our minds set on what the Spirit desires (Rom. 8:5).
With all these verses it seems that God actually prefers us to turn our minds on to His Words rather than turn them off through some technique.
The second problem is Contemplatives claim that in order to “connect” with God and get access to Him we need to use certain techniques to reach Him in that mystical realm (5). This is why phrases like “deeper connection” and “more intimacy” with God and being in God’s “Presence” (always with a capital “P”) are so common (6).
But Jesus doesn’t say it is through a technique we connect with God. Actually, we become connected with God when we place our faith in Christ. He did not say that you must be in the Silence to approach God, but, “in Christ“. “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Ephesians 3:12 says, “In Him [Christ Jesus] we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Ephesians 2:18 says, “For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” Because of our union with Christ we have access to God all the time to “approach the throne of grace with confidence…” (Heb. 4:16).
(Pay attention to this paragraph)
Experiencing the Silence, however, is the essence of mysticism. It is exactly the same experience and the same techniques that Occultists, Hindus, Shamans, New Agers, Mystics and Buddhists have had long before Christians ever decided to dabble in them (7). It is not uncommon for someone in the Silence to experience feelings of “deep peace”, a strong “awareness of God’s presence”, to sense or hear God’s voice give them guidance, and even to see light. These experiences are not only happening to “Christians”. It is acknowledged – and even celebrated – that people who do not believe in Jesus Christ (as God’s Son who died for their sins) are also experiencing the same things (9). How can that be? It was asked in Sunday School, “If Jesus Christ is actually giving these experiences to Contemplatives, are we to believe that He is also giving them to Hindus, Shamans, Occultists, New Agers, Buddhists, and other mystics of the pagan world?”
To say these common mystical experiences are coming from the true Jesus Christ and not another Jesus (2 Cor. 11:4) is at best erroneous and at worst blasphemous. It is an attempt to find something in common with other religions despite differences in belief and doctrine. Read that last sentence again. Now read this one by Tilden Edwards: “This mystical stream [contemplative prayer] is the Western bridge to Far Eastern spirituality (10).
Christians are borrowing the techniques of pagan mystics and therefore are getting the mystic’s experiences. It may have been re-labeled with Christian terms and phrases, but, it is still the pagan’s practice. As someone said in Sunday School,
“If it wags its tail and barks you can call it a cat, but, it’s still a dog.”
Up next: the actual techniques used to enter the Silence