Piercing the Veil: Spiritual Gifts, Mystical Experiences and A Relationship With God

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” --Acts 4:12

They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,
    which has become the cornerstone.’

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:7-12

Who is God? And Why We Only Contact Him

I spoke to a friend recently about some of his demonic encounters in Indonesia (I know, light conversation), and got some very good insight on the reason for the tabernacle and temple before the coming of Jesus. In this era, it is common for people to want to make God ambiguous or pluralistic in ways he has not made himself out to be, to say he can be known by many names (names attached to very different ideologies and conceptions of God and in a biblical worldview other names mean other powers). But the reality is that God has revealed himself, he has a name and to change it freely does not guarantee that when you think you are speaking to him when you address him as Allah or Baal, you will get him.

My friend's insight was to point out that the tabernacle or temple functioned as a sort of guarantee that your prayers would reach God and not someone else pretending to be him. I know from my studies that there were many similarities to what we perceive as strange rituals in the Old Testament and the surrounding peoples and yet, great pains were taken to avoid other pagan practices aimed at piercing the veil between our world and the spirit world. For instance, instructions were given to burn the entrails of sacrifices. In the pagan world, you kept those to look through and get a message about the future or other pits of inaccessible information. As Christians, we do not seek special knowledge of the future because it belongs to God and we have decided to trust him.

We also know that we are continually told in the Bible not to contact the dead or worship other gods. In the biblical world, gods were often local deities or entities you could contact, bribe and get special favors from. Yahweh in contrast, is not a local deity or spiritual entity. He is not part of the earth either. In Genesis, we learn that he is not part of the earth (the Spirit hovers over the waters, he is not the waters), but created it and even fills it. Yahweh cannot be bribed in exchange for favors. Sacrifices were not given in order to get stuff. Prayer is not about conjuring up God to get new cars or careers. We ask God for things sometimes, but prayer is not about getting those things. We are not entitled to them on this side of the escaton even though God cares about the little things and sometimes helps us.  Similarly, we may pray for spiritual gifts but must consider: to what end?

Jesus is the ultimate icon of God because he is God who became human. In John 1 we read that he "dwelt" or "tabernacled" among us. We have access into a relationship with God by HIS name through the Spirit. Jesus is the gate.

Now, I am not speaking as though the literal name of Jesus is a magical word that conjures up God! What I mean is that now one only has a guarantee that they are communing with God because of Jesus and if they are in relationship or entering into a relationship with him. The Bible seems to indicate that someone can indeed have access into what we call the spiritual world (though perhaps rare) by other means, but as Christians, we are forbidden from this. Why? Human beings were made to be in relationship with God who is inherently relational as the Triune God. God has also made us physical creatures and likes us that way! Our hope in a future salvation is not to live disembodied but to be resurrected to live an embodied life that is healed physically and in our character. 

Spiritual Gifts and Mystical Experiences in Perspective

We are so struck by abnormal events and yet the Bible seems to want us to seek the formation of our character the most. Over and over again in various ways, we are told to love one another and to love God. If we love God this will flow into our love for others concretely, in reality and if we love others rightly God seems to measure it as loving him (C.f. Matt 10:42; Matt 25:37-40...etc). Regarding spiritual gifts, what we are so dazzled by is only a small window for what is to come and really they aren't as important as love.

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. … But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:8, 13).

I am not a cessationist. I believe God interacts with us in profound and multifaceted ways. I personally have had a mystical experience when I gave my life to God and he has interacted with my in unusual ways before (though not often or usually). I am not special, he does this with lots of people and not with lots of people. I don't know why he decides to do various things when he does them. I do believe he likes people and I believe he is continually drawing everyone to himself in various ways (Acts 17:26-28) and sets up opportunities for all of us to do good things for other people (this is all throughout Ephesians).

All of this to say that it is a HUGE mistake to seek after "spiritual" experiences in themselves. The way I see it, we should seek out God and be in relationship with him. Other things will follow, or not. The true mark of the person who has "pierced the veil" and is in relationship with God--talking to him, listening, and loving others--is how their character has been formed and transformed by Him. Part of this is positive i.e. they are genuinely loving people who embody the fruits of the Spirit and part of this is negative i.e. they avoid the things God forbids not because they are arbitrary rules, but because they flow out of a trusting relationship with God. If someone is living habitually in sin and not coming out of it, they are far from God no matter what other good is present.

The reality is that God is not far away. He fills all of creation (C.f. Jeremiah 23:24, Acts 17:27-28, Psalm 139:7-10), and his act of creating is continuous as he sustains our very existence (C.f. Col 1:15-17). He wants us to live in harmony with him.

Whether or not we speak to God, part of being God means he alone is capable of always being there acting and watching.

Yahweh tells us:

"Am I a God
    who is only nearby and not far off?
Can people hide themselves in secret places
    so I might not see them?
        Don’t I fill heaven and earth?

I have heard the prophets prophesying lies in my name. They claim, “I’ve had a dream; I’ve had a dream!” How long will deceitful prophecies dominate the minds of the prophets? Those prophets are treacherous. They scheme to make my people forget me by their dreams that people tell each other, just as their ancestors forgot me because of Baal. Let the prophet who has a dream declare it, but let the one who has my word proclaim it faithfully" (Jeremiah 23:23-28).

Salvation or "Enlightenment" is Not Gained by Spiritual Experiences

When we act in ways that are God-honoring by loving God (also avoiding false deities, having sexual relations that do not express unity and diversity the way God intended...etc), and when we speak to him and listen intently perhaps by reading the Bible asking "how should I live or be?" we are piercing the veil between our life and God's and are transformed in the process. Spiritual gifts in themselves do not accomplish this nor do those closer to God necessarily have more experiences. Frankly, God can contact anyone in unique ways. He picked a donkey, he chatted with a pagan prophet who did favors for money, and he prophesied through the High Priest Ciaphas who was against Jesus about Jesus (John 11).

We can only have salvation (wholistic healing, redemption, and glorification) in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit by grace through faith. It is not something we accomplish for ourselves by ourselves. Good works flow out of the Spirit's work in and around us (hence "fruits of the Spirit"), not the other way around. We do not do good works or pursue experiences to get closer to God. We have no chance. God enables us to respond back to him and others in love in the first place.

In sum:

Our goal in life is a relationship with God that begins to transform our relationships now while we look ahead to the complete healing of our bodies and characters in the resurrection. This relationship is with a Triune, relational God Yahweh, who became a human being named Jesus giving us access to God in ways we never had before.

Pursuing relationships (whether human or not) or spiritual experiences as goals in themselves detract from our relationship with God. If we try and reach the "other side" ourselves we open ourselves up to real danger and have no guarantee that who we are talking to is who we think they are. Worst yet, we are opposing the call of God on our lives.

God is near and God is here. We can talk to him and be changed by him in whatever way he decides. Salvation is not far away from any of us.