Mystical Union: Rays of Light

Suppose a man is sitting in a closed tool shed.  It is pitch-dark, except that there is a tiny crack in the roof, and a single ray of light shines through it.  This tool shed, like all tool sheds, is dirty and dusty, and in the dust that floats on the air, that single ray of light is clearly visible.

The man could look at that ray of light from the side, seeing the dust motes dance in it, and admire its beauty.  And it is beautiful, is it not?

But if the man wants to see the sun, looking at the ray won’t do the job.  He has to sight along it, and if he does that, the ray of light becomes more than a thing in itself; it becomes a pointer, a guide that leads him back to its source.

That is what a proposition about God must do.  False propositions point us somewhere else.  True propositions can be beautiful, elegant, and so on — and they often are — but to admire them as things-in-themselves is to miss the point.  The goal is to sight along the proposition so as to see the God who gave it, and about whom it is speaking.

This is exactly what Romans 10:14 tells us.  Your English translation will say something like “How will they believe in Him of whom they have not heard,” but that’s incorrect.  (For you Greek guys out there, yes it’s a genitive, but akouw takes genitive direct objects.)  The correct translation is “How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?”  In the preaching of the gospel, the unbeliever hears propositions, of course.  But Paul says there’s more to it than that: in the preaching of the gospel, the unbeliever hears Christ — not just “about Christ,” but hears Christ — and hearing Him, he believes.  Faith in Christ comes by hearing Christ, and hearing Christ comes by the Word of God.

But what are we to do when we discover — as Gordon Clark did, to his considerable embarrassment — that in Scripture different propositions are held up on different occasions as the preaching in which one can encounter Christ and believe in Him?  (For example, Rom. 10:10 on one hand, and Jn. 20:30-31 for a different proposition.)

Let’s go back to the toolshed, and extend the analogy a little.  Rather than just one crack in the roof, let us say there are three, each one about a foot away from the others.  Through each of these three cracks, a ray of light shoots down.  Let us further suppose that there are four men in the shed, not just one. Sitting together in the corner of the shed, they look across the small room at the three rays of light.

“That one, over on the left?” the first man says.  “That one’s sunlight.  I can tell.”

“No, Larry,” says the second man.  “The one in the middle is sunlight.”

The argue for a while, and then the third man says, “You’re both wrong.  The one on the right is sunlight.”

“Curly, you idiot!” the first man says.  “It has to be one of the first two.  Right?”  He looks at the second man for confirmation.  The second man nods enthusiastically, and the bickering continues.

Meanwhile, unnoticed by the three, a fourth, quiet man gets up from the corner and walks across the shed.  He goes to the first ray of light, and looks up along it, through the crack in the roof.  Then he goes to the second ray and does the same, and then the third.  He frowns and shakes his head, and repeats the process.  And then, slowly, a smile spreads across his face.

“Excuse me, guys,” he says.

The three men look up from their bickering.  “What is it, Elihu?”

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34 Responses to Mystical Union: Rays of Light

  1. Jim Reitman says:

    OK. Tim has given you your first clue.

    A copy of my book to the first person who comes up with the Bible verse that follows this last “scene” and also teaches substitutionary atonement.

  2. Eric Kemp says:

    Elihu begins his discourse in Job 32:1 where he explains his anger with Job and his friends and spends the rest of the chapter introducing what he is going to say. As for the substitutionary atonement, I’m gonna go with Job 33:19-30. That’s my guess…

  3. “Then He is gracious to him, and says, ‘Deliver him from going down to the Pit; I have found a ransom’;”

    Job 33:24

  4. Jim Reitman says:

    Deep inside there, Bro. Gary, you are a gentleman and a scholar. Send me your address by e-mail and you’ve got the prize.

  5. Jim Reitman says:

    Nice work, Eric.

    Eric’s post was time-stamped prior to Gary’s but somehow got delayed in Cyberspace and was not posted until after Gary’s—he actually wins the prize. Gary already has a copy of my book, but because of the cyberspace hiccup, I will send a copy to both of you.

    Eric, your answer is quite accurate. Elihu shows up the flawed presuppositions and epistemology of the first three friends in 32:1-5, then establishes himself as the book’s prophetic voice by testifying of his inspiration by the Holy Spirit in the last half of Chapter 32 and beginning of 33. He sets the stage for substitutionary atonement beginning in v. 19, culminating in the verse cited above by Gary, then continues through v. 30 depicting—with beautiful Hebraic metaphor—the connection between substitutionary atonement, propitiation, and the testimony of salvation on the part of the one who is ransomed. It is, literally, the “Gospel according to Elihu,” but it is a “three-dimensional” gospel speaking of Job’s temporal deliverance, since he already “fears God” (Job 1-2).

    Eric, email your snail-mail address to me at jreitman4@comcast.net and I will get it in the mail to you.

  6. Hi Jim,

    And poet…a gentleman, poet , and a scholar. I also play a sick guitar. 🙂
    I already have your book though. I actually had two copies, but I gave one to my pastor a few months ago. Maybe you could give Eric a copy. He was close enough to deserve a cigar.

    I like this game–reminds me of the old game show Jeopardy.

  7. Tim Nichols says:

    Gents,
    To clarify the timestamp vs. time of posting issue: Eric is an infrequent poster here, so the WordPress moderation software automatically held his post pending my approval. Gary’s been around a lot recently, and I haven’t nixed anything he posted, so it let him through automatically. So Eric responded first, but I didn’t get round to releasing his comment from the moderation queue until after Gary had already responded. To do this fairly next go-round, I should probably set the moderation queue to hold every comment.

  8. FedExMOP says:

    Jim

    Well, I already have a copy of your book, si I did not guess. It is good to see you back on the blogosphere though.

    Tim,

    Right on, the purpose of propositional truth is to point us to the source of all truth. I think the content of saving faith advocates miss this. They try to make the ray of light the object of saving faith, rather than the source of the light(Jesus). As your illustration so acutely shows, there are many propositional truths that can lead us to the true source, and they themselves are never the object of truth, just a revelation intended to point back toward the source. Great post.

    FedEx,
    President,
    Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry

  9. David Wyatt says:

    I know! I know!! Pick me, pick me, Mr. Kotter!!!!!

    Seriously, that’s what I get for missing a day of checking this blog! Excellent post bro. Tim, & discussion also brothers!

  10. Jim Reitman says:

    Tim,

    Can you honestly expect to have any academic credibility when your blog posts appeal to Motorcycle gang presidents?

    FedEx,

    Are you saying you actually knew the answer to my question? If so, having my book is a lame excuse for not giving the correct answer. Take a page out of Gary’s notebook, Bro.

    Horshak,

    Maybe next time, Bro.

  11. Tim Nichols says:

    FedEx,

    That distinction is exactly what the terminology content of faith (as over against object of faith) is supposed to address. Unfortunately, having a terminological distinction doesn’t automatically translate to having an actual distinction in one’s own thinking and living.

    The biggest misunderstandings I’ve had in this discussion stem from a failure to grasp that I’m not saying COSF-arguers on various sides don’t talk about the distinction. I’m saying they frequently don’t live the distinction, that the thing is on their lips, but not in their hearts.

  12. Oto says:

    Tim,

    A couple of replies:

    [[That is what a proposition about God must do. False propositions point us somewhere else. True propositions can be beautiful, elegant, and so on — and they often are — but to admire them as things-in-themselves is to miss the point. The goal is to sight along the proposition so as to see the God who gave it, and about whom it is speaking.]]

    Beauty is not a quality of propositions. Propositions are either true or false. The goal is to believe true propositions. We can’t see God; we can believe Him.

    [[Let’s go back to the toolshed, and extend the analogy a little.]]

    This seems like an analogy minus the argument. To what are you saying your story is analogous? Some people believe true propositions and some people believe false propositions?

  13. Jim Reitman says:

    Oto,

    Some people worship propositions.

  14. FedExMOP says:

    Tim,

    I think that is the important thing to address. Anyone of these COSF talking points may be the thing that leads us to the true light. The problem seems to be that the COSF crowd is trying to establish the list of these propositional truths that one must be exposed to and believe in order to have genuine faith. As you point out in the article, people in the Bible are exposed to differing propositions resulting in saving faith.

    Again, I understand the theoretical distinction. The problem is that most COSF adherents present their own list of rays that one must recognize as truth in order to recieve eternal life.

    FedEx,
    President,
    Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry

  15. FedExMOP says:

    Otto,

    The analogy is clear. All the beams of light coming through the cracks are true, they are all sunlight. They all point to the presence of the real sun. They are not the sun, simply a fact that reveals the real source of the light. What Tim is saying in the analogy as I understand it is that we focus so much on the rays of truth we forget that all truth point to the only source of truth, GOD. It is not that any of the rays are fake light, you can use any on them to look back and see the source(sun). Even when a proposition is true and good, believing the proposition has no power to save unless it points us toward belief in the source of all truth.

    Tim,
    If I have this wrong, please let me know.

    FedEx,
    President,
    Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry

  16. David Wyatt says:

    Really good stuff, FedExMOP!

  17. Oto says:

    FedEx,

    [[All the beams of light coming through the cracks are true, they are all sunlight.]]

    A beam of light is neither true nor false.

    [[What Tim is saying in the analogy as I understand it is that we focus so much on the rays of truth we forget that all truth point to the only source of truth, GOD.]]

    To believe God’s truth is to believe God.

    [[It is not that any of the rays are fake light, you can use any on them to look back and see the source(sun). Even when a proposition is true and good, believing the proposition has no power to save unless it points us toward belief in the source of all truth.]]

    What is a good proposition?

  18. FedExMOP says:

    Otto,

    Stick with me here, this is analogy. No analogy is perfect but this one will hold. The beams of light are true, in that they are evidence of the presence of the sun. Just as propositions are true only in as much as they provide true evidence of the true God. Analogy is resemblance or equivalence, and the suns rays are similar to propositional truths.

    Next, to believe a list of truths about God, is not the same as believing IN God. But that is not the question here. The point of this analogy is not that believing in a truth about God is not believing in God. The point of the analogy is that we all think that out proporition is the true one (ie one that leads to true belief in God). The point is that we get so focused on our one proosition, that we believe all other propositions are not true, and thus cannot lead to true faith. Tim appears to be saying that there are a number of propositions that all lead to the truth if believed and looked through towards the true source.

    Lastly, a good proposition is the opposite of a bad proposition.

    FedEx,
    President,
    Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry

  19. Tim Nichols says:

    Jim,
    I think it’s too late for academic respectability in any case. Maybe I can get street cred?

    FexEx,
    You’re nailing it, brother.

    The problem is that most COSF adherents present their own list of rays that one must recognize as truth in order to receive eternal life.

    Yeah, no kidding. “If you say ‘Sibboleth’ you’re going to hell.”

  20. Tim Nichols says:

    Oto,

    Beauty is not a quality of propositions.

    In Plato’s imaginary world, that’s probably true (again, see next week’s upcoming post). In the real, Yahweh-spoken world? Heh. Have you read Psalm 33:1 or 147:1 recently? Propositions will be said or sung in praise to God, and God says praise is beautiful. You say that’s a category error. Whom shall I believe?

    This seems like an analogy minus the argument.

    Yeah, I see how you could feel that way. Jesus made a similar ‘mistake’ in Luke 15. When He repents, I’ll be right behind Him. Meanwhile, I have faith in you; you’ll work it out.

  21. David Wyatt says:

    Amen! FedExMOP & Tim, this is so helpful!

  22. Tim,

    Just for the sake of clarity, so I can better understand what you’re trying to say, would you mind telling me what you think the Apostle John meant when he wrote:

    “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (1 Jn 5:1)

    There are two things about John’s statement here which are obvious: 1) “Jesus is the Christ” is a propositional truth 2) Anyone and everyone–there are no exceptions–who believes this propositional truth about Jesus is born of God (= has eternal life).

    I would assume that you agree with John, so what do you think he means?

    Jim, you are welcome to answer too if you wish.

    I’m just trying to better understand exactly what you are saying.

  23. Jim Reitman says:

    That’s a great question, Gary. I’ve spent quite some time in First John over the years, and I tend to read questions about the meaning of any given verse through the lens of the prologue, 1:1-4, and the Upper Room, which are highly relational in thrust. John wants to communicate the actual experience of Jesus—whom he calls “the Word of Life,” and “this Life” (1:2-3)—to those in his audience who seem to be in some jeopardy of losing touch with “what you have heard from the beginning.”

    These people were clearly believers from the term of endearment John used for them throughout, teknia, “born ones.” So the question for me is, How had some of these people so managed to lose touch with the Messiah that they were falling short of the present experience of “the Word of Life,” “the Life,” and “eternal life” (all in the first two verses)? In this case, John 17:3 is the seed-bed for his use of “eternal life,” both in 1 John 1:2 and in 5:1:

    And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

    So the issue in First John is the danger of losing intimacy (“fellowship”) with “the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent,” and sure enough this is exactly what John says he want to re-establish in 1:3:

    …that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

    The only sense I can make of this kind of declaration to people who are already believers is that the apostles had had authentic firsthand “experience” of Jesus with all their senses and wanted by their own testimony to “communicate” that same intimacy to these believers who had apparently “lost” it. Everything Tim has been saying in this series on mystical union speaks to a more direct, even spatial, “location” or “dwelling” (= “abiding” in the Greek) with Jesus than some in John’s audience were presently experiencing…they were falling short—now—of that “eternal life that was with the Father.”

    I believe that John has not changed the subject in 5:1 and that his use of “eternal life” there is just the same for the same audience. I will continue the argument in my next post, cause I’m running out of room.

  24. Jim Reitman says:

    The “Big Picture” of “need” (which, BTW, Michele has been going nuts on, for the last several weeks in the context of John’s Gospel) for the readers of First John is therefore a lack of assurance that they were really “dwelling,” “spatially/temporally located in,” “abiding” in Christ. As you are all-too-painfully aware, many if not most commentaries on First John simply equate this “abiding” with “being a believer,” and this gets to the next major subject of your question: What does it mean to an already-believer to “believe that Jesus is the Christ”? …and what could John mean by “born of God” (5:1) to that same already-believer?

    Throughout First John, the phrase “born of God” is always in the perfect tense, which bears an “aspect” of “completed action with an abiding state.” (You can find that definition in any basic Greek grammar.) Coincidence? I don’t think so. When John uses “born of God” what he is talking about is looking like, acting like you are born of God; in short, an abiding state: you are acting like who you are since the moment of your new birth, born one!.

    So here’s the payoff: “He who believes that Jesus is the Messiah (the King who would bring life where there was a death sentence) is born of God.” Very simply, what John is declaring here is that those who are trusting Jesus for life, in this case shaky “believers,” will act like who they really are, they will have an “abiding state” of what has true for them “from the beginning” (1:1; 2:7, 2:13, 14, 24). And everything after 2:27 is designed to give these same believers the means of assuring themselves that they are indeed abiding, experiencing “the Life that was with the Father from the beginning” in order to look, act, smell like who they really are—“born ones.”

    In the same chapter (5), John hits the high point of the (spatial-temporal) apostolic testimony that he has wanted to communicate to them from the beginning of the book (1:1-4):

    And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; He who does not have the Son of God does not have this life. As Zane has made clear, and Bob, and John N., etc., this verse should not primarily be seen as an evangelistic verse. I use it for that all the time, because it’s true for unbelievers as well as believers, but it’s main impact is for the believer who isn’t sure he’s abiding. “Do you have the Son?” (5:11-12) is tantamount to trusting him for life, nowas also in 5:1.

    This question is for me, every new day of my born life.

  25. Jim,

    You said:

    “When John uses “born of God” what he is talking about is looking like,acting like you are born of God; in short, an abiding state: you are acting like who you are since the moment of your new birth, born one!.”

    So, if you agree that “new birth” (“since the moment of your new birth”) = “born one”, then you would also agree with John that “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ” has been born again (i.e. has “passed from death into life”–Jn 5:24) regardless of whether they are “looking like, acting like (they) are born again?

  26. Jim Reitman says:

    Gary,

    You ask a very thought-provoking question about what, in fact, John is doing in his Gospel. I half-expected the tense of “has passed…” in 5:24 to be perfect, and thus imply a “continuing state after a completed action.” And, sure enough…

    In this connection, I find it fascinating that John uses the present tense in 5:24 for “hear,” “believe,” and “has,” in leading up to his “has passed…” conclusion. One could accurately translate, “…whoever is hearing my word and believing Him who sent me is in possession of eternal life and continues in the state of having passed from death into life.”

    So, I would agree with everything you say except the “regardless” clause at the end of your statement. I am not saying you can “lose your salvation” in the way we normally think about that—what I am saying is that the “Johannine” Jesus (indeed, the same Jesus in all the Gospels) was much more concerned about “staying power” (indeed, witness the very next scene in John 6, cf. also 12:26, 42-50) than most FGers are willing to give him credit.

    Just like John was thinking John 17:3 when he penned 1 Jn 5:1, I think the analogy in his terminology here would be something like between John 5:24 and 1 Jn 3:14-15,

    We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

    I may differ somewhat with Zane here, as I don’t think John is using these terms any differently. What Jesus meant to apply to both believers and unbelievers in John 5:24, he says more explicitly with respect to believers in 1 Jn 3, using the same terminology and tense structures….and I, at least, believe the same implications of abiding in one’s new birth. Thus, in John 6, “many of his disciples were no longer following him…” because this truth (i.e., continuing to participate so organically in spatial/temporal relationship with Jesus that they were to eat his flesh and drink his blood) was so difficult to “swallow.”

    Gary, I know that you believe—like so many in GES—that the Gospel of John was the only Gospel written for unbelievers, but the more time I spend in that Gospel, the more obvious it is to me that Jesus was offering everyone a three-dimensional salvation, one that was meant to continue (“abide”) in this life as a testimony to the world, just like that of the woman-at-the-well. What he is doing is setting the stage for the ultimate “harvest,” as Michele has painted so beautifully in her several recent blog posts. No one who “hides their light under a bushel” will be participating in that intended outcome of their new birth, so in terms of First John, these same people (“born ones”) have given up their testimony and are no longer “born of God” (perfect tense, abiding in that “born” state) in the eyes of the world that so desperately needs to see that reality. First John 5 is explicitly about God’s desire that our testimony in the world should continue by our continuing to “believe,” thus the use of this “born of God” terminology.

    In sum, the term teknia (“born ones”) is a term of identity in Christ that John affirms with statements like you have an anointing from the Father (1 Jn 2:20, 27); but “born of God” is referring to an abiding state of participation in that reality in the eyes of the world: One’s visible “born-ness” (“his seed”) does not “abide” in us when we are sinning (3:9).

  27. FedExMOP says:

    Jim,

    I was reading your responses to Gary, and I was wondering how long it was going to take you to get to the Gospel in 3D. Not to be a shameless promoter, but anyone that has not read your series on John should really do so to get more understanding in this discussion. Those articles are still available here http://justsoyouallknow.blogspot.com/2009/11/gospel-in-3-d.html. Recognizing that the concept of salvation in John’s mind was much more holistic than simply about being in or out of heaven, gives the reader a clearer understanding of John’s Gospel in light of the rest of the NT, including 1John. When we narrow the saved concept in John down to in or out, it creates some potential contradictions with some of his own later writings.

    Back to the story above, in light of 1 John 5. I will try to paraphrase what I believe John is saying

  28. FedExMOP says:

    oops, accidentally posted.

    anyway, John seems to be saying here,

    “Here is a propositional truth, that Jesus is the Christ, and it is a powerful truth. It has the power to deliver anyone from condemnationon (one dimensional salvation) by pointing them to the true person of Christ. But it does not stop there, it also has the power to bring true life right now and to transform your life (two dimensional salvation) as it points you toward the truth of the person and work of Christ and the truth of your identity in Him.”

    That is what I see John saying here, and I think it lines up with what you are saying. Let me know what you think.

    FedEx,
    President,
    Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry

  29. Tim Nichols says:

    Gary,

    I’m frustrated, because you’ve demonstrated such suspicion of me recently that I don’t know how to say the simplest things to you in a way that won’t set you off again. I feel like anything I say will be interpreted in the worst possible light, and then used against me. I work with middle schoolers in real life, and I get enough of that treatment from them; I don’t need to go find more of it on the internet. To be honest, it took Jim’s assurance that you were asking a sincere question to get me to even try to answer you straight. (You were a whisker away from just getting the paragraph marked with a *, below. Given my track record for interaction, take that as a measure of my frustration.)

    So I’m trusting Jim’s judgment here and trying to give you as straight and complete an answer to your question as I can. I am going to ask, though, that you put down your blunderbuss, listen, and if it sounds like I’m saying something crazy, ask some questions rather than just shooting at me. Don’t go all paranoid on me again.

    1 John breaks theological systems. No matter what system you come in with, he’s going to say things that, if a friend or blogger said them, you would immediately come back and say “You can’t say that!”
    If you bring classic FG “assurance comes only from Jesus’ promise, not from your life” theology to the book, 2:3 is going to be awkward for you. If you bring classic LS theology to the book, you’ll breathe easy all the way through 2:11 — and then be scandalized by 2:12-14. How can he assure them that they know God right after telling them that they sin, and they don’t know God if they don’t keep His commandments? And so on.

    *In my current pass through 1 John I’m in early chapter 3, and won’t make chapter 5 for another six weeks or so, probably. Some things are becoming clear to me that had been murky before, and I don’t know yet how they’ll pan out as I delve into the later parts of the book. As a result I’m reluctant to comment on chapter 5 right now.*

    But I don’t want to leave you hanging for a couple of months, either, so let me say this much:

    I agree with what you said, as far as it goes. The question is, when you pull the string of that “simple” truth, what comes with it? How do you read it in context, defining the terms the way John teaches us to understand them? John, and 1 John in particular, has a well-deserved reputation for breaking theologians’ kneecaps with “simple” statements. For example:
    Being “born of God” is not simply about heaven or hell in 1 John (see 3:7-10, 4:7-8, etc.)
    “Believe” is not simply about one-time assent of the intellect to a proposition (see 5:13). The continuing aspects are important to John, and important in this immediate context.
    “Christ” or “Anointed one” is connected to the truth about us as well — “you have an anointing from the Holy One…”
    And then, the whole book is about the abiding relationship between Christ and His people; the statement is made in that context. Jim’s been touching on some of that.

    So of course I agree that anyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God — and that John teaches us to relate “born of God” with experiencing eternal life. But I’m not sure I agree that statement means the same thing as “Anyone who assents to the proposition ‘Jesus is the Christ’ will go to heaven.” I’m just not sure John is talking about that in this verse.

  30. Jim Reitman says:

    FedEx,

    Yup, thanks for the shameless plug. Gary has read Gospel in 3D, and at last check we still had some differences over the concepts contained therein.

    Tim,

    Nice summary.

  31. Gentlemen, thank you for your response to my question.

  32. Tony L Smith says:

    Yes Elihu starts and then God kicks in. Its hard to tell where Elihu stops and God starts, Maybe Elihu’s was the voice of God. It is also unique that Elihu is not mentioned after God starts talking, his mission complete ‘he brought God’

  33. Jim Reitman says:

    Tony,

    Well said, indeed.

    Elihu actually became the “ray” that pointed to God once he had sighted along the ray to see the Source while the other three friends were arguing. He is also the only friend in the book who overtly claims to be inspired by God’s Spirit. This is so obvious in 32:6-33:6 as to be embarrassing to those who actually see Elihu as the “worst” of Job’s friends. The literary arrangement of the book totally gives the lie to that kind of stance on Elihu. Elihu was precisely the “mediator” between man and God that Job had so desperately sought throughout his debate with the first three friends, indeed, in direct address to God Himself (Job 4-31).

  34. Tim Nichols says:

    Jim,

    Elihu actually became the ray…

    Exactly! After a person drinks the living water, the water becomes in him a fountain springing up unto everlasting life.

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