Paul’s elegant revelations about oneness, love, and freedom demonstrate another mystical element to Paul’s life and ministry. Like his mystical conversion, dreams and visions, and a near-death experience, Paul’s teachings on oneness with God, our deliverance from darkness, and the unconditional nature of God’s Love, demonstrate a combination of grandeur, and mystery which highlight the mystical dimension he moved in.
A theology of immersion in Christ is a consistent mystical theme in the Paul’s teaching and thinking. In Roman’s 12:5, he puts it accordingly, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. In Colossians 1, in reference to Christ, he offers the following: He is before all things, and in Him, all things consist. This mystical conception of the Cosmic Christ, in whom all creation originates and lives, provides essential philosophical and theological grounding for divine oneness.
In his message on Mars Hill to epicurean and stoic philosophers in Athens, Paul makes some startling claims. First, he points to the tomb of the Unknown God and claims that this is the God to whom he is referring. Then he claimed that all men are of one blood and were created to seek this unknown God. A God that cannot be worshiped by hands. He has made all of us and is not far off if we feel after him.
I love the statement “feel after him”. He is a God whose presence is sensed if we feel after him with our hearts, not our hands. He is not far off if we let go of our insistence of knowing with our hands, or eyes and seek him from the inside out, immersing ourselves in His presence. In Ephesians 1:18, Paul prays for the eyes of their heart to be open. With the eye’s of our heart open we can feel his presence, as we live and move in God. God’s presence to us is similar to water to a fish, always present and essential, but hard to see.
Finally, Paul claims that life comes by being immersed in this God: “For in Him we live, and move, and have our being.” (Acts 17:24-25) In this message he unites all of humanity as created by God, who must seek Him in the mystical realm of the heart, not with our hands or senses. I believe all idolatry, rather it involves putting our security in idles made with hands, or making idles out of things like money, fame, success, people or possessions, stem from an effort to seek God with our hands. He can only be found by going inside.
Paul’s intimate understanding of our oneness with God may also be evidence that Paul had a near-death experience. A sense of oneness is also one of the most remarkable themes reported by people who have had near-death experiences. One person described it accordingly.
“I sensed I was ONE with all the universes, galaxies and planets and life on earth; all things seen and unseen, breathing or still… atoms to molecules to quarks and beyond. And it was infinite and pure. I don’t think there are words in any language that could adequately describe it… the only thing I’ve been able to come up with is “Orgasmic Consciousness”. Wherever I was, I knew my own Separateness AND, at the same time, my oneness with everything and the greatest sensation of LOVE in and of all of it… and me.”
Paul referred to this as eternal life.
Sharon Milliman, another NDE experiencer, shared this, “When I am looking at the beauty of everything that is, I am seeing God too. God breathed his life into me, but I am not God; I am a part of God.”
This oneness is precisely what Paul taught in his revelation of Cosmic Christ. It captures the same deep sense of unity and mystery while laying the supreme foundation for a non-dual interconnected understanding that all reality exists in Christ.
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him, all things consist. (Colossians 1:16-17)
This statement is foundational to the notion of Christian non-duality. In a very real way we are all are one in Him.
In a famous Hindu story that teaches about universal oneness a father is teaching his son about true reality. Pointing to the awareness we all experience, he tells him, “That, thou art.” Meaning that he was his awareness. He was teaching his son that our ultimate identity stems from the fact that we are aware of ourselves and our experiences. We are not only physical beings, isolated and separated in time and space, but we are part of the universal consciousness that connects to everything, which transcends time and space.
This notion of universal oneness is not exclusive to Christian or Hindu thinking. According to Moses Cordovero, a sixteenth-century Jewish mystic, God is everything.
The essence of God is in everything, and nothing exists outside of God. Because God causes everything to be, it is impossible that any created thing exists except through Him.
We are part of the universal Christ experiencing the material world in Him. Our awareness stems from our existence as a part of this Cosmic nature. One of the great tragedies of man’s fall from grace was that a part of Christ, us, was seemingly rendered foreign and disconnected from Him—blinded and tarnished by the God of this world. Imagine part of your body acting as if it wasn’t part of you, resisting your connection to it; like cells that do not want to be cells.
In our purest form, we are spiritual, transcendent creatures created, and existing in Christ. We are meant to live in the world but are not only in the world. But by placing ultimate security in the things of this world, we bow to the God of this world which is pride; and pride is the opposite of love. It is only in Christ that we can possess both this world and the next. Medieval theologian Meister Eckhart put it this way.
To be full of things is to be empty of God. To be empty of things is to be full of God.
In other words, by emptying ourselves of things, because we have God, we possess all things in God. (2 Cor. 6:10) Christ came to replace our futile efforts to arrest satisfaction from this world, an effort we intuitively and desperately know will fail. He replaces it with oneness and restored connection to the God that comprises our only true lasting happiness. Delivering us from the domain of Darkness and transferring us to His kingdom. (Col. 1:13,14)
Finally, Paul’s mysticism is perhaps best reflected in his teaching on unconditional love which is without equal in its simplicity, eloquence, and depth.
“Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous; love does not brag, it is not arrogant. It does not act disgracefully, it does not seek its own benefit; it is not provoked, does not keep an account of a wrong suffered, it does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; it keeps every confidence, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…”
Ironically, another one of the central aspects, shared by near-death experiencers, is the overwhelming sense of unconditional love they perceive. I recently came across this description.
“The light was so intensified that’s there’s nothing to compare it to on earth. It was like when you look up and see shafts of sunlight shining onto you through the leaves of trees, only magnified in brightness thousands of millions of times.
In this pulsing brilliance, there was such a soft gentleness. I felt profound, exquisite LOVE. A joining and remembrance of being this Love, this true and perfect essence. I was and am that. All was perfect and whole. It felt unceasing and limitless. The indescribable, effulgent Love was what I was. And I was at peace. Complete peace. There were no thoughts, only blissful, peaceful silence and contentment beyond words. Only oneness prevailed.”
It is not a stretch to think that perhaps Paul had such an encounter with this love, in a near-death experience of his own. An encounter that permanently imprinted his life and ministry with a humble, selfless understanding of both the unitive oneness and and all-imcohmpassing love of God.
An experience like this would at least partially explain the great wisdom and humility Paul demonstrated under the most severe of circumstances. Beaten and scared, times without measure, stoned and left for dead, imprisoned and chained on numerous occasions, poor as the world’s goods were concerned, and often hungry, yet Paul viewed these as circumstances that bound him to the suffering and love of Christ. He saw his burdens as opportunities to lovingly and gracefully proclaim the good news that our life in Christ transcends this one, and through that transcendent life, we possess all things, because we possess God. .
Events that followed Paul throughout his life, demonstrated a dramatic mystical charm that surrounded him. His dramatic conversion and his mystical healing from blindness, his sudden and enduring devotion to Christ, the persistent miracles that accompanied his ministry, including his own miraculous recovery after being left for dead, and finally, his revelatory thinking and teaching on Christ as the source of all oneness, and the Agape unconditional nature of His love toward us; demonstrate God’s powerful mystical presence in Paul’s life.
In his day, Paul was an insignificant itinerant teacher and leader. None, apart from a few adherents forming a novel spiritual movement spreading slowly across the Roman world, knew of him. Although he taught in homes and synagogues and prisons, often regaled in chains and rags, his words have changed the world, and endure to this day. He was regarded as deceiver yet spoke truth, un-compromised by worldly gain, unknown to the world but well known to God; poor, but but making many rich. Immersed in the oneness of a transcendent God, he served the world around him, drenched in the mystical power and nature of the mysterious Cosmic Christ.
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