The Two Pitfalls Of Atheism And Mysticism

Text: Isaiah 40:25-31

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

There are two prominent positions in America when we talk about the topic of God.  On the one side, there are those who are atheists and agnostics. The atheists generally assert that there is no evidence or convincing argument for the existence of any supernatural beings, and therefore, they do not subscribe to any religious beliefs about God.  The problem with atheism, though, is that for it to be true, they would have to look under every stone, explore every dimension, and look in every galaxy to rule out the existence of God.  And so, technically stated, there is no such thing as an atheist because they cannot prove that God does not exist.  

Like the atheists, the agnostics also do not believe in God; however, they at least admit that it is impossible to know whether God or supernatural entities exist. In other words, agnostics are intellectually honest in that they admit that there is insufficient evidence to prove or disprove the existence of such supernatural beings, and therefore, they withhold judgment or belief in the absence of conclusive evidence about God.  Again, the agnostic cannot prove there is no God, but deep down, they believe we are all alone.  

Now, it may surprise you, but I am really not too alarmed or threatened by agnostics and atheists.  Frankly, I have had great friendships with several agnostics and atheists over the years.  Even though I think they are foolish for denying the existence of God, I can at least respect that they are somewhat logically consistent.   

But what about the other side? Yes, I mentioned that there are two prevalent positions in America when we discuss God.  

Well, on the other side of the atheists and agnostics are the mystics and the enthusiasts.  But who are the mystics and the enthusiasts?  Well, these are the people who are very spiritual but not religious.  They are the kind of people who have 101 opinions on God but derive their opinions about God from their own personal opinions, experiences, and spiritual visions.  You actually do not have to look too far to find a mystic or enthusiast – they are the ones who dabble in crystals, speculate on end-times predictions, speak to the dead, pray in so-called radical tongues, and claim to have direct visions from God.  If you turn on the television at night or do a simple YouTube search - or look at the spirituality section at Barnes and Noble, you can quickly find a mystic or an enthusiast.

Now, the reason why these folks are more problematic than atheists and agnostics is that they claim to understand God.  You see, these individuals will often have clever prayers, neat little illustrations, smart-sounding programs, and popular-sounding cliches to talk about God as if they are experts.  The problem, though, is that apart from the Word of God, one cannot truly know God.  That is to say, these mystics and enthusiasts will often talk ad nauseam about the intricate workings of God without referencing the Word of God.  Often, they will compare God to some cultural fad, box God up in some Church marketing program, or confine God to spiritual experience.  Tragically, they function more like a circus ringmaster who carries a whip and then makes God do all sorts of tricks at the center ring as if God were their tame lion.  

But that is where the problem arises for mystics and enthusiasts! The Lord God tells us very clearly in the Old Testament reading from Isaiah that we cannot compare Him to worldly wisdom and power. In other words, it is completely and totally foolish to compare God to the puny nations and the weak people of the world, for the Lord God is the One who stands above this world and possesses limitless power and wisdom.  

Dear friends, no one is like God—no one holds a candle to Him. Furthermore, when we look at the vast night skies, who do you think made all of them? In other words, think about how much we do not know about space, stars, and galaxies, and yet some claim to have a more thorough understanding of the One who created the vast universe.  The point is, who are we to think that we have God all figured out as if we have tamed His magnificent power—as if we know exactly how He works and have mapped out His patterns to predict His divine wisdom, when we cannot even accurately predict tomorrow’s weather?  

Dear friends, we live in a world of polytheists, deists, spiritualists, mystics, and enthusiasts (to name a few) who often claim to have a corner market on God.  However, they do not.  We cannot compare God to anything in this world because He is God, and everything else is not like Him. For example, we cannot compare the shepherd to the sheep, the potter to the clay, or the master to the servant – they are not the same.  They are different.  One is above, and the other is below.  The same is with God.   

And so, beware of those who think that they have a corner market on God – as if they have some secret knowledge of God based upon their own religious experiences, their own spiritual ideas, or their own spiritual revelations, for they are nothing more than spiritual peddlers.  They are vain religious hawkers and frauds.  

Frankly, this is why you and I get into so much trouble when we begin to question God as if we know better than Him.  When we see all the evil in this world, we may be tempted to complain and challenge God, asserting that He has lost interest in us – that He has disregarded our predicaments.  But again, when we challenge God, we often assume that God is exactly like us or that we have God figured out with our finite and limited minds.  However, how can we humans, with our limited vision, limited wisdom, and limited power, begin to understand the workings, timings, and knowledge of God – the Creator?  

And so, while the atheists and agnostics deny God, the mystics and enthusiasts claim to have God all figured out.  The atheists and agnostics reject God, whereas the mystics and enthusiasts tragically neuter God.  Both are wrong; both go the way of foolishness.

So, if we cannot compare God to anything and if we are foolish to challenge His ways and wisdom, can we know anything at all about God?  

Well, to be fair, to a certain extent, we can know that God exists by looking at this world.  If we examine nature and life itself, most people will conclude that we are not accidents – that we are not alone.  In fact, the majority of human history and the majority of cultures around the world agree that we are not cosmic-evolutionary-accidents. However, that is about all that we can know from looking at this world and nature itself.  And so, this again begs the question – if we cannot compare God to His creation and if God is not apathetically ignoring us, how do we know who God is, and how do we know that He cares for us?  

We can answer this with one word – one name – Jesus.  

Baptized Saints, hear this loud and clear: when we look to Jesus and hear Jesus, we behold God in the flesh. Furthermore, Jesus is not only at the center of the Old and New Testament Scriptures but is also the author of the Scriptures for you and for me.  

And so, when you see Jesus and hear Jesus, you hear God’s Word.  And when you hear God’s word and read God’s Word, you know who God is and what God has done for you.  

And so, listen up!  In God’s Holy Word we hear that God has created you and given you your body, soul, eyes, ears, and all your members.  He has given you reason and all your senses and still takes care of them.  Indeed, through the Word you hear that God gives you clothing, shoes, food, drink, house, and home – all you need to support your body and life.  He defends you against danger and evil because of His fatherly goodness and mercy.  

You also hear that God became man - born of a virgin, suffered, died, rose, and ascended for you so that He could purchase and redeem you from sin, death, and the devil to be His very own.  

You hear in the Word that God has called you, gathered you, and enlightened you in the Christian faith while placing you in the arc of the Christian church. Here in the church, you are continually forgiven and sustained in the faith until your last breath, when you will eventually be raised to eternal life.  

Thus, today, you and I know who God is, what God is like, and how God feels about you.  Your God has chosen to ‘reveal’ Himself - not through the spiritual feelings of mystics or the vain religious experiences of the enthusiasts - but rather through the clear and powerful Word of God so that you would not grow faint.

Fear not, blessed Saints! The Lord does not become weary or wither away, for He is everlasting. He shall sustain you, keep you, and renew your strength at the great last day. This is certainly true because this is what He says to you in His Word.  

In the name of Jesus. Amen.