The devout Christian of the future will either be a ‘mystic’—someone who has ‘experienced something’—or will cease to be anything at all.Karl Rahner
Karl Rahner wrote these well-known words back in the 1960s, in his essay, “Christian Living Formerly and Today.” I have been thinking more about his words recently, because they speak a truth to me that is timely and relevant.
I shared some thoughts yesterday on the trend toward religion without awe, based on Evelyn Underhill’s insights, which can be found here: “Are We Drifting Toward a Religion Without Awe?”
This post is something of a companion piece, looking at this question again through a slightly different lens. The church of the future needs to filled with awe, filled with people who have experienced God’s love in their lives, or there may be no church. Both Rahner and Underhill agree on this. And they both also agree that this is more difficult in our “modern” age. There are many reasons for this. Let me share just one of these, offered by Rahner in this same essay:
“We live in a world in which man has made even his own interior life the subject of technical scientific investigation, … a world … in which the suspicion is never absent from his mind that his religious experience may be unmasked as an outmoded and erroneous interpretation of psychological drives, needs and processes which can and must be explained and brought under control by quite different means than through a mystical and indefinite entity called ‘God.’“
That is a good description of the age in which we live, is it not? And one of the obvious reasons for the current decline in church membership. And perhaps one of the reasons why the church has reacted by trying to be more “practical.” If religious experience is looked at by our world with suspicion, then why not offer what our world values? Perhaps if our congregations can make “practical” differences in people’s lives, then it can survive the skepticism of this age? But, as Underhill reminds us, this does not wear well, especially in the awful moments of life. We need more. And God wants to give us more.
So, back to Rahner’s original quote. Devout Christians in the future will necessarily be “mystics.” That might seem extreme. What does Rahner mean by “mystic,” which he describes as someone who has “experienced something”? What is this “something” that Rahner is talking about? I believe that this “something” is always and only the love of God. It is simply our relationship with God, made possible by the love of God’s Son and made real through the gift of the Holy Spirit. If we are blessed to live in this relationship, and to have experienced this love, then we are the mystics that Rahner describes. Mysticism comes in all sorts of forms, but I believe that it is always comes back to experiencing the love of God. Nothing more, and nothing less. And Christians in the future will be those who have experienced this love.
The world changes, but God’s love remains the same. And in every age, the promise of our faith is that God’s love will be “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). May our hearts always be filled with this love, and may we share this love with a world that may be skeptical, but deep down hungers to experience this same awesome love.