|The Manufactured Presence of God
An Introduction to Anagogic Methodology (Original Publication August, 2013)
Robert Wurtz II
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In 2012, Nature Publishing Group released a study arguing that music has the power to reduce what psychologists call cognitive dissonance. This ” dissonance ” is basically the uneasiness and discomfort we feel when we try to entertain two or more contradictions in our lives. This feeling can also come when we are confronted with new information that conflicts with our existing ideas, beliefs, values, etc. We may call it more Biblically, ” pain of conscience. ” God designed man so that he would think rationally, and in order to do that we have to have consistency in our thoughts and beliefs.
When inconsistency (dissonance) in our thoughts is experienced, we usually try to reduce the dissonance by avoiding situations and information that are causing it. As the old saying goes, “ignorance is bliss.” However, God has designed man in such a way that he or she cannot long ignore these contradictions without taking some kind of action to resolve them. For example, if a person believes that doing something is sin, and they do that something, they will experience pain of conscience. Their beliefs and their actions do not match, so they feel discomforted. This is a safety mechanism to ensure that we are real to ourselves and what we believe to be right. This is also true of beliefs we hold. They have to be in agreement. If they are in conflict, we have to resolve it.
|Nevertheless, the Nature study deals with the efficacy of musical emotions in dealing with cognitive dissonance. Music can actually sooth this mental disturbance so that the dissonance is minimized or not felt at all. From a Biblical standpoint, this would mean that music has the capacity to cause the conscience to lie down, at least temporarily. Only the blood of Christ can purge the conscience from dead works, but music seems to have a numbing effect. Consider the implications of such a thing. Millions of Christians express their faith to a large degree through listening to contemporary Christian music. When they attend meetings, they are primarily focused on the music service.
C.S. Lewis wrote the classic work The Screwtape Letters in which he describes how the enemy distracts people from God and his dealings. Could the emphasis on music, as it has exploded in the last 100 years, actually be working against God as He tries desperately to strive with people in their thoughts and hearts? Have people learned to play their favorite Christian music in order to deal with conviction of sin, rather than repenting, confessing, and forsaking it? The melodies come over the conscience like Novocain over the throbbing nerve. They may even be telling themselves that they are feeling God’s presence; all the while, His Holy Spirit is being quenched with each note that passes into their ears. How could it be God’s Holy Spirit — when the Spirit and the word agree? Has the Spirit come to comfort people who are living contrary in His word? I trow not.
The “Presence” that Cannot Effect Change
Many people cannot distinguish the difference between the feeling they get when their favorite Christian song is played and the manifest presence of the Lord. You may be surprised to know that a great number of people associate the feeling they get when a ballard type song is played with God’s Holy Spirit. This notion was promoted, probably unintentionally, by ministers such as Kathrine Kuhlman and Benny Hinn, who held meetings with majestic sounding music — leading many to believe what they felt was God’s presence. In fact, it was possible to come into meetings such as these, believe one had experienced “God’s presence” and leave the building completely unchanged. Could it be that what the people were doing is going into a meeting and experiencing a reduction in the cognitive dissonance in his or her life (pain of conscience)? Could it be that they felt the soothing and calming effect of the music and believed it was God, but in reality, it was really the music working against God? They may have felt conviction of sin going into the meeting, but by the time they left that conviction was completely extinguished. Can you see the subtle deception of such a phenomena?
When God Came Near
And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostle. (Acts 2:43)
The Bible is filled with “firsts” and they are all significant. Our passage is the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit and fire as promised in the holy Prophets and reaffirmed by John the Baptist. This outpouring sets the pattern for all outpourings and demonstrations of the Spirit that follow in the book of Acts. There is one important feature that will characterize them: each will usher in a consciousness of God that alters the attitude of the people subjected to it. Luke uses the language, “fear came upon every soul.” This awesome awareness of God is similar to what Isaiah experienced in Isaiah 6. It is a foretaste of Heaven where the operations of angels and men are in the manifest presence of God.
Woe Is Me
Isaiah gives a passionate cry of grief and despair in Isaiah 6 as he was made subject to God’s holy presence. It is hard to define the word “fear” in the book of Acts, but we may take Isaiah’s experience as indicative of what the people felt when God was near. The reader may be interested to know that the love of God is not mentioned once in the book of Acts: the emphasis is on the fear of God. In fact, the fear of God is discussed in the New Testament more frequently than God’s love. We should emulate this balance between love and fear. In the book of Acts God was establishing Himself much in the way He did with the Israelites. Ananias and Sapphira were the New Testament version of Nadab and Abihu. The pattern is simple: when God’s holy presence is truly near, judgment is swift. When God’s presence is not among the people in the way He desires it to be, by default, the fearfully reverent human response to His presence departs with Him.
Anagogic Art and Architecture (Counterfeit Awe and Wonder)
It is impossible to substitute earthly and man-made means for the true manifest presence of God, but this has not stopped men from attempting it. For example, in the 1200’s an architectural motif came into vogue within the Roman Church that we know as Gothic Cathedral. Back of these designs was an anogogic ideology that sought to elevate a person’s mind into the heavens by man-made means. The word anagogic comes from the Greek word ἀνάγω (anagō) which means “up” or to “lift up.” It is used in Luke 4:5 when the Devil took Jesus “up” on the Temple and in Hebrews 13:20 where Jesus is “raised” from the dead. It also means to “take up” as in to take a ship “up” on the high seas. This sense of elevation gave rise to the Latin word anagoge which took on the spiritual denotation, “soul raising, sublime.” Those who employed anogogic techniques appealed to the scriptures – suggesting that they made use of symbolism (such as a throne, beasts with multiple faces, wheels, etc.) for the purpose of “elevating our minds” into an immaterial environment. They utilized man-made means such as art, relics and buildings for the same purpose.
Understand what is happening here. The idea came into vogue that one could use material means, just as one would use a sermon or a song to elevate the mind heaven-ward. Man had made seven great wonders over the centuries, all of which inspired “awe” and “amazement,” so too these buildings and paintings were attempts to cause astonishment. The Roman Catholic’s went as far as to put huge solid bronze doors on one of the ancient basilica’s. This door was of such stunning craftsmanship that they believed it could be used as a measure to lead a person’s mind to Christ. The idea was that the “mind can be elevated to truth through that which is material.” Stain glassed windows were installed of staggering beauty and proportion in many religious structures. All in an attempt to elevate the mind towards heaven and Christ. Proponents of these measures suggested that the “material” was the first step to the “immaterial” and “salvation.” A careful examination of the thought process reveals a desire to create a sense of marvel and then deflect that marvel towards Christ and the things of God.
Gothic Architecture and Anagogical Windows
Understand that Gothic in the sense we are referring to is not the black on metal “gothic” that has sparked clothing lines in recent popular culture, but Gothic Cathedrals of enormous size and grandeur between the 1200-1600’s. These towering strictures were fitted with multicolored windows of profound detail and craftsmanship. Some walls had more glass than stone. The Biblical artwork on these windows was meant to be interpreted, so instructions were given to the onlooker on how to view them in order to receive maximum spiritual benefit. These windows were marvelous and engemmed (made appear to be gems) the stones on the interior walls with explosive light at certain times of the day. The purpose found in this was to carry away the person from the external cares of this life and into the heavenlies (or someplace just short of it). They tried to recreate the aesthetics of heaven on earth.
A Personal Experience
This writer has stood in many cathedrals in England. They were awe inspiring and majestic in feel beyond description. Had I not already known God’s presence, I may have believed that what I felt was “God” or “His presence.” It was very moving to stand and behold the awesomeness of such places. Truly, these were churches I would enjoy visiting weekly; but we must understand that for all the aesthetics and anagogical designs they cannot rise to substitute for the conscious, manifest presence of God. Christians in the 1200’s tried desperately with art and architecture to bring about a sense of awe and wonder: to manufacture with man-made means a sense that one was drawn upwards toward God- but this is only a man-made measure that can never rightly fulfill a purpose that is reserved for God alone. There is no unction in these measures.
Modern Day Anagogical Methods
The Gothic Cathedrals with their many splendorous colors may have flashed upon the walls, but they could not power the searchlight of heaven that they desperately needed. They could not manufacture a “book of Acts” awareness of God for those that experienced these things. Men spent their entire lives working on these buildings and some never lived to see them completed. For all of our boasting of modernity and progression we are forced to admit that there is no new thing under the sun: though we too have believed the lie. In modern times we have moved away from the stained glass windows and replaced them with accent lights, both of which are amoral in of themselves. We have traded in the sublime structures of the middle ages, for the string effect on the synthesizer. Again, they are amoral in of themselves. But between these two we have effectively raised our hands with the architects of bygone generations and said “Guilty!” We are “guilty; guilty; guilty!” God is not here. Cut down the lights, turn down the volume and weep in the stillness of nothing. Remove the stain-glassed windows, pull down the towering walls, and weep in the stillness of nothing.
They were moved with strings and stained glass, but they were never moved to reverence; and because of that there can be no repentance. Moreover, if the music is counteracting the pain of conscience (cognitive dissonance) that people feel when God is dealing with them — then we are actually experiencing something that is worse than nothing. It is not neutral, it is counter productive to God’s workings. This is why it is essential for all of our songs and hymns to contain lyrics that turn our thoughts to God and the Bible.
Finding Our Way Back
And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostle. (Acts 2:43)
Leonard Ravenhill once said, “With all thy getting – get unction.” Unction is an old word that means anointing. It is the manifest presence of God that accompanies the preaching of the word of God. It is that element of inspiration in which God is backing the words being spoken. Ministers will sometimes speak directly into a microphone to give the impression of power, but it is a forgery. The Holy Spirit does not need amplification to drive home His Word.
Moreover, the presence of God does not come with a good rift or a dynamic bass line. God is not beckoned by the switch on the keyboard labeled “heaven.” It is a hard saying, but we must come to reality. Why keep fooling ourselves? God comes when His people make themselves ready- by determining to live in absolute obedience to Him. He comes and He intends to stay – not in the meeting house, but in the person. When a person is void of the indwelling presence of God they need man’s machinery to fill their consciousness with something they can call God’s presence.
May the Lord forgive us for treating Him as if He were animated to action when we struck up the band and turned on the lights. Many people today are labeled as “religious” or “legalistic”- not knowing that so-called religion is really worship in the absence of God. Religion is when we manufacture a “presence” with our man-made means and call it a move of God. When God truly comes, and I mean truly comes: great reverence and fear will come upon the people-like unto Isaiah in Isaiah 6 and John the Revelator in Revelation 1. This is the consistent pattern in the book of Acts.
If God comes when we play our songs, why are so many oppressed of devils? David played and the demon left Saul. It could not stand worship in the presence of a man that drew nigh unto God with his lips and whose heart was near unto Him. We speak of the mighty presence of God and yet the people are still gagged and bound. Peter needed no stained glass. Paul needed no synthesizer. The Apostles were walking in the power of God because they walked in the fear of God. They knew Him in the beauty of holiness. What was it that made these men different than the rest of us? It was because they were moving in the real thing. They did not need tools to assist them in creating an “atmosphere”… they were yielded fully to God and walked in His presence and power. Their mere presence brought the people face to face with God.