Dispatch One Hundred Ninety-One

Posted: January 6, 2016 in Forty-first Bundle
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I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows.And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me,but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

The apostle Paul was more than merely the first strategist for the mission and expansion of the early church. He was also a “mystic.” We use that term guardedly, since it has become a catchword in our day for so much that is hokey and superficial. Being a mystic has nothing to do with cards or stones or stars, but is instead the name for those whose spirituality is deeply inward and characterized by contemplative prayer, intuitive vision, and union with the Divine.

This is not to say that the visionary experiences of some mystics are altogether rational, for they typically aren’t. Paul’s mystical vision conveyed him into a realm of such mystery that his rational mind and logical vocabulary were effectively paralyzed by its impenetrable glory.

Being “caught up to the third heaven” is a highly poetic and metaphorical way of describing an experience essentially beyond description. In the sacred cosmology (theory of the universe) of Paul’s day, the “third” or (in other views) “seventh” heaven designated the zenith of the firmament, where the throne of God was believed to be.

In other words, Paul is relating an experience of being elevated to the seat of Truth itself. This was a bona fide revelation, a pulling back of the veil of ignorance and belief, which together separate us from the true reality. When the screen is removed or the curtain pushed aside, what we see is unnameable but supremely real.

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