Cheryl sat in my office and tearfully told me her strange story. Just the day before, her pastor had taken her by the hands as he counseled her. The dimly lit room had been hushed. He unfolded her tightly-closed fists and gently pressed her palms against his desk. Then he barely touched his own fingertips against hers.
“Now close your eyes,” he quietly instructed. “Picture yourself as a tiny child. Do you remember being two years old?”
“Yes”. . . Cheryl’s voice broke.
“That’s right. You’re hurt and confused. Your father has just left you alone after an abusive incident.” Cheryl began to sob.
“You’re all by yourself. Frightened. You’re wearing only your diapers and a little shirt. There is a knock on the door. You go to the door and open it. Suddenly the room is flooded with dazzling light. It’s Jesus!”
“Jesus . . .” Cheryl whispered in a childlike voice.
“Yes, Jesus. Now tell Him what’s happened. Ask Him what to do. Let Him counsel you.”
At this point the pastor-counselor quietly left the room. Cheryl was sobbing convulsively, and he had instructed her to have her own “private” conversation with this Jesus.
Cheryl had come to me because the experience had somehow seemed mystical or “magical.” It had frightened her spiritually and she didn’t know why. To me, such conjuring was alarmingly reminiscent of Hindu spiritual experiments and experiences. I remembered conversations with occultic gurus who openly encouraged and taught these techniques. Spirit guides are visualized and confronted. Such Hindu techniques have been cultivated for centuries.
Now, however, on a daily basis in dozens of Christian counseling sessions, the same practices are being used. Jesus is visualized, animated in the mind of the patient, and sought for counsel. When this visualized Jesus speaks, his words are accepted as the very words of God.
Counselors who take part in this sort of visualization therapy (often called inner healing—a term popularized by Ruth Carter Stapleton) explain that Jesus is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” They believe that the patient either didn’t know Him or didn’t turn to Him at the time of some particular crisis, so the circumstances simply need to be reenacted with Him present.
To a person such as myself, who has been exposed to the Hindu concept of maya (that life is an illusion), this method becomes particularly suspect. Can we mentally create an “envisioned Jesus” to speak to us at our whim? What makes us think we can manipulate the God of the universe to appear at our every request? How can we be sure we’ve contacted the real Jesus?
When Jesus actually did appear following His resurrection it was always in His own time and on His own terms. He came to encourage—to reinforce faith. Never is there a report in Scripture of His being mentally pictured, soon materializing with sage advice.
The two disciples on the Emmaus Road had known Jesus personally. They were lost in grief, on their way home following the nightmarish events of the crucifixion. Joined by an unidentified stranger, they didn’t know Him to be Jesus until after He had blessed and broken bread with them and vanished. Speaking of the time while they were on the road with Him, they said, “Did not our heart burn within us?” (Luke 24:32). Their spirits had recognized Him, but not their eyes!
John’s encounter with Christ after His ascension (in his Patmos vision) caused him to fall on his face in awe. John had shared a very special relationship with Jesus. John was the one “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23), who lay against His bosom at the Last Supper. John had seen Him transfigured, had watched Him die, and had met Him after His resurrection. Yet the awesome, glorified Jesus was almost unrecognizable as the human John had known.
Decades before John’s encounter with the ascended, glorified Christ on Patmos, however, in another appearance to His disciples after His crucifixion, Jesus addressed Thomas. What He said at that time is extremely important for us in these days of deception. Thomas, after expressing grave doubts about Jesus’ resurrection, met his living Lord face to face. Jesus knew Thomas had been unconvinced of His resurrection and invited him to touch the scars of His wounds. The relieved disciple proclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
Jesus’ response to Thomas’ declaration has echoed down through twenty centuries to the sanctuaries of our experience-hungry churches:
[B]ecause thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. (John 20:29)