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Psalm 51:11 KJV

Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

Other similar passages include:

Psalm 16:11 KJV

Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

Psalm 27:8 KJV

When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.

Psalm 42:1-2 KJV

As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. 2 My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?

Psalm 63:1-3 KJV

God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; 2 To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. 3 Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.

Psalm 139:7-10 KJV

7 Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? 8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; 10 Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.

It seems to me that the psalmist deeply longs for the presence of God and the Holy Spirit. This sounds quite mystical to me. In fact, I have compiled more passages that in my opinion offer a biblical basis to the notion of Christian mysticism (see What is the biblical basis for Christian Mysticism?).

Is a mystical interpretation of Psalm 51:11 justified?


For a working definition of Christian Mysticism I'd like to quote the top answer to Is Christian mysticism an oxymoron or is it a legitimate path for a Christian?:

Christian Mysticism has a long and honourable tradition. You can read the histories of many holy Christian mystics. Wikipedia will give you a good starting point. Meditation is only one aspect. For a working definition, try: ""that part, or element, or Christian belief and practice that concerns the preparation for, the consciousness of, and the effect of [...] a direct and transformative presence of [the Christian] God" (Bernard McGinn). In effect mystics are those who make real and experience for themselves things that many Christians take as theoretical or abstract - e.g. the presence of God, union with God, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Here are some well-known people and practices that form part of the Christian Mystic tradition:

  • Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola
  • Meister Eckhart
  • Brother Lawrence
  • Julian of Norwich
  • Teresa of Avila
  • St John of the Cross
  • Thomas Merton

Addendum for the interested reader

Pastor Tim Conway, affiliated with the I'll Be Honest ministry, provides profound insights in a video titled The Presence of God or Mysticism? - Ask Pastor Tim, where he eloquently defends the legitimacy of pursuing and yearning for God's presence. He cites several notable figures from recent history within the reformed movement who attest to this possibility, including Lloyd-Jones, John Owen, A.B. Simpson, Charles Simeon, David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards, Sarah Edwards, Duncan Campbell, and more recently, Paul Washer. He also cites several passages from Psalms to make his case.

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    This is, for most Christians, an extremely provocative question. "Christian mysticism" is a term shunned by most Christians. Therefore, please define carefully what you mean by Christian mysticism.
    – Dottard
    Dec 8, 2023 at 20:45
  • @Dottard Edited accordingly.
    – Mark
    Dec 8, 2023 at 20:48
  • Attempts to assert that Christianity is 'mystical' fail for two reasons : Christian history (all of it, not a tiny part of it) : the holy scripture (all of it, not a tiny part of it). But I do not see how 'Christian' mysticism can have anything to do with Psalm 51, written a thousand or so years before a babe was found in a manger in Bethlehem. If attention is simply being drawn to the fact that David enjoyed the sense of the presence of Deity, then that is not 'mystical' it is 'godly'.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 9, 2023 at 9:45
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    @NigelJ Feel free to make your case in an answer. If you manage to convince me, I might even accept it.
    – Mark
    Dec 9, 2023 at 10:53
  • 1
    @NigelJ You should probably write comments under Dan Fefferman's answer as well, since you and he clearly disagree.
    – Mark
    Dec 9, 2023 at 10:59

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Whether it is "justified" or not is in the eye of the beholder, but it is clear that a mystical interpretation is possible. A typical description of mystical/anagogical hermeneutics from Grace Theological Seminary:

Defined as mystical or spiritual, this approach sought to interpret Scripture in view of the life to come... Similar to moral and allegorical interpretation, importance was not given to the actual story but to a perceived deeper meaning behind the story.

I would add that mystical interpretation can also refer to the hope or reality of experiencing God directly in one's life on earth. For example it is hardly possible NOT to interpret mystically some of the visions of the prophets who see God or the Throne of God.

Regarding the specific psalms mentioned in the OP, each of these has to do with longing to experience God's presence in some way. A mystical interpretation is thus justified, but there is more than one way to understand these verses.

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