What does the Bible teach about religious meditation?
For some, meditation is an inner experience that transcends conceptualization. It has been directly related to mysticism in that it promises to transcend personal experience or perception. Even among some Christian traditions, meditation is considered an effort of an immortal soul that is captive within a material body to achieve union with a God who is detached from the material world. In some world religions, transcendental meditation has no specific object to direct the movement of the self; it offers to empty the self of its consciousness, perhaps in order to become part of a mystical cosmic consciousness. The biblical understanding of meditation is radically different.
1. ITS CONTENT
Biblical meditation is not an attempt to encounter God by escaping the world in which we live. On the contrary, it is grounded on God’s self-revelation. Communion with God through meditation is always mediated through His statements preserved in the written Word. It is an inner reflection, occasionally described as “the meditation of my heart” (Ps. 19:14), understood as a person’s rational and volitional center. This by itself suggests that the rational element and the human capacity to make decisions are not transcended or made irrelevant in the act of meditation. The specific content of meditation is identified as divine “precepts” (Ps. 119:15) or “decrees” (verse 23, NIV), that is to say, God’s Torah or instruction (cf. Joshua 1:8; Ps. 1:2). The purpose was to learn about God’s will in order for people to live in harmony with Him and others. People also meditated on God’s “promises” (Hebrew ’imrah, literally “word” [Ps. 119:148]). They took these promises deep into their being and meditated about their content to strengthen their trust in God, enrich their spiritual lives, and experience inner peace. They also meditated on God’s mighty acts of salvation on their behalf (Ps. 143:5; cf. Ps. 77:13). The human mind was occupied with God’s past redemptive works, and this infused faith in the psalmist who needed deliverance from the oppression of enemies (Ps. 143:3, 4). God’s past and present providential saving deeds, particularly His saving work in Christ, continues to fill hearts with joy and contains healing power. “The love which Christ diffuses through the whole being is a vitalizing power,” wrote Ellen White. “Every vital part—the brain, the heart, the nerves—it touches with healing. . . . It frees the soul from the guilt and sorrow, the anxiety and care, that crush the life forces. . . . It implants in the soul . . . joy in the Holy Spirit— health-giving, life-giving joy.”*
2. A WHOLISTIC EXPERIENCE
Biblical meditation does not deny the goodness of the physical nature of humans. It is not the experience of an eternal soul residing within a human body, but the experience of the whole person. It is interesting that the Hebrew verbs translated “to meditate” also mean “to tell, to talk, to muse” (siakh), and “to utter, to speak” (hagah). Meditation is not only an inner mental experience—it is also a physical activity. Those who meditated memorized passages and recited them in a low voice while pondering their meaning. Two persons engaged in the act of meditation: the worshipper and the Lord, whose voice was heard through His Word. The differences between these two persons was clearly understood by believers who did not seek to merge into the divine but to strengthen their faith in Him, to know Him better, and to experience His saving power. There is healing in Christian meditation in the sense that by reflecting on God’s self-revelation, preserved in the Scriptures, believers experience acceptance, forgiveness, and joy. We cannot separate meditation from the work of the Spirit that enlightens our inner being through the reading of the Bible, which provides its content.
* Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn, 1905), p. 115