“The wind blows wherever it pleases,” Jesus once said to Nicodemus, “You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” (John 3:8 NIV)
As I am writing this I look out the window and watch the last of the lovely New England leaves falling down in the face of a stiff wind along with the occasional batch of snow flurries. I cannot see the wind, but I can see the trees swaying from its power and the leaves coming down.
By analogy (and not a pristine one, I admit) we cannot see God’s Spirit, but we can (and do) see the effects of it in our lives and our world.
Both the Hebrew word and the Greek word for “spirit” also mean “wind” and “breath,” all very real but unseen. Like the wind God’s free activity is real but unseen. But unlike the wind, God’s activity is not impersonal.
It is a temptation to imagine the Spirit of God as impersonal, something like “the Force” in Star Wars, but that would be a misrepresentation of God, at least of the Christian God revealed in Jesus Christ.
If we stay with the wind analogy we can see that God’s Spirit acts on both us, and our world, in unseen but real ways from outside ourselves. So we cannot possess the Spirit of God, which presents a real problem for contemporary Americans because we are so very much into possessing.
We have even turned the word “spiritual” (a word that should be approached with great caution) into a human attribute, something we possess. But if we think of God’s Spirit as like the wind, the truly spiritual person would be the one not possessing some intrinsic attribute, but the one most open to being moved by the unseen but real activity of God.
We might call this openness to the unseen activity of God “faith.” If we project this openness into the future we might call it “hope.” And this is where I think that the Spirit is a resource for hope.
Going back to my first post on hope eight weeks ago I named a faithless attitude “functional atheism,” which refers to the belief that it all depends on us. I wrote that this attitude is even alive and well in the church. Of course, you can go too far in the other direction.
Which is what I like about imagining the Spirit’s activity to be “wind-like;” we are not pressed into a kind of determinism that robs us of our freedom. The opposite of “functional atheism” might be ideas of God that understand us to be mere marionettes that God moves around at will as if by strings. A God of holy love does not coerce us!
When I am hopeless about the future it is often because I am projecting the way things are (in myself, in my society, and in the world) into an imagined future that is more or less the same (or worse!)
But openness to God’s Spirit means that the future is not just the present projected into the future. The unseen but very real personal activity of the living God is working in us and around us to insure a far different future than we could ever imagine from looking at our present.
Faith is not just passively waiting for that future to appear, but to be actively working (as best we know how) for it to come about. This is why Christians pray, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Who knows where the fresh winds of God’s Spirit will be made manifest? That gives me hope.
(This is the eighth and final guest post I am blogging for an eight-week series called: “Hope-A Pessimist’s Guide” on Darkwood Brew, which describes itself as “a renegade exploration of Christian faith for the modern world which blends ancient contemplative practices with cutting-edge interactive web technology, world-class music, arts, biblical scholarship, and special guests from around the globe via Skype.”)
Nice post Rick.
Thanks, Jason. I was just thinking about you today and wondering what you are up to. These Darkwood Brew posts have been a challenge for me. Because the audience is a general one I have been forced to try to express myself theologically without benefit of the technical language.
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