A World Without Spirit

It seems the United States has gone mad. For a couple of months, we all stayed home, terrified by a virus that is a serious threat to very few of us. Now we're out and about, burning cities and storming public buildings and businesses. My little hometown is under a curfew, the WalMart boarded up for the night.

In some ways, it's an optical illusion. Most of the U.S. is perfectly safe, life going on as usual. But the incidents and the images are significant. Social order depends on trust, and the more we see images of uncontrolled crowds the less confidence we have in the institutions that are supposed to protect us. Looked at statistics for gun sales recently?

We're getting a glimpse of a world bereft of Spirit, the Spirit.

The Spirit is the bond of peace. In the eternal life of the Triune God, the Spirit is the love that binds Father and Son. As the Spirit of the Son, He links heaven and earth, present and future.

As much as Jesus' death and resurrection, Pentecost was a turning point of the ages. By the gift of the Spirit, the Father threw Babelic division into reverse. As the Spirit fell and still falls on nation after nation, He knits hostile tribes into one body with many members.

Life in the Spirit is life in the unity of this body. Life in the Spirit lends coherence to time, history, and memory.

God has sealed us and given us the Spirit as a “pledge” (2 Corinthians 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:5). We have the “first fruits” of the Spirit (Romans 8:23). As a pledge, the Spirit is a part of our inheritance, and also a promise that we will receive a fuller inheritance in the future.

Since we already have the Spirit, our future is no longer merely future. In the future, we will be fully rescued from the power of Sin and Death. At the resurrection, we will have Spiritual bodies, imperishable bodies of power and glory. 

Pentecost means that none of this is simply confined to the future.  It is present now. Wherever Christ is, the Spirit is; and wherever Christ and the Spirit are, there is new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Our world is profoundly amnesiac, cut off from the past. Many are bereft of hope. Only the Spirit can bind us to our past, and move us toward a glorious future.

By the power of the Spirit, the apostles spoke in the languages of their hearers, so that the gospel was understandable to all (Acts 2:1-14). The Spirit performed this miracle to jump-start the mission of the Church, but against the OT background, this language miracle also indicates that Pentecost was the reversal of the division of the nations at Babel (Genesis 11). 

Through the Spirit, the church becomes the true “united nations,” binding together some from every tribe and tongue and nation and people into one body in Christ.  Elsewhere, Paul makes it clear that the unity of the church depends on the common Spirit that all share (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).

We take peace for granted. We take it for granted that we can understand each other. We shouldn't. Peaceful communication is a rare gift of the Spirit, a gift of the Christian era.

But we can grieve the Spirit and abandon the Christian era. We can quench Him with bitterness and wrath, anger, slander, and malice. We can drive out the Spirit of unity. When we do, we leave behind empty space, clean and swept, ready to welcome seven demons.

Fantasy? No. Among many failures: For generations, white American Christians denigrated and belittled, abused and neglected black brothers and sisters. For all that has changed, can we say that the American church is the one body we're called to be?

If now the church is divided and at war with herself, it is because we have grieved the Spirit and the Spirit has withdrawn. If our society is riven by strife among races, generations, sexes, it is because we have grieved the Spirit and He has withdrawn.

No, not fantasy. In the U.S., it's the stuff of our daily news feeds. The cop choking a man to death under his knee, the mobs setting police cars on fire, smashing windows and beating businessmen and bystanders: Every day, every moment, we see another glimpse of a world bereft of the Breath of God.

It's not hopeless, never hopeless. Alongside the riots, we've witnessed moments of reconciliation - cops in North Carolina kneeling before angry protesters, a Michigan sheriff laying aside his baton and joining a peaceful march.

Pray for more of that. The Father doesn't give stones when we ask for bread or serpents when we ask for fish. He generously gives the Spirit of His Son. Ask for the Spirit to sweep over your home, your church, your town, and don't stop until you hear the sound of a rushing mighty wind.

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