August 13, 2007
Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3.6-8
The other day, I watched a documentary about hurricanes. Living near the coast, hurricanes are always of interest. Speculating on the origins of hurricanes, a scientist explained that some poor butterfly in Africa was flapping his wings, and the next thing you know, a hurricane hit the Gulf Coast of the U.S. That might be a slight simplification of what he said, but as I listened, it sounded plausible… at first. Then, I wondered about the gazillion little butterflies in Africa flapping their dainty little wings? What happens to all that wind? And of course, then there are the butterflies on our continent. Maybe they are generating monsoons in Asia? And what if a butterfly flaps her wings in the wrong direction, back at Africa, for example? Can’t we just train our butterflies to send hurricanes back with a polite “No, Thank You” note? Better yet, we could upgrade to wrens and bluebirds, and perhaps the occasional bald eagle. They are the national bird; don’t they have some sort civic obligation to the nation?
My mind goes on little adventures like this all the time. Scary, huh?
Frankly, I think the reason we watched a little butterfly flitting around some field in Africa is because the scientist couldn’t read the script with a straight face, and yes, I’ve heard of chaos theory. I’ve even heard of deterministic chaos, meaning basically that butterflies cause hurricanes not tornadoes, because, actually, tornadoes are caused by hurricanes. The layman’s translation of scientific chaos is unpredictability; you just never know how that weather system got here.
Have you ever seen a hurricane? They’re big – really big – and we don’t know where they come from. Aside from the discussion of warmer waters producing bigger hurricanes, where did the little hurricane come from? Having sat through a couple of tropical storms in my life, I’m prepared to grant that a little hurricane is still a great, big deal. I ran from the last one that came close.
We have all sorts of information about hurricanes. Science has come up with some fairly good means of tracking hurricanes, if not terribly impressive means of predicting them. But the best and smartest scientists around cannot tell us how hurricanes get started. Hurricanes! They’re huge! How can we not know where they come from?
“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” Jesus’ point is a lot clearer now, not nearly so quaint from some ancient era. We don’t know where hurricanes come from. Forget the fall breeze bringing cooler temperatures.
To be a Christian is to be born into the family of God, born of the Spirit of God. Each one of us lives in a physical reality that, no matter how seemingly well ordered, is finally incomprehensible. How much more mysterious are the Kingdom of God and the movements of the Spirit? When we are born of the Spirit, we enter into the realm of indescribable life, the presence of the eternal God and immeasurability of the infinite. Because we cannot quantify or organize the life of God, we try to tame Him and make Him manageable, so He will be accessible to us. While the life of the Spirit is always accessible, it is never manageable. We cannot think our way to God. Thought is the beginning of the journey, but ultimately, the experience of divine life is the end. C.S. Lewis wrote, "The more lucidly we think, the more we are cut off: the more deeply we enter into reality, the less we can think."
To know God in Jesus Christ is to encounter the Unknowable; to live in the Spirit is to journey along streams of life without beginning or end. We cannot regulate the life of God or even our own life in God. At best, we simply hang on for the ride.
A friend was describing how young people have less use for organized religion than do we old fogies, as if no other generation of young has ever thought that. Yet, there is merit to scoffing at the idea of organizing the movement of the Spirit. Even Jesus pointed out that it cannot be done. Religious institutions are a dangerous necessity because, although God is not an organized institution, people need practices and order and understanding. Yet, we must never confuse the institution with the God. Ideally, the Holy Spirit imbues the church with the wild and unpredictable Presence of the untamed God. The task of the institution is to provide open-ended pathways to throne of God, whereby the Body enters into the indefinable Reality. The moment we define each step, they cease to lead anywhere, and the Spirit picks up in a different place and begins to move afresh, perhaps in the beating of a butterfly’s wings.
A Christian’s life is fully lived only in radical trust, endless curiosity and the unquenched yearning to know God. Anything less is not the reality of eternal life, but the magnified image of our own life. Why Christians are ever dull or predictable or legalistic is beyond me. Christians have been granted the privilege of the unlimited and inexplicable life of God.
The next time you think you understand being a Christian, ask yourself: Where do hurricanes come from?
In Christ –
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