We often sing this revolutionary song at the PM: “You can’t kill the Spirit; she’s like a mountain; she goes on and on.” But even so, it sometimes feels like the Spirit is quite dead — particularly in our own hearts.
So what kills the Spirit, if in fact it can’t be killed? I think we don’t feel alive enough sometimes because we can’t imagine not being dead. We can’t imagine not being subject to what is killing us. We can’t imagine being alive because our dominant image of where we live is in a “state” and not in love. It is so often that “state” that is killing the Spirit, who just goes on without us. So let’s imagine.
Revolutionary imagination has always been basic to radical Christianity. The Anabaptists honed their distinctives on 1) their basic refusal to live in the arbitrary construction of nation states and 2) their basic conviction to live in the kingdom of God. They resisted and restored. Everybody else crammed their Christianity into the idea of the nation state and let their faith be ruled by whatever king or political philosophy ruled the state. Most people still do that and get mad at you if you don’t. It might sound like basic Bible to be ruled by God, not by humans. But even when Anabaptist practice sounds like an obvious and attractive idea, it is hard to realize.
In our era the “state” has effectively become the end-all of most people’s sense of authority. It has captured our imagination. We belong to our country. We are Americans. It isn’t even a discussion item. So if you want something done, you have to get the state to do it. The liberals and conservatives in the United States argue about how much the federal and other governments should do, but I don’t think any will argue that the governments (at least the kind implemented in our exceptional country) are not the inevitable arrangements civilization requires. When we ponder the big problems confronting society, like poverty, disease or environmental degradation, we don’t ask, “What should the church do?” or “What should General Motors do?” We think about governmental policies and action. We are used to thinking about the state as the chief social actor. Even at the BIC General Conference meeting on Saturday there were many times when the leaders told us how they formed their proposals on the advice of lawyers and by imagining future relationships in relation to possible lawsuits — in the back of our minds the state was imminent and the Kingdom distant. The kingdom was preferable, but the state is practical.
All over the world, the commitment to the power of the state has become so complete and overriding that people lose their imagination for a world without nation states that is better than the present order of things. We even end up thinking of ourselves in terms of our “state of being” rather than in terms that are much more familiar to Jesus. For instance, in John 5 the Lord confronts opponents who object to him healing on the Sabbath. They object to what he is doing because it is outside what they think everyone agrees are the God-given boundaries. He has what seems to be a strange notion of how things work when He says, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working….Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it” ( John 5:17, 19-21).
How Jesus responds demonstrates the kind of mindset that allows the Spirit to live freely. Jesus could never have a red state/blue state argument because it would be too static to talk about. His “argument” is an act of love that doesn’t even recognize the state of being dead as relevant! You can’t kill His Spirit. The working of God that Jesus demonstrates is alive, moving. You can experience it, but you cannot capture it. You might be able to harness it, but you can’t manufacture it. It produces; it gives; it creates. It is outside of death and brings life to that state. It is a positive force spoken into being by God in every circumstance so that it always has a relational sense to it — relating to people as they are in their present condition, insisting on being heard, on touching. The working is about connecting, embracing, collaborating and reconciling. It is truth revealed in love.
Resistance and restoration are always possible. The Spirit-born love that graces us is a world-recreating power. It cannot be captured in one social, political, economic or cultural form. We are always working with God who is always working regardless of the present form, which may or may not be useful to His cause. Every act of love is leading to another as we keep following the Truth. We are given the life and what we can do with it is amazing, if we can lift our imaginations beyond the godless forms that demand our attention and allegiance.