It Blows Where It Will

“The wind blows where it will, and thou hear the sound thereof, but cannot tell whence it comes and whither it goes. So is everyone that is born of the Spirit.”

These words were spoken during a conversation which two men had in the stillness of a Jerusalem evening. One of the men was Jesus, carpenter of Nazareth, become prophet from Galilee. The other man who talked in the Palestinian darkness that night was Nicodemus, member of the Sanhedrin, become seeker after everlasting truth. The word floated through to Nicodemus that Jesus of Nazareth was talking about a new birth. Now, Nicodemus was not one to rest his case upon some uncertain gossip. He was not willing to reach a conclusion on a rumor. He was a man of the law and a believer in firsthand testimony. He decided to go and talk to Jesus himself. He would not send a messenger, for the report might be distorted or garbled. He would seek himself to find out just what the situation was.

There is really no other way to find a sustaining faith except in personal venture. Donald Hankey, once so widely known in this country and so beloved in his native England, used to say in his striking way that being a Christian means betting one’s life on God. The Bible is replete with almost unbelievably rich promises, but almost all of them are built upon some condition which we must fulfill. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” This is true biblical humanism, with its recognition of vast capacities that are in us. This is refutation of the tired old claim that the faith of Christ is for weaklings and cowards and the passively inactive. Far from it! There is a call to action which rings like a trumpet on almost every page of the New Testament. Nicodemus decided to confront the man from Nazareth with the deepest concernments of his life. Likewise, we shall find strength and empowerment in him only as we make our move in his direction. No amount of armchair speculation will clear for us our doubts.

On the other hand, Jesus Christ does not depend on any dim light or vagueness in order to pass muster in people’s esteem and faith. He does not rely upon any fast sleight of hand in order to hold followers. He invites investigation, opens himself to any who will examine, as he did to those sharpest little detectives of insincerity when he said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not.” I like the word of the angel at the Resurrection. There was no attempt to hustle away those who came or to divert their attention as if some piece of quick-handed magic was about to be done which could not bear scrutiny. The word of the angel was, rather, “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” Mark this, the only way you are going to have a strong, vibrant faith is by confronting the claims of Christ with trustfulness and obedience.

The winds of gossip which bore to Nicodemus rumors of a teacher talking about a new birth, a fresh start, with the slate wiped clean, intrigued and haunted the doctor of laws. What a wild, preposterous notion! But what if, by whatever stretch of the imagination, it could actually happen? Suppose a man could really get a new start in life? And so in the evening shadows, this man of the law talked with the Son of Man. There was no question about whether there need be a new start, only how could it be possible.

In you as in me, there is surely the same longing which Nicodemus brought to Jesus in the Jerusalem night. All of us sense a profound disquiet at the heart of life, a painful awareness that we have made far less of this gift of existence than we might have. This is the age-old question. I think that wherever people have thought seriously about the nature and destiny of life, they have recognized that we human beings are not what we ought to be. The quality of “oughtness” belongs alone to the sons and daughters of earth. The instinct of the possible, as over against the actual, is the peculiar legacy of humankind. The pleasure and pain of us all are that we long to be better and other than what we are. Whatever our plight, whatever the time, there is that yearning.

Yes, but if this insanely wonderful possibility can belong to us, then how bring it off? How can we drop these heavy habits of flesh, so promising in prospect, so empty in retrospect? How can a freshness descend upon these tired and worn spirits of ours? How can we know again the crisp freshness of the morning?

So a man long ago, spokesman, really, for each one of us, raised the mystery of man’s helplessness in the face of his aspirations. How? If Nicodemus raised the mystery of human inability, Jesus in turn raised the mystery of spirituality, of a presence unseen and yet decisive, and all around us. He said to Nicodemus, “The wind bloweth where it will.” What is the wind? Air in motion, someone say. What is air? Gases, nitrogen and oxygen and other chemicals. But no one seems to know quite where the air originates and why it is here, and yet nobody can doubt its presence. The meteorological experts detect the wind and sometimes accurately forecast its movements, but they cannot order its direction or intensity. The wind is unseen, but it is felt, and its presence cannot be doubted. What Jesus was saying to Nicodemus and to us is that there is a presence in history and around each of us, unseen by the natural eye and yet surpassingly real, the presence of God. Have you not felt in joy or sorrow the mood of the man who mused long ago, “Whither shall I go from thy spirit, and whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there. If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.” There is a presence, sustaining what is decent and good, frustrating what is wrong and evil.

There is a God in history, like the wind unseen, but, like the wind, powerful, pervasive, sometimes gentle like a zephyr, sometimes angry like a hurricane. Too many people have witnessed to a sense of presence for any of us to dismiss the idea lightly. One hears Isaiah’s word of witness, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me,” or Ezekiel saying, “So the spirit of the Lord lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the Lord was strong upon me.” Who can forget Jesus echoing Isaiah’s word across many centuries and taking a vow of purpose in those words that still thrill the heart, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”

George Frederick Handel’s name has become a household word throughout Christendom because of his Messiah. Thousands of tourists annually look for his place in the poet’s corner at Westminster Abbey. When his great oratorio was presented, and as the mighty swell of the triumphant climax of the chorus was heard, King George II stood in recognition of a mightier monarch, the King of kings, wherewith the whole assemblage stood, inaugurating a custom which we still follow. Handel’s great work, if we are to believe him, did not flow alone out of the musical genius of the composer. He said, “I did think I did see all heaven before me, and the great God upon his throne.” All around you now is that presence, unseen and yet real, like the wind. It is actually true that in Jesus Christ you can come into a new birth where that old and worn spirit of yours is made fresh like the morning and radiant like sunrise. Like the wind, the presence is there, and all of the old enslavements can be dismissed and passed, and what is broken in you can be made whole. And in the power of Jesus Christ you can walk forth into what one of his people once called “the glorious liberty of the sons of God.”

G. Taylor

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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