There is a great need for spiritual renewal that is focused on the transformation of the world. In seeking renewal there is always the temptation that it becomes a way of looking at better things just for ourselves. After all, seeking God’s presence has brought us such richness. Yet such life-giving experiences can gradually, over time, turn into systems of belief and practice that need to be upheld in themselves. Partly out of a desire to share the good news of meeting with Jesus that others may experience it also, but also out of a desire not to lose the experience, systems are created that we begin to hold strongly to. Slowly such systems can become ends in themselves and so are spoken of, written about and preached as if they are definitive ways to know the transforming power of God rather than tentative ways of explaining how some people have been transformed. Then there is a temptation to solidify the boundaries around the system to be clear who is inside and who outside. Hostility begins to replace grace and it seems right to speak or act strongly against those who differ from us.
Such a process is one way into seeking to understand the tragedies of our world in which faith plays some part. The appalling deaths in Paris this last week; those driven from their homes in Iraq and spending the winter in tents; those whose histories are deeply scarred by the crusades of the past. What might have started out as a faith that brought light, life and hope for struggling communities becomes a need to force others to conform to a system of belief. It is not that thought out belief in itself is wrong – we all need systems of thought that make sense of our world and encourage right action. Yet it is how we hold these systems that is vital. We are to hold lightly to the precious understanding and experiences we have been granted over life, always seeking how they can serve others rather than simply sustain ourselves. Faith requires renewed openness to others, especially those different to us and even those we see of as our enemies.
How do we protect faith from the temptations that come? One way is keep en emphasis on renewal – on keeping our faith full of life, of the Holy Spirit who keeps us in ways of holiness. Yet this needs to be linked with the wider purpose of transforming the world and not just ourselves or those like us. Theologically this is rooted in creation and re-creation. God has created all things good, brooding over the earth by the Spirit (Genesis 1), and despite a falling away from goodness the earth groans in the Spirit until it is re-created by the Spirit (Romans 8). To seek the Holy Spirit is to be immersed in the presence of the God who loves the whole world and who seeks its transformation in ways of holiness. The way to this vision is not one of hostility or force but rather a humble reliance on the Spirit to guide and a recognition that good appears in surprising places. With Jesus we see hostility turned into friendship, lament turned into hope and loss enfolded in love.
Christian faith is kept alive inasmuch as it seeks the Holy Spirit for the transformation of the world. There many temptations along the way, yet the Spirit gently invites us to humble, risky and vulnerable ways of sharing the good news of Jesus. It is not an easy path and is often misjudged by others yet it is the path of light and hope in a world often shrouded by darkness.