Last Thursday (May 28) The Wall Street Journal reviewed The Soul of the Marionette by John Gray, an emeritus professor at the London School of Economics. The reviewer, Thomas Meaney, comments that Mr. Gray ‘has been at odds with the easy assumptions and smug remedies of what might be called a “progressivist” worldview… Gray believes that something went wrong in the long development of modern society and that the germ of the problem may well be our idea of progress itself.’
The reviewer notes that in The Soul of the Marionette, John Gray says ‘we all today believe that we possess a mastery over the natural world that sets us apart from our benighted ancestors. “The Gnostic faith that knowledge can give humans a freedom no other creature can possess, … has become the predominant religion”’.
Gray’s response to his proposal that there is no such thing as ‘progress’, Meaney notes, is ‘a variation of the great holding pattern known as stoicism – the acceptance of all that is out of one’s control and a realization that knowledge in itself is never redemptive.’
As I read this review I reflected on how the world of academia claims to canvas and consider carefully all aspects of knowledge, yet constantly dismisses the historical evidences as well as philosophical arguments that support the Christian faith. Assuming Meaney’s review is a fair treatment of Gray’s work, where did our sense of a creator ‘god’ originate? Why do we have a conscience and an awareness of justice? How should we respond? Reasoning will play a part, but we need something much more. We need God’s promised Spirit to be at work.
In his conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:1-15), Jesus pointed out that we need the Spirit of God to give us a birth ‘from above’ if we are to enter God’s kingdom. In John 16:8-11, Jesus developed this when he said:
When the Spirit (he) comes, he will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
It is the Spirit who awakens a sense of moral shame and spiritual reality. Notice, the sin the Spirit convicts us of is not our breaking of the Ten Commandments, but our failure to turn to Jesus as our rightful ruler. God will one day ask us all: ‘What did you do with my Son?’
Furthermore, the Spirit alerts us to a new certainty of the vindication of righteousness. We hear of the atrocities in Iraq, Kenya, Nigeria, Libya, and in Yemen and our hearts cry out for justice. Jesus’ death, resurrection and exaltation guarantee the ultimate triumph of goodness.
The Spirit also brings us a new urgency about the reality of the end of the world. When Jesus died Satan’s attempt to usurp the throne of the universe was confounded. With the exaltation of God’s Messiah, God’s kingdom arrived. Before Jesus ‘went away’, humanity ignored God’s claim. However, on the day of Pentecost, because the Holy Spirit had come convicting the world, three thousand were cut to the heart by the words of the Apostle Peter.
Like the wind the Spirit comes silently and unexpectedly, going where he wills, and changing lives. Paul tells us in
1 Corinthians 12:3: No-one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.
What should be our response to the opposing voices around us? Pray! When Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray, he went on to say:
“Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you” (Luke 11:9f). “How much more will your Father in heaven give you the Spirit,” he concluded (Luke 11:13).
Impossible? No. Not if we ask God to send his Spirit to do his works of mercy, opening the eyes of the blind, unstopping deaf ears, and softening hard hearts. With Jesus’ departure, the Holy Spirit has been poured out on to the world.