02 May 2013

the raven, the dove, and the holy spirit

Much of A.W. Tozer's writings and sermons have been printed and reprinted that it can often be confusing to the reader where to find specific content.  One collection of sermons on the theme of the Holy Spirit was published in 1968 under the title, When He Is Come.  In preparing for the transition from Easter to Pentecost, I have been rereading through this volume again this year.  The final sermon (Chapter 10) contains a rather interesting connection: the dove which Noah sent from the ark as an image of the Holy Spirit's relationship to the world - both repelled by corruption.

As an exposition of Genesis 8:9, Tozer provides a fascinating look into Noah's releasing of the birds - first the raven, then the dove - from the ark as a way of gauging the receding waters.  Since the window of the ark allows him only to look skyward, the birds will provide him feedback on the condition of the world.  (There is a valuable discussion in John Walton's NIVAC commentary on Genesis regarding the historical 'difficulties' that exist around the biblical flood narrative.)  It is the raven which is sent out first, which flew back and forth over the earth until the water had receded.  Such birds are carrion, and were perhaps able to feast on the death and destruction that would have been leftover from the flood.  It is opposite the dove - the gentler of the two birds - which finally returns with an olive branch, signifying the new growth that was emerging on the earth.

Tozer's sermon on this passage is straightforward: the raven is able to find a home amongst the carnage, while the dove is looking for a renewed earth.  The raven surveys the remains of destruction from God's judgment, while the dove returns with a sign of God's grace and restoration.  As imagery of the coming Holy Spirit, these birds give a picture of God and his relationship to the world.  In a pastoral sense, Tozer then connects the condition of the heart to the raven and the dove - one which is darkened and willing to embrace a world which is corrupt, verses the life which has been renewed by the gospel and able to receive the presence of the Holy Spirit.

An interesting direction which this sermon is further taken is how many churchgoers are willing to embrace parts of our culture instead of abiding in the presence of the Spirit.  Although he speaks to a culture in the first half of the twentieth century, Tozer's words seem to be prophetically applicable to the state of our world in the very early years of the twenty-first century.  Our culture is willing to recognize 'good men/women' and even give a tip of the hat to various 'spiritualities,' so long as they are not overly specific or demanding.  This means, of course, that genuine Christianity will not be tolerated by our modern culture (especially the so-called-political-correctness of so-called-tolerance).

When churches incorporate such cultural shifts, typically in a quest to be appealing or desirable or non-offensive or hip, then the Spirit cannot accomplish its work of renewal and divine restoration of creation will not occur in such situations.  As I have said before, the one power in all creation that can stop the Spirit of God is the human heart.  Tozer's equation of this phenomenon - laid out ahead of its occurring - was that the loss of the fundamental Christian experience of the Spirit would result in liberalism, which will result in unitarianism.  In other words, without the presence of the Spirit the church will succumb to the progressive ideas of culture, and there will be no distinguishing mark of the people of God.

All of this from ravens and doves?  It appears so, not because Tozer was a preacher noted for his kitschy creativity and well-marketed sermons.  He went to the Mars Hill of our culture with the voice of a prophet, and saw God's story in the whole of Scripture, with a faith that was not interested in conforming to that which was socially acceptable in his day.  On that, we can learn that it is not our ability to be accepted, stylish, trend-setting, popular, or the like.  Our trending toward culture is allowing the ravens to pick away at the corpses that have fallen under God's judgment.  All the while we could be filled with the Spirit of Almighty God.

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