The Holy Spirit, Pentecost, and a New Heaven and Earth

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God has big plans for the environment – and they include us. On the Jewish feast of Pentecost Christians believe that God’s Spirit came down upon Jesus’ followers to empower them to bring to fruition God’s ecological intervention. What does God have in mind and what does the Holy Spirit have to do with it?

On that Pentecost feast long ago the disciples experienced the coming of the Spirit as a strong wind and tongues of flame. This past Pentecost morning last Sunday I awoke to a strong wind that shook the house where I was visiting. When I looked out at the field behind the house, the wind was doing something amazing. Shapes like large lumps, grass critters, dashed across the field propelled by the wind. While I somewhat expected to see waves of blowing grass, I was not prepared to spy a herd galloping by. The wind organized things differently so that somehow something new emerged.

Pope Francis in his talk on Pentecost three years ago encouraged his listeners to remember three words referring to the Holy Spirit: newness, harmony, and mission. In my mind the first two words tend to go together when we think of the Spirit and creation.

As I learned a couple days ago, God’s Wind indeed does new, unexpected things. The Hebrew prophets foretold a new heaven and a new earth, where peace would reign between all creatures and all would be made whole. When Paul talked about Pentecost he quoted the prophet Joel who said centuries earlier that at some time in the future God would pour out his spirit on “all flesh,” not just on humans, bringing about a new relationship between God and creation.* This means that God’s spirit now dwells in all things or, perhaps better put, all things now dwell in God. This Spirit now works from within to bring all things together in harmony, making everything new.

This doesn’t mean that what we see now will be replaced by something totally different. After returning from a vacation and I say that I’m a new man, I don’t mean that Robin’s been replaced by someone else. Rather, I mean that I’ve been restored or transformed. I’m still me, but a qualitatively “better off” me. When Jesus and the prophets talked about coming to make all things new, this is what they meant. Jesus’ appearances to his disciples after he returned from the dead give us a hint as to what the new world might look like.

The Holy Spirit is on a mission to radically change creation, including us. Impelled by the wind those grass creatures all ran in the same direction. They, too, were on a mission that only the wind knew. The last stage of God’s ecological intervention, then, consists of empowering creation from within to move toward a transformed heaven and the new earth that no longer experiences violence and suffering. Lions will lie down with lambs, and children will play with asps. The world will reveal truth, beauty and goodness.

We play a part in this. We need to learn to bend, to move with the Holy Spirit. This implies learning to let go of our own agendas and opening ourselves to something far bigger. As Pope Francis put it, we can prepare ourselves by putting up the sails on our boats so that the Spirit can blow us where she will. Where we’ll end up we don’t know, but it will be an adventure getting there.

*One could argue that God poured out the Holy Spirit only on animals, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Certificate in Contemplation and Creation Care
Center for Religion and Environment at Sewanee: The University of the South

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Author: Robert "Robin" Gottfried

Director, Center for Religion and Environment at Sewanee: The University of the South, and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Sewanee. Contemplative Christian, musician, blogger for the Huffington Post on religion and environment, and hiker living on the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee.

2 thoughts on “The Holy Spirit, Pentecost, and a New Heaven and Earth”

  1. Wonderful! We tend to think of those passages, both Joel and Acts, as applying to other people in the past or future, but not us, and we seldom recognize the IN-SPIRATION as applying beyond the sphere of humans. But this is why on Pentecost we read at least a section of Psalm 104, which elaborates on all different parts of creation, from mountains and rivers to marmots and whales, and then has the wonderful verse “You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; you renew the face of the Earth.”

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    1. Thanks. It’s interesting to look at various translations of Paul’s quote from Joel. A lot translate “flesh” as “everyone,” “people,” “humans.” The more scholarly translations like the NRSV, however, translate the word as “flesh.” It shows how we bring our biases and worldviews into the translating process. It makes a huge difference once we realize that the Spirit falls on all things and that God dwells in everything.

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