John's Gospel

The Way It Happened

John 3:8, Born of the Spirit

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Being “born again” is not a Christian invention. Many of the mystery religions incorporated a rebirthing ritual. The initiate’s intention was to become one with his god, to share in the experiences and emotions of that god. When this level was attained, the initiate was said to be twice-born.

In the Bible, the Spirit is associated with creation. See Genesis 1:2, the wind/spirit/breath-of-God blows across the deep. Thus the wind provides an excellent picture of the breath of God, the Spirit, roaming the earth. Breath is merely wind inside us. To be “born of the Spirit” means to be created anew, embracing the meaning of life intended by God. It is God breathing new life into a person. In both Hebrew and Greek, there is only one word for “wind” and “spirit.” It is not capitalized, and the tendency of the churches of today to conceptualize and personify this spirit loses much of the meaning. It is wind all around and inside us, cosmic breath, the invisible spectral, life-force. God is spirit, as John 3:24 flails to explain. Indeed, a central theme of John’s Gospel is to explain the Spirit, a real presence felt within his community.

Try to picture the moment Jesus arose from the Jordan waters and felt the Spirit descend upon him. Have you had such moments? For many, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, impossible to forget. The moment arrives in transcendental form, and we feel bathed in a foreign substance.

In such moments, it’s common to be overwhelmed by an indescribable feeling of joy, peace, and love. Many have written about their own brush with the divine, though not always in Christian terms like “born again” or “washed by the Spirit.” Here are a few quotes from others, taken from Marcus J. Borg’s wonderful book, “The God We Never Knew”:

“Immediately I found the world bathed in a wonderful radiance with waves of beauty and joy swelling on every side, and no person or thing in the world seemed to me trivial or unpleasing” –Hindu poet Rabindranath Tagore.

“I praised God with my whole heart … Everything looked new to me, the people, the fields, the cattle, the trees.” –English evangelist Billy Bray.

“For a few seconds only, I suppose, the whole compartment was filled with light … All men were shining and glorious beings … In a few moments the glory departed—all but one curious, lingering feeling. I loved everybody in that compartment. It sounds silly now, and indeed I blush to write it, but at that moment, I think I would have died for any one of the people in that compartment.” –British theologian Leslie Weatherhead, as he rode a train from London.

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