Yesterday, I began to gather together the strands of this series and weave some conclusions about what transforms us. I suggested that:
• Transformation begins when something interrupts our ordinary experience.
• Transformation comes through pain.
• Transformation comes through children.
Today I want to add to further reflections on what changes us.
Transformation is a result of seeing with a fresh perspective.
As I explained earlier in this series, seven years before he wrote A Christmas Carol, Dickens wrote a short story about a grouchy man who is changed through his interaction with goblins on Christmas Eve. Part of what altered Gabriel Grub was the beating he took from the goblins. They literally knocked some sense into him. Scrooge, on the contrary, experiences no physical pummeling from the Spirits who visit him. They work their wonders simply by showing Scrooge scenes of Christmas past, present, and future. This enables Scrooge to see life from a fresh perspective, and as a result, he resolves to become a changed man.
Part of what Scrooge saw wasn’t new. In fact, some of it was his own past. Yet he was seeing from the perspective of an outsider, and this altered his vision. Part of what Scrooge saw was new to him. For example, prior to his travels with the Ghost of Christmas Present he had never observed the Cratchit family’s Christmas celebrations, so joyful even though so humble.
It seems clear that Dickens believed in the transforming power of fresh perspective. He wrote A Christmas Carol not only because he needed additional income, but also and especially because he wanted people to experience the joy of Christmas, and especially the joy that comes from generosity, both in giving and in receiving. Dickens hoped that his little book would function in the lives of his readers much as the Spirits functioned in the life of Ebenezer Scrooge. There is ample evidence that his hopes have been fulfilled thousands if not millions of times over since 1843.
I’ve also witnessed the power of a fresh perspective to change lives. For example, during my tenure as pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, several hundred members went to a small community in northern Mexico called El Niño in order to assist the poor who live there. When they returned, they often saw life differently and acted differently too. They saw in a new way, for example, how richly blessed they were financially. Many resolved to live more simply and to give away more than they had before in order to help the poor.
Transformation requires supernatural help.
There’s no question that Ebenezer Scrooge needed supernatural assistance in order to change his ways. Apart from Jacob Marley’s intervention, Scrooge would have continued to forge for himself a hellishly-long chain which he’d be forced to drag about for eternity. Yet because the Spirit of his former partner interrupted Scrooge and sent the three Christmas Spirits, Scrooge’s life was renewed.
I’m not enough of an expert on Dickens to know whether he would agree with the claim that transformation requires supernatural help. Though he was a theist of sorts, Dickens didn’t share many of my Christian convictions. He may have believed that literature, unaided by spirits of any kind, was powerful enough to effect change in the Ebenezer Scrooges of this world. Nevertheless, I believe that profound, lasting human transformation does indeed require supernatural assistance, namely that of the Holy Spirit.
The good news for those of us who are in need of transformation, and to some extent that means all of us, is that God’s Spirit is in the renewal and reformation business. According to the New Testament, the Holy Spirit “gives life,” offers “renewal,” and leads us into “new life” (2 Cor 3:6; Titus 3:5; Rom 7:6). The Spirit draws us to confess Jesus as Lord (1 Cor 12:3) and then empowers us to live in a whole new way (Rom 8). The Spirit of God also helps us see with fresh perspective, opening our minds and touching our hearts. And, unlike the Spirits in A Christmas Carol, this Spirit doesn’t disappear when Christmas is over. Though I’m quite sure it wasn’t Dickens’ intended purpose, my reading of A Christmas Carol produces in me an enhanced desire and a more fervent resolve to live this life less by my own strength and more by the power of God’s Spirit. In this way, my own “Scroogishness” might be transformed, by God’s grace.