We are being influenced every day by authoritative voices telling us how to think, and what to think — about education, about tolerance of minorities, about justice, about the environment, about religion, about science, about most everything we do or want to do. Some years ago we spoke of political correctness, often with derision. A better word to describe this phenomenon is zeitgeist.
Zeitgeist is a word adopted into the English language from German. The literal meaning is “the spirit of the times,” and it denotes the prevailing pattern of thought or feeling during a particular period of time. It feels like we are in a time of a particularly rigid zeitgeist where there is little tolerance for those who dissent from the prevailing beliefs of our society. Do you feel boxed in?
Those of us who are older have seen a dramatic shift of the zeitgeist in our lifetime. Ideas about what is right and wrong seem to have been turned upside down. Were the old days better than these? Was the old box more comfortable than the one we find ourselves in today?
“Do not conform yourself to the present age, but be transformed by the renewal of you understanding, so that you may discern what is the will of God, that which is good, acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2, my translation from the Louis Segond French Bible).
“The present age” is just another term for zeitgeist. The apostle Paul is telling us not to let ourselves be boxed in by the prevailing attitudes, but that we should allow God to renew our understanding so that we can think outside the box.
This is freedom, even though those who are fully in the zeitgeist box will try to tell us it is bondage. There are even some Christians who have built a comfortable little box for themselves and are afraid to step outside into the full light of the gospel. The gospel demands obedience to the Word and to the Holy Spirit and it is a hard life when one has one foot in the zeitgeist box and the other in the kingdom of God.
The renewing of the mind will set us free from fear, anger, hatred, envy, jealousy and pride and offers us a fellowship with others who are likewise renewed in their heart and mind. This kind of freedom and fellowship is only found on a narrow pathway, but it is genuine freedom and fellowship. If we stray from this narrow way, we find ourselves once again ensnared by the zeitgeist. The love, joy and peace of the narrow way will slowly be squeezed out of us and replaced by suspicion, anger and a desire to find someone else to blame for our problems.