Thoughts and words about the Holy Spirit can go in many different directions. One can try to present their view by way of many different paths, and from many different angles – and I believe many of these paths/angles would be biblical…
To try and promote unity and clarity, I’d like to address a few ideas about spirit/spirituality/the holy spirit/etc., that I think need sharpening… Along the way, I hope the ‘personality’ of the Spirit will become more obvious…
Dualism must die…
Greek philosophers of old, looked at the world and decided that reality was split in two – the ‘unseen’, ‘spiritual’ realm; and the ‘seen’, ‘physical’ realm. The ‘unseen’ realm was perfect, pure and un-changing. The ‘seen’ realm was corrupt, faulty and change-able. The relationship between the spirit and matter, then was – no surprise – a strained one.
The Jewish perspective saw reality differently. God was in ‘heaven’; Humans were on ‘earth’; yet God could still ‘dwell with’ His people and His creation. It wasn’t just that spirit could mix with physical, but more that the two ‘realms’ were always mixing. It wasn’t so much a question of if they mixed, but more how they mixed. In other words, the real question was which spirit was mixing in a given physical place/person?
In the Greek view, you assume a huge gap between the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘physical’. So, you have to do all kinds of things (the right prayers, sacrifices, rituals) to make it ‘just right’ – right enough for the spirit to mix with the physical. That’s a general picture, but it gives you the idea.
In the Jewish view, the two realms relate easily. In the Scriptures, there are many ‘spirits’ mentioned – some on the ‘good’ side (i.e. a ‘spirit of wisdom’, etc.), some on the ‘evil’ side (i.e. a ‘spirit of jealousy’, etc.). The entire world is ‘bubbling’ with spiritual potential.
The word ‘supernatural’ isn’t very helpful at times…
You may not have thought of it this way before, but our understanding of the word ‘supernatural’ is, of course, only as good as our understanding of the word ‘natural.’ It seems odd – to me, at least – to say that God is the one who establishes the ‘laws of nature’ and then breaks them from time to time (and that is precisely how the ‘supernatural’ is defined).
We need to see the world differently, I think. The Scriptures don’t give us a ‘laws of nature’ which God must violate in order to do something ‘supernatural’. Instead, they give us a picture of a God who – as the powerful creator of all things – acts within His creation. It’s not a question of when He is acting, but rather when He is not acting.
In this light, we need not call miracles ‘supernatural’, so to speak. Rather than see them as ‘supernatural’ events that ‘happen‘, I think we should see them as powerful actions of the God who is Lord of Heaven and Earth. Remember, the Scriptures insist that God is always active within His good creation (yes, even after the tragic ‘fall’ in Genesis 3), and sometimes… just sometimes… He is active in miraculous and powerful ways that surprise and shock us.
Me, Myself and… Everyone else
Literally everything in our Western, affluent culture suggests that life is all about you getting what you want/’need’. It’s ALL about the individual. I observe and sense much of the same trends in our all-too-individualistic perspective on spirituality. Much is said about ‘me’ having a great experience; ‘my’ spiritual gift; ‘my’ church; ‘my’ testimony; ‘my’ prayer life; etc. I love this quote:
It’s true. It’s not about you. More specifically, it is about others. In the Scriptures and in my own (dare I use the word) experience, the Spirit moves powerfully in community; not in isolation from others. One of my favourite examples of this is when the Apostles got together to discuss ‘what to do about those gosh darn Gentiles’ in Acts 15 (it’s often called ‘the Jerusalem Council’). They get together; talk things over seriously; share perspectives – and emerge with a unified decision, saying ‘It seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit…’
When was the last time you heard any pastor/preacher/speaker talk like that? I wish we would hear much more of it. If the Apostles (who wrote the majority of the New Testament) were helped in their spiritual discernment processes by getting together and discussing things, then surely we will be!
But the point, of course, is not comparing us to the Apostles, but realising that the same Holy Spirit that guided them is the same Holy Spirit that will guide us – and I am suggesting that He (the Holy Spirit) can do so better in community than He can do in isolation. Am I limiting Him to meetings? Of course not! God is certainly personal and is able to do reveal Himself to us individually. But I insist that we all need to surround ourselves with other people to help us discern and decide; people who (with the Apostle Paul) can say, ‘…and I, too, think I have the Holy Spirit…’
Towards a better spiritual ethic…
I think unity and clarity will come when we are able to focus on the main and plain things of the Spirit. We must remember that the Holy Spirit is God. He is not an ‘it’. He is not an impersonal ‘force’. He is not a drug on which to get ‘high’ on. He is the Spirit of Jesus. He is the Spirit of God. His first and foremost task is to remake (and continue remaking) us into the likeness (character) of Jesus. All of us. Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength.
Call me crazy, un-biblical, un-spiritual or a stick in the mud, but I think this kind of spirituality has very little to do with what happens during a church service or in a prayer closet, and has almost everything to do with what happens outside those places. It may ruffle your Christian feathers, but I think God is more excited with lives of mercy and justice than moments of celebration…
Let’s see all of our lives, all of our priorities, all of our choices, all of our time, all of our money, all of our relationships, all of our possessions, all of our everything – as spiritual. May we see the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, self-control…) in all these areas and more.