In the Christian sub-culture I come from we never really talked much about the Holy Spirit. As someone once said, our Trinity involved the Father, Son and the Holy Scriptures. Sure, we read about the Spirit in the Bible, but the sense I picked up was that the Holy Spirit was like a volcano that had largely gone dormant, except for an intermittent trail of smoke to serve as a reminder of another time. Fire and brimstone may have flowed freely during the early years of the church, but most of that lava had long since cooled, I was assured. Things were stable now.
Over time I met other believers who seemed to talk about the Spirit all the time. These Christians prayed for anointing, they spoke in tongues, they told of prophecies and healings and other wonders unheard of in my childhood world. Basically, they freaked me out. While their sense of expectancy jarred my assumptions about the Spirit’s dormancy, I sometimes got the sense that they had somehow found a magic lamp that could produce a miraculous genie when rubbed in a certain manner.
I’ve now pendulum-swung in my relationship with God enough that I’m familiar with—and also uneasy with—both sides of this contrast. And in both of them I see a common, often unacknowledged struggle: we don’t know what to make of a God who promises to be incarnate among us. Each Christmas we sing about Immanuel God-with-us but we’re not quite sure what to make of it when God actually shows up.
The disciples had the opposite problem. They were scared to death that their Immanuel would leave them. Whenever He would hint of his return to the Father a deep panic would rise up within them. How could He could leave them. That’s when Jesus began to get very specific about the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Without bothering to get into the Trinitarian complexities of it all He simply assured them that He would be with them always, to the very end of the age. He would come in the person of the Paraclete: the come-alongside-to-help-and-guide-you person in the Trinity. (You’ll notice that most New Testaments translations struggle to translate that word, and with good reason.)
So…here we are, with Jesus Christ alive and well and still bringing his changes in our world. Still bothering all the right people and soothing all the wrong ones, just as he did back then. He’s still here, through His Spirit.
I wonder how He reacts to some of the troubles we have with His Spirit? Does he grieve when we pronounce Him dormant, no longer needed for spiritual warfare today like He was in the New Testament? Does He bristle when we start creating instruction manuals spelling out techniques for getting Him to do certain tricks and wonders? (“Rub the lamp with this kind of motion and then genie will come out—just watch!”)
All this makes me more and more grateful for the scriptures. I can turn to the scriptures to find out who the Spirit is, what He has done, and from there I can get some important guidance for what He may be up to. With the scriptures I can test the spirits, finding out which voices speak with the dialect of Christ. Unpredictable? Yes. Unfamiliar? No.
I’m so glad the Holy Spirit isn’t a new development—a recent upgrade available only for those who register. He’s guiding, if we’re willing to keep in step.