By Shannon Vowell
Many of us picture God the Father based on artistic representation or a beloved earthly father. Our ideas about Jesus can take their cues from Scripture’s description of him. But how do we understand/visualize God the Holy Spirit? Since Pentecost, God has been present to believers – abiding in us, encouraging us, empowering us, directing us. We are temples of the Holy Spirit. Astonishing.
As a new believer, getting to know the basics of the Father and Jesus was mostly a matter of time in Scripture. Learning the truth of the character of the One God as expressed in those two Persons – that was a joyful adventure of discovery for this book-nerd.
But the Holy Spirit? It seemed to me there was no coming to grips with a Person of the Godhead who wasn’t, well, a person.
It didn’t help that my first Bible was an older translation, in which “Holy Spirit” appeared as “Holy Ghost.” A bad habit of horror-movie-watching when I was a teenager predisposed me to cover my eyes at the mention of anything “ghostly.” Honestly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to get better acquainted with this aspect of God.
Beyond my ghoulish, “things that go bump in the night” phobia about ghosts, I struggled with the concept of “spirit.” I discovered that the Greek word for “spirit” was the same as the word for “breath” – pneuma, from which we get our English “pneumonia.” My sister had almost died of pneumonia when we were young. Why would I want to get to know God in the guise of collapsed lungs?
Bottom line, the Holy Spirit seemed to me both nebulously scary and completely confusing.
At such places of fear and confusion, I find that gravity helps me a lot. How so? Because I don’t “get” gravity, either. I don’t understand the principles by which I stay fixed to the surface of a planet that is whirling through space. I don’t understand why rockets have to “break free” from the atmosphere, nor why astronauts weigh less on the moon. The whole thing mystifies me – and totally freaks me out if I think about it too much.
Gravity goes on holding me to earth, though. My comprehension has no bearing whatsoever on its efficacy; me freaking out matters not a whit. Like gravity, God keeps working perfectly without my comprehension (or my permission).
Even better, neither God nor gravity relies on me. For anything. But both God and gravity can be relied on, by me, even in the absence of my “getting” them. What a relief!
In fact, in the un-gettable-ness of God, I have an ongoing reminder of my true identity: God’s child, not “god” myself. I am not responsible for the Universe. I cannot “save” anyone – not even myself – but that’s not my job. When I put my trust in the goodness of the God I cannot comprehend, that place of surrender becomes my custom-fit haven. Rather like this planet, onto which gravity holds me so faithfully, is my custom-fit home.
The liberating truth is that I am not going to fly off into outer space, because I am held safely by the One who made me, and gravity, and outer space, and everything! “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16).
If gravity has the power to hold us secure on terra firma, the Holy Spirit has the power to lift us to heavenly heights at the same time. Gravity exerts “natural” power; the Holy Spirit is supernatural power. Gravity keeps us physically anchored in the present moment; the Holy Spirit gives us glimpses of eternity and empowers us to live “now” with the “not yet” resident in our very beings.
We see this power especially clearly when the Holy Spirit catalyzes transformation in disciples of Jesus at Pentecost. The second chapter of Acts contains so much that is startling that it’s easy to miss the central miracle: Peter, the cowardly Christ-denier, preaching the gospel to a crowd of thousands in the very city where his Lord had been condemned! The Holy Spirit falling on him had not just loosened his tongue to miraculously speak in other languages – the Holy Spirit had redefined his identity: terrified fisherman to fearless apologist.
The apostle Paul’s transformation – from malevolent persecutor of Christians to church-planting / New Testament martyr for the faith – follows soon thereafter (in Acts 9).
These two men’s experiences exemplify the action of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers: unmistakable change, undeniable urgency, inexplicable effectiveness – supernaturally.
Those who claim that such miracles of transformation are no longer part of Christian experience are missing out on God’s gifts. Lives are still changed, in ways just as radical as Peter’s and Paul’s! Here are a few examples from my own acquaintanceship: my friend Bob, who went from sleeping off Saturday nights every Sunday morning to leading ministries at his church; my friend Lisa, whose legendary sharp tongue and bitter mindset were replaced by sparkle-eyed kindness and evangelical energy; my friend Don, whose decades of alcoholism almost killed him but who walks now in a sobriety so joyful and Jesus-focused that he inspires other long-time drunks to give God a try. These are real people, living in real freedom, thanks to the reality of the Holy Spirit!
Paul encourages disciples not to be “conformed” to the pattern of the world, but rather to be “transformed” by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). Only the Holy Spirit can enable us (as Paul was enabled) to believe that such transformation is possible. And only the Holy Spirit can enable us (as Peter, Paul, and countless others have been enabled) to live into that amazing paradigm of supernatural change.
Sharon Vowell, a frequent contributor to Good News, blogs at shannonvowell.com. This is the third of three installments on the Trinity from her new workbook entitled Beginning … Again: Discovering and Delighting in God’s Plan for Your Future, available on Amazon. Image: Mosaic of Pentecost. Photo taken by Holger Schué, Pixabay.