“God the Father makes perfectly good sense to me, and God the Son I can quite understand, but the Holy Spirit is a grey, oblong blur!” (Quote, source unknown.)
At Freedom Church (the local church I lead) we spent a year talking about activating the gifts of the Spirit and living lives where the Fruit of the Spirit is there for all to see. We heard some beautiful messages over that year, but just over halfway through God sprang the thought on me that, even as Charismatic believers, did we have any real notion as to who or what the Holy Spirit is?
One thing I love doing is being able to remind myself why I believe what I believe and in doing that I try not to let my faith become too complicated. I’m a pragmatic individual, and if I spend too much time in the upper atmosphere of conceptual thinking I get quite breathless and start to lose consciousness! I can only have a short period in this kind of air, and then I quickly want to come back down to earth and start the ‘doing’ as well as the thinking (I wonder if anyone else like this? Maybe you could let me know!).
I’m of the opinion that when we start to think about the Holy Spirit, we can quickly get all, conceptual, ethereal, and mystical even! But the reality of the Holy Spirit is that He likes to do things not just think about things.
Now please reread the quote at the top of this article (go ahead, I’ll be right here when you get back). I’m of the opinion that a vast majority of Christians probably have little trouble relating to the Father and the Son because of the personal images involved and the reality of the risen Jesus. Even though we know that God is also Spirit we can have some issue with trying to associate the Spirit with personhood; that is He is a person of the Godhead just as much as the Father and the Son.
“For God is Spirit, so those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” – John 4:24
I heard a preacher once share on the ‘Peace of God’. He said that we can sometimes fall into the mental trap of giving God layers of authority within Himself – so for example: God the Father is at the top, Jesus is in the middle and the Holy Spirit lurks around at the bottom somewhere. I’m not sure there is any real truth in this!
There’s a story where a Sunday school teacher was trying to teach the children about the Holy Spirit, and she tried showing the reality of the Spirit by blowing on a piece of paper and letting it fly away. She said to the children that the Spirit is like the wind; very real in its effects, but invisible. At which point a 6-year-old blurted out, “I want the wind to be un-visible!” Often I think we also want Holy Spirit to be ‘un-visible’, but because He is not and we see His effects but have no personal images, we tend to let our minds think of Him in non-personal terms and even refer to Him as ‘It’. Here are some words that are used to describe the Holy Spirit in the Bible: Dove, wind, fire, water, oil. All good stuff, all very Biblical, but I make no wonder why sometimes He is thought of as a ‘grey, oblong blur!’
I encourage you to read: ‘Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God’ by Gordon Fee (Fee, G. D. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic). In it Fee paraphrases the creed like this, “We believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and we believe in Jesus Christ His Son, but we’re not so sure about the Holy Spirit!”
Our understanding of God comes through His Son. He has been fleshed out, as it were, at a point in our human history. Even if God the Father may seem distant or transcendental to some, we are not in the dark about His character as we see this through Christ.
“So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord, who is the Spirit, makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” – 2 Corinthians 3:18
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 4:4-6
Reading the above verses, I think they help us recognise that the Holy Spirit is not merely conceptual, but real and experiential. The Holy Spirit is also called in Scripture the Spirit of Jesus. Christ has also put a human face on the Spirit as well as the Father.