“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.)
I did a bit of checking recently and came across a survey done in 2009 by the Barna Group (a research and resource group focused on the intersection of faith and culture). It was a wide-ranging and nationwide survey, admittedly across the USA, but one of the points of the study was most enlightening. They asked people to agree or disagree with was this statement: “The Holy Spirit is a symbol of God, but not a living entity.” 49% of Christians that responded agreed with this statement. They believed that the Holy Spirit is just a symbol of God’s power and authority.
Let’s see what Jesus has to say about the Holy Spirit as I think He is a pretty good place to start when you have any questions: And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever. – John 14:16 (NIV)
The above verse comes from the New International Version of the Bible, I checked other translations and got six different words used in place of ‘advocate’. I think the Amplified Translation helps sum up all the different words used: And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter (Counsellor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener, and Standby), that He may remain with you forever. – John 14:16 (Amplified)
Counsellor, helper, intercessor and advocate all suggest someone with whom you can have a personal relationship. A friend once gave me a definition of counsellor: “A counsellor is someone whom I confide in, whom I tell everything. In fact, a counsellor is someone I have to ‘let in’ if he’s going to help me. He is someone that I share my most deep secrets with.”
The word used above: ‘advocate’, simply means ‘someone who speaks for you.’ However to speak for you with honesty and integrity they need to know you, really know you, know how you would respond, how you would act, how you would think. An advocate would know you inside-out!
Jesus is clearly talking about the Holy Spirit in this verse, and He is referring to Him in all these different ways (English clearly isn’t up to translating the original language well enough, and that’s why we have so many different words in these various versions). It doesn’t read like Jesus is referring to an ‘it’ or an ‘oblong grey blur’, it reads like a person; someone who is so intimately involved with you that you can share everything about you with Him.
Jesus also uses the word ‘another’ in this verse which is used in two ways in the New Testament: ‘Another thing of a different kind’; ‘Another of the same kind’. In this instance, Jesus is saying the Holy Spirit is another of the same kind of counsellor.
The Holy Spirit then is just like Jesus, one who is called alongside to help.