I am currently commenting on the articles of the Apostle’s Creed. This is for my benefit as much as anything. These remarks are organized only because they are following the outline of the creed. So while they are not systematic, I hope they are not rambling either! I’m giving myself a refresher course and you’re invited to come along. And as you do I trust these few words may contribute something to your understanding of what it is to have faith in the God of Jesus.
For centuries all kinds of efforts have been made to intellectually storm the castle of the Holy Spirit. What happens? We run up against the limits of logic, fall into the dreams and speculations of Gnosticism or throw up our hands in derision and mockery. But to confess faith in the Holy Spirit, as the Bible bears witness, does not bring us into the vague realm of the ‘spiritual’ but to the mystery of the revealed trinitarian God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To put a finer point on it, to confess the trinitarian God is to confess that this God is for me and with me. This would seem indulgent and prideful were not for the fact that Holy Scriptures really allow us no other principle of understanding.
Christians speak of the gift of the Holy Spirit. We believe the Spirit is given in baptism. The Holy Spirit is not God in a different appearance, a different aspect of God, an alternate mode of appearing. What we are really saying is that the indivisible God is within us, is given to us.
Two points here are worth exploring. First, since the Holy Spirit is within us it is difficult to distinguish the presence of the Spirit from ourselves. I still experience myself as the principal subject. From here it is an easy step to interpret my thoughts, words and actions as those of the Holy Spirit. It is what lead Martin Luther to say of the radical reformers of the 16th century, “They have swallowed the Holy Spirit feathers and all!” The radicals believed that the Spirit was in them but they could not experience God as Someone apart from them.
This brings me to my second point. Does God want us to experience Him or encounter Him? It may seem like an odd question but bear with me. The experience of the inner life and its’ emotions may be interpreted wildly and often are. If I equate the Holy Spirit with these feelings, emotions, etc. I collapse God utterly into myself and anything goes.
But when I encounter the Spirit through Christ I am drawn outward to the Word and the sacraments and to the neighbor as events, promises of God outside myself that I may rely upon and live for. Then the presence of the Spirit, which the Word and the sacraments guarantee and bring on God’s terms, become indistinguishable from faith’s power. And that power, which is really just another way saying God’s power, turns us back into life so that we encounter the ordinary business of living for its’ own sake and not as the occasion for experiencing the God who, for now, is hidden from us.
“May the peace of Christ that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Tomorrow: “The holy catholic (christian) church, The communion of saints…”