A quiet presence

Let’s reflect on the Spirit. As Jesus told Nicodemus, the Spirit is life—he awakens souls to God. He also offers the Son’s love, joy, peace and more—all that Jesus offered in person to his followers centuries ago. So, when Jesus returned to the Father after his time on earth he left the Spirit to share this companionship with his children. And this communing life with God is what Adam abandoned in Eden—after grieving the Spirit in the fall. The Son’s mission was to defeat death and to gather his people. And he does this by restoring the Spirit to human hearts.

Yet the Holy Spirit’s place in believers is often missed. Many ministers speak of him as an enabling power who, battery-like, energizes souls to more active obedience. Another tradition gives him a dramatic presence, yet still reduces him to be more of a divine stimulant than a caring, sharing companion. Both options are cul-de-sacs.

If we view him in the context of Adam’s fall, the one who understands and fears the Holy Spirit most is the unholy spirit. This is the spirit who usurped the Holy Spirit’s place in Eden with the lie that Adam could be “like god.” Paul later described him in as “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). If we grasp Augustine’s privative view of sin—identifying evil as inverted goodness—this spirit gave souls over to angry individualism in place of the Holy Spirit’s communion. Shame replaced relational security, and self-centered autonomy turned all of us away from the Son’s ways and words of love. The unholy spirit—jealous of God yet unable to create ex nihilo—only mimics the Holy Spirit by twisting his positives into perverse opposites.

So, we need to see the Spirit in his Triune context. Jesus shared this in John 15:26—“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” The Spirit’s aim, then, is to present Jesus. And the Son’s ambition is to present the Father. “All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he [the Spirit] will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:15). So that everything in creation flows out of the Father’s purposes, is presented by Jesus in human terms, and is brought into souls by the Spirit.

This gives believers a sound spiritual focus. In faith believers look to Jesus, who offers us the Father, which is all accomplished by the quietly effective Spirit. The latter, in other words, doesn’t draw attention to himself. Nor should we. But, with that, we make a huge mistake if we understate or ignore what he does in making faith work.

Let’s turn to Paul’s description of our spiritual plumbing in 1 Corinthians chapter two. Here the apostle explains God’s inner workings by using a human analogy. “For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (vs.10-11). If we assume, properly, that God’s inner workings shape our own—we are made like him, and not the other way round—the Spirit’s role of exploring the Father’s inner thoughts is a key description of his work. And he shares this access to the Father in a Spirit-to-spirit bond with those who “love him” (v.9).

If we tie this view of the Spirit together with him as the one who “breathes out” God’s truths in the writing of the Scriptures, we start to see how our communication with God works. He means to share God with us: offering both the Father and the Son. And we abide in what he shares—invited to listen with attentive care, both individually and as faith communities.

Another upside-down reality in the Spirit’s selfless focus on the Son is that he is not like “the devil [who] prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Instead, we can expect a still, small voice. A life-giving, gentle presence, rather than an overbearing force. He knocks, rather than pounds, on the door of our hearts.

For all of us, then, who want to have God speak to us, we will do well to find a quiet place—or a small community—to take our Bibles, begin to read, and then listen. We can be sure the Spirit will start to tell us about the Son, and the Son will invite us to know the Father’s love more than ever before. That’s who he is and what he does. And we get to taste his goodness.

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