Holy Spirit

How is God present to us today? In New Testament times, the answer was pretty easy: God is present to us in Jesus of Nazareth. If you wanted to be near to God, you simply needed to find this Jesus character and follow him around. Things, of course, are somewhat different now. Jesus is no longer present in the way he was in the Gospels. Indeed, God can often seem completely absent from the world. It is much harder to say with certainty ‘God is here’ or ‘God is there’ than it was when Jesus was wandering around Galilee and eating meals and being born in mangers.

Perhaps anticipating this problem, the Holy Spirit was sent to be with us in Jesus’ place (John 16:7). So nowadays, when Christians talk about how we know God, how we experience him, the practical and concrete ways he is involved in the world from day to day, we are talking first and foremost about the Holy Spirit. For example, if we say that God makes himself known to us through scripture, we talk about it being inspired by the Spirit. That is, God is present through the Bible insofar as the Spirit speaks to us through it. The same sort of thing has often been said of the sacraments and, one way or another, the church. It is also true of the personal immediacy and guidance associated with Pentecostal and charismatic experience and conversion experiences. The theological term for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is ‘pneumatology.’ As these examples indicate, some of the biggest historical disagreements between Christians have been about pneumatology — about how and when the Spirit works, and through what means.

The Spirit, then, is very important! It is where God the idea becomes God the reality in our lives. For our purposes, a few further themes associated with the Spirit are of particular interest:

  1. The Spirit creates freedom. ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom’ (2 Cor. 3:17).
  2. The Spirit gives life, particularly to the dead (Gen. 2:7; Ez. 37:3-6; Rom. 8:11).
  3. The Spirit is present in the experience of judgment upon sin, as well as in suffering and being led into the wilderness (John 16:8; Rom. 8:22-23; Luke 4:1-2).
  4. The Spirit is the source of creativity (Gen. 1:2-3; Ps. 104:30).