Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Thinking Spiritually

Some idle wondering over the last couple of days...

I always thought that the old saying If you understand the trinity it means you don’t understand the trinity a pretty good starting point. It is enough for me to say that I believe in God who is one God and three persons without being able to begin to understand all that means. But belief in the Trinity is not a meaningless mystery. It has all sorts of implications about how we think about, and more importantly, relate to God. It is, I think, central to understanding the statement God is Love as the apostle John puts it in his letter. Smarter people than me have written very eloquently about how the relational nature of God (i.e. God being three persons in perfect love) is necessary in order for God to be Love.

So, for orthodox Christians (small ‘o’) trinitarian thinking is nothing new. The Bible never uses the word ‘trinity’ but speaks of the different persons of the Godhead in various ways that are summed up by this word. It occurred to me that I have a very poor theology of the Holy Spirit.

What I mean is, that we understand God the father as a concept. We relate to Jesus, the son as the God-man who became one of us but the spirit I think is an afterthought in our theology. I have written elsewhere that I am only interested in what could be termed practical theology. Knowledge and understanding of God that affects us and changes our lives is the only kind worth bothering with. This is one of those situations, in my view, that our (of my) poor theology has important implications. The reason for my obsession with practical theology is that the Christian life is to be lived. It is in discipleship, in the following of our master that we find hope and security and reach out to our dying world in His name. The startling realisation for me was when I was reminded that Jesus only carried out his ministry in the power of the spirit. How much more then do we need God’s spirit?

The writer to the Hebrews describes Jesus as the author and perfector of our faith (some translations may vary). This is a verse I love, for Jesus lived the Christian Life – he showed us how to be followers of Him. Jesus said he only does what he sees his father doing and we are called to do the same. I mention this because the mystery of the incarnation has some interesting points in the gospel accounts. We are told that Jesus is and remains fully God but from the gospel accounts we learn something of the limitations on the second person of the trinity in being incarnate and fully human. I do not, for example think that Jesus was omniscient as he walked the earth. He reacts with anger, astonishment and joy to those around him. He states that he doesn’t know the day or hour when he will return. At other times he clearly knows what will happen. Is that by the Spirit? I think so. Moreover Jesus himself seemed to need the indwelling of the Spirit to live out his calling.

Hopefully by now, I have been convincing on the point that our theology of the Holy Spirit is important. However that leaves the question of why do I think it lacking. I think we have some understanding of God the Father. The one from whom all things proceed and in whom all things hold together. The eternal God who sits in righteous judgment over fallen humanity Yaweh, God. We also know that this is the father who so loved the world he was prepared to send his only Son. This is the father whom Jesus depicts as running down the road to meet the returning prodigal. This is the God of love. Now, whilst the notion of a perfect father is a struggle for many of us whose earthy fathers so completely failed us, I think that we get the idea of an awesome, scary, yet unbelievably loving father. I also think that for the most part our theology of the Son is well worked out. The God-man, the eternal Son, who became one of us and who loves and obeys his father and teaches us to do the same.

It may just be me, but to some extent I feel the spirit is a bit of an afterthought. Not in the nature of God of course, but in our thinking about God. Which is a problem. The Holy Spirit is God with us in a way that Jesus never could be. In all places and all times. And more importantly, indwelling our very selves. It is by the power of the spirit that we are called and able to believe and trust in Jesus. It is by the spirit that we are changed to be more like Jesus.

The point I’m trying to make is that we seem to understand the spirit a bit like The Force in Starwars and thus miss out of the truth of God with us. I think the consequences of this are that we have a theology of partial deism that diminishes who the spirit is and thus makes us less able to respond to His work in our hearts and lives. Moreover I think we might miss out of this great privilege of knowing God in our daily walk. Jesus himself defined eternal life as knowing the Father and this life begins now, in the Spirit of God. The comedian Milton Jones described the Holy Spirit as someone who, when invited into your house, will insist on looking at the mess behind the fridge. But He will also insist on helping you clean it up. By depersonalising the Spirit we make it harder to know God and miss out on blessing I wonder if we sadden him by doing so.

Thank you oh my Father
For giving us your Son
And leaving your Spirit
‘till the work on earth is done.

Anyways, just idle wondering…