This week on the vlog I’m talking about the Holy Spirit, which, perhaps surprisingly, I have a lot less angst about than I do about God the Father and Jesus. I mean, it’s not that I fully understand Who or What the Holy Spirit is. I know that as Adventists we do believe the Holy Spirit is a Person, the third Person of the Godhead, and I know lots of the texts that support this view. But for me, as I think for many Christians, the idea of the Spirit has always seemed a bit remote and theoretical. I realize that any sense of “God’s presence” I ever have in my life must be the Holy Spirit, but I think far more about Jesus, and sometimes about God as a Father (or Mother) than I do about the Spirit.
I guess there are Christians whose religion is very Spirit-focused, like charismatics for example. I’ve spent a lot of time around Pentecostals and visited many Pentecostal services, though I’ve never seen anyone “slain in the Spirit” so I guess I haven’t been around that much. As I mention in the video, Adventists don’t accept the more ecstatic “gifts of the Spirit” such as glossolalia and the like, as being true manifestations of the Holy Spirit. When the apostles start “speaking in tongues” in Acts 2 it seems pretty clear that they’re speaking actual languages that the listeners can understand, not ecstatic babble. The Adventist position on gifts of the Spirit is that they are useful things given to edify and evangelize, which excludes many of the more charismatic charisms. Having done a bit of reading, study and talking to people on this issue I am not as hard-line as some Adventists would be about it: I don’t believe the Holy Spirit manifests Himself (Herself? there’s a little bit in the video above about the Spirit and gender) in ecstatic speech or fainting spells, but I also don’t believe, as some SDAs and other non-charismatic Christians might, that these kind of things are of the Devil either. I just think these are manifestations of something human, the way some people’s religious experience expresses itself (especially when they are part of a community where this is normalized, encouraged and even taught) and, like most things, people can use them in good, bad, or neutral ways.
I suppose mystics, in any tradition, know something about the Holy Spirit too, because it seems to me that visions or voices or any sense of being directly in the presence of God, must come from the Holy Spirit. But that whole area of religious experience is pretty much uncharted territory to me. I’ve occasionally felt moved to lift my hands during a particularly powerful worship song, but I’ve never felt overwhelmed by the presence of God, as so many Christians seem to have felt as some point in their lives. I know my William James (secondhand; I’ve not read him myself though I keep meaning to) but ecstatic and mystical experiences do not appear to be for me. And that’s OK. I think it means, though, that I don’t feel a strong investment in the what I believe about the Holy Spirit — I can accept that the Spirit is a Person of the Godhead and one of the doctrines of the church, but unlike my beliefs about Jesus, it’s not a deal-breaker for me.
Speaking of deal-breakers, next week should be fun: Creation. Tune in again!