The Spirit of Truth
Audio: The Spirit of Truth
As we discussed the aftermath of the horrific shooting in Uvalde last week, the conversation inevitably drifted to the topic of evil. Specifically: does evil exist as a reality, independent from human consciousness or imagination? All three of the Abrahamic faith traditions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam – would answer “yes” to that question. Whether envisioned as a devil with red scaly skin and horns, or as simply transcendent malevolence, evil as a reality separate from ourselves appears to be nearly universally accepted.
So, there shouldn’t be any doubt about the Holy Spirit, right?
In what is easily one of the most dramatic scenes in the Bible, the Holy Spirit descends on those gathered for Pentecost with tongues of flame. The reaction is so wild and joyous that cynical onlookers think that they are drunk. General bedlam ensues, but Peter – completely transformed – centers all who are present with a moving, biblically grounded sermon. The church begins.
Whether envisioned as a dove, tongues of flame or a strong wind, followers of Christ embrace the Spirit of Truth – the advocate mentioned by Jesus to not only guide us, but to stir things up a bit as well. There’s nothing academic about the Holy Spirit: she (the Holy Spirit has historically been referred to in the feminine) is fearless and relentless in guiding, pushing and inspiring us to stay on the path of Christ. Sounds a little bit like mom, but the Spirit isn’t going to pick up your dirty laundry or, even with the best of intentions, make excuses for you.
The Spirit is also associated with creativity. After the Protestant Reformation there was more emphasis amongst Protestants on reading and learning the faith as opposed to the pursuit of, or at least acceptance of, mystical experience. While very important in faith development, reading and learning are only a part of enriching the relationship with God. Some expressions bordered on, or actually were, superstition (e.g., witchcraft), but nevertheless non-linear, non-intellectual expressions and experiences continued to find a way into authentic Christian experiences. The opening up of the scriptures during the Reformation was accompanied by an explosion of art, music and literature that expressed largely Christian themes.
So, it is little wonder that times of religious revival continue to be accompanied by creative endeavors. It is analogous to a botanist walking through the forest analyzing the various attributes of the trees, and the same botanist returning and simply absorbing the beauty around them. Both are important, but neither is complete in and of itself. Revivals have typically combined the power of music with impassioned preaching to both inspire and teach. The Truth is addressed to both sides of the brain, as well as to the singular soul within. Still, sometimes one gets the sense that the Holy Spirit would prefer banging on the drums than quietly reading a book – but maybe that’s just me.
But perhaps the most important role of the Holy Spirit is this: when Evil seems to be gaining the upper hand, the Spirit is our secret (or, not so secret) weapon. The Bible assures us that ultimately the Spirit of Truth will triumph over the Spirit of Darkness, but that shouldn’t lead us to believe the Spirit of Truth is sidelined or ineffective in our present-day lives. When we are truly moved by music, or art, or poetry, it isn’t just a simple transitory sensory pleasure. It is the push of the Holy Spirit imbuing us at least with the faith and the courage to withstand whatever Evil is throwing at us. We might be encouraged to be more active, even in small ways.
Actually, it is hard sometimes to find the words needed to describe or invoke the Holy Spirit. Peter did, on Pentecost, but at other times it seems to come to us on the air, ensconced in beauty or resonant in melody. So, with that in mind, I will not try to end this discussion with words, but instead direct you to one of my favorite songs about the triumph of love and truth over Evil. Whenever that sense of hopelessness overcomes me, I play this song and am reminded of the words – yes, the words – from John’s Gospel: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”