Before the Beginning…
We, as Christians, tend to view the Holy Spirit as a “Christian innovation”. This, however, is hardly the case. The Holy Spirit has been around for a great deal longer.
“To begin at the beginning,” God is eternal. God is everlasting. God existed before time and will exist after time itself has ended. There is no beginning and there is no end, and yet God is the beginning and the end.
God, in Christianity, is also three in one. So, when we recite our creeds (not that all Christians have creeds) and talk about our faith in God, we are talking about all three persons in one.
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget this.
If we break it down and uncomplicate it and take out most (if not all) of the complexities, God the Father created the earth (that’s why he’s sometimes known as God the Creator).
Then, approximately two thousand years ago, God came to earth as God the son to save us, his people (he was known as “Jesus Christ” and is often called God the Redeemer).
The third person of God is much more enigmatic. God the Spirit’s role seems to be a bit more — undefined, without definition, without “body”, a bit like a spirit or a ghost. God the Spirit, ultimately, is God as he works here on earth. As such, the Holy Spirit has been on earth since the very beginning. Many scholars argue that the Spirit hovering over the waters in Genesis 1:2c was, specifically, the Holy Spirit at work in our earliest of histories.
Speed Up To First Century Palestine
Throughout the gospels, the Spirit is present. Yes, Jesus was here, too, but he often spoke about God’s Spirit, most notably in conjunction with Baptism. Remember, we as Christians are to be baptized both by water and by Spirit.
The Spirit makes a grand entrance, however, in The Book of Acts. If God the Father is Act I (the Old Testament, or the Hebrew Bible) and God the Son Act II (the Gospels), then the Holy Spirit is the third and final Act.
The Spirit becomes, almost, the main character in the story. The followers of Christ are almost superfluous as the Spirit works his magic.
With the Spirit descending to earth in such splendor, giving people talents so that they may serve God to the best of their abilities, blessing men and women, bestowing upon them the languages of the earth so we may complete our mission as Christians and go spread the word, it’s hard not to think that we invented the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Spirit wasn’t specifically meant just for us and our religion.
The Holy Spirit is, in many ways, the ultimate missionary. The Holy Spirit can go anywhere, reach anyone’s heart. As the active embodiment of God and Christ in the world, the Holy Spirit is an ambassador extraordinaire.
Christians speak of loving God, of waiting for Christ’s return–but, let’s be honest, some people go absolutely gaga for the Spirit.
I remember back in Junior High a girl I went to school with told me point blank she’d never do drugs because she was “high on the Spirit“. Coincidentally, this same girl a few years earlier told everyone she knew that the Spirit was da bomb just like Leo. This was the highest praise any teen could give at the time in the wake of such cinematic grandeur as Romeo+Juliet and Titanic. Growing up in a Christian school, I knew it was only a matter of time before someone started speaking in tongues at one of our Assemblies.
The Holy Spirit is both the ultimate rebel and the ultimate unifier (but more on that at a later date).
The Spirit is a central part of Christian worship and experience–and what’s so great (and occasionally frustrating) is that we all experience the Spirit in different ways. The Spirit speaks to us the way we can individually understand. It could be like a flash of lightening, a desert wind, the pounding of rain during Hurricane Season, the chill of the first day of Autumn … just to name a few. I’ve seen it work as a sort of mass hysteria in a crowd of young adults on pilgrimage, and it was one of the most potent (and terrifying) things I have ever experienced.
So what’s a Holy Spirit??
The Holy Spirit is, well, a bit difficult to pin down. The term “spirit” here is rather appropriate. Incorporeal doesn’t really begin to cover it.
Like a spirit or ghost, the Holy Spirit can move throughout earth and within our hearts without leaving any physical indication that it was ever there. Sometimes, to look at the history books, you’d think that clearly God wasn’t remotely active in the world at certain terrible points of time. It’s easy to fall into that kind of thinking. However, just because you don’t have tangible physical proof that the Spirit is there, doesn’t mean that the Spirit necessarily isn’t.
Take the example of 02. This is the air that we breathe (or, rather, what we breathe in the air). Now, science has given up irrefutable proof that air is all around us in the last century or so, but before that, no one really could prove that there was air, or that there wasn’t. We knew that there was air because of wind (moving air particles) and because of the fact that when we’re suddenly under water or the air is full of smoke, we can’t breathe. But apart from those observations, it had to be taken on faith. We trusted there was air to breathe, and we just breathe it in automatically. You only really realize it’s not there when there’s an absence of it (the negative proves the positive).
The Spirit is working here on earth. If he wasn’t, well, we would probably realize it terribly quickly.
But there are certain times, most notably in the New Testament, when there is undeniable proof that the Spirit is at work here on earth.
You’ve Got a Talent, Use it For the Lord
This brings me (finally, sorry about that) to our Scripture lesson. It’s a rather well known passage all about the Spirit giving early Christians gifts or talents.
It’s a wondrous and beautiful explanation, and also can be read as a bit of an early Christian fairytale. I would like to note at this point, however, that I am no way suggesting that 1 Corinithians 12 didn’t happen exactly as described, but rather that there are multiple layers of meanings to be taken from the text.
In Christian faith, every man, woman, and child is made in God’s image, except no on really can agree on what this means. Some of us are more beautiful than others, some more intelligent, the kid round the corner might be good with wood, the woman you met at the grocery store could be excellent with numbers. We all have talents, our brains all work a bit differently. Art shows us how we all seem to perceive this world differently although most humans have decently working and chemically similar eyes.
Why the little differences? Why the variations?
Yes, we all have free will, but is that the extent of it? God gave us free will when he created Adam and Eve in the garden. My poor cat doesn’t even get that much (though, really, the Archdeacon is quite willful in his own way), and he’s really my one constant friend in self-isolation.
Going back to human examples, I might have pursued a life of religious service while my baby brother, who was raised to be my twin, is a journalist. We have the same rough DNA, we know how to push each other’s buttons, we did everything at the same time and–bam! different people. I’m a “mother of cats” and he’s superdad. Free will doesn’t get better than that.
But it’s more than just that. It’s more than just free will. And it’s more than that we’re somehow made in God’s direct image (whether that means we can think for ourselves, have two arms and two legs and one head, or something quite different). There are these gifts, these talents, we can or cannot pursue due to our free choice.
But where did they come from?
Short answer: everything comes from God in some way, shape, or form.
Long answer: God gave us talents so that we can glorify him (1 Corinthians 12).
Every one has a different gift, some more noticeable than others, some perhaps a little more pragmatic, others show-stopping, and so many that go unrecognized. They compliment each other, fit together like a puzzle (though usually we mere mortals can’t quite see the bigger picture) to magnify the Lord.
The Holy Spirit, or God working here on earth, gives each person a different gift or talent for this reason. We may not always know why, we may not always know how it works together in harmony with those around us, but the gift is still there. It is still present.
God is working around and among us through these gifts. We just have to sit up and notice.