John 16:4-15 (NRSV)
The Work of the Spirit
4 But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
I must confess that in studying this passage I have come a brand new understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in our life and world. Or rather, a brand new understanding of His priorities. Off the top of my head I would have expected from this Sunday’s reading something about the Spirit’s transformative power or his miracle-working through the disciples.
Consider what Jesus says about the Holy Spirit in this passage: he describes the Spirit as the Spirit of Truth. He describes the role of the Spirit in testifying about himself. He says the Spirit will prove the world wrong in its understanding of sin, righteousness and judgement. He will guide us into all truth. He will make known to us what he receives from Jesus.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I suppose I acknowledged there was some connection between the Holy Spirit and things like revelation, truth and understanding. However, on reflection, I see that I had relegated issues around truth and understanding to the lower section of the Holy Spirit’s to-do list. These things seemed altogether too passive and bookish for the one whom I have long considered the rock star of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit should be stirring up courage in people, making them speak languages they never knew before and helping them to perform healings – not teaching us about who Jesus is, or what sin and righteousness are!
Don’t we find out about that stuff by reading about it in the Bible (and yes, I have now remembered that one of His major projects was inspiring this work)? And to discover more truth don’t we then argue about what we’ve read in the Bible for a bit? And then we write something down about our arguments, and then argue over those writings? Don’t we reason out our theology together and arrive at truth that way? I would have admitted the Holy Spirit plays some role in guiding those discussions and interpretations of scripture, but I think in my mind I imagined that the miracle stuff is what the Holy Spirit actually enjoys spending time on, while poking around in our brains while we try to do theology is the equivalent of His boring admin, His bill paying: necessary but unpleasant work.
When I taught Leaving Cert Philosophy on the Religious Education course, we had to tease out Socrates’ idea that “to know the good is to do the good”. We went over and back on the idea. Lots of people know what is the moral thing to do in a given situation and still choose to do evil. I argued that to make such a choice you must be choosing to blind yourself to the full consequences of your action. If you truly engaged at the deepest level with the pain your action would inflict, would you not make the right choice? If you fully understood the positive potential of doing right, wouldn’t you be motivated to do it?
Whatever you might think of this philosophy, there is an undoubted connection between our beliefs about the world, and our action in it. What concepts are more important to grasp correctly than those of sin, righteousness and judgement? We can only imagine the untold damage done where guilt and shame are undeservedly felt, or not felt when deserved. The situations where redemption has been available, but not shared or worked out. It’s almost too much to bear thinking about. I couldn’t even begin to crack theses issues open in this blog post, but what I am beginning to see is that the God who created us considers the quality of our understanding of our relationships to Him, others and ourselves to be of utmost importance. He may even be more concerned with us seeking after the truth about these things than He is with miracle-working and dramatic, evangelistic speech making.
Emma Rothwell currently divides her time between the Church of Ireland Dioceses of Meath & Kildare where she is the Diocesan Youth and Children’s Officer and Wilson’s Hospital School where she is the School Chaplain.