The Holy Spirit: Paraclete or Miracle Currency
One of the most awesome realizations I’ve had recently is in the meditation on the Holy Spirit and the fact that the Holy Spirit is completely one with the Father and the Son [although still a distinct Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit exists in perfect unity with the Father and the Son in the Godhead.]. It is literally God within us. The fact that God dwells in me through the form of the Holy Spirit was an incredibly stunning thought to me. I’ve always believed in the Trinity, but I guess I just never gave much thought to the Holy Spirit and what role He plays in our lives other than sort of thinking about Him in a benign way. He’s dwelling with me and in me and works through me, I know, but I think I truly took for granted the fact that the Holy Spirit is, in fact the third part of the Trinity. He is consubstantial with the Father and the Son, meaning He is the Father, the Son, and His own entity. I guess I’ve just been neglectful of the meaning of the Third Person of the Trinity in His own right.
Incredibly, there are many different ways of viewing the Holy Spirit depending on the faith tradition that you follow. The differing viewpoint is not a new one. In fact, Oneness Pentecostalism today is, despite their protests to the contrary, the 3rd century teaching of Modalism¹ reborn. More prominent in the Pentecostal/charismatic world is the idea that the Holy Spirit is an indispensable source of supernatural power granted to believers. That may be a bit of a blunt oversimplification but it’s direct to the point. For most, I believe, the Holy Spirit is an oft neglected aspect of Christianity simply because believers take for granted that He’s just another part of the faith they automatically receive at Baptism. Sort of like getting that warranty with a new car: 5 years or 100,000 miles whichever comes first.
I think also though that when many believers contemplate the Holy Spirit in their lives they do recognize the role He manifests in their spiritual walk because they understand that He helps them to accomplish the will of God and that without His help they would do not be able to do anything worthy of the Lord. The subject of how the role of the Holy Spirit is fulfilled in our lives is often quite diverse. In the world of Christianity this can take the shape of anything on the spectrum from a helpmate to the sole working element in one’s life.
Let’s take an issue with which a believer must struggle. Alcohol addiction for instance. In its truest form alcohol addiction is a particularly difficult problem to conquer. We have ourselves a believer who has come to the realization that he struggles with alcohol addiction and turns to his faith in order to amend this overindulgence and repair its ill effects. I believe that depending upon the faith tradition of the individual there will be a markedly different approach to the kind of help he seeks and the kind of role he expects God, and more specifically the Holy Spirit to play in his recovery. I believe it is also inherent in the believer’s faith tradition to embrace or eschew the hard work necessary by the individual themselves in order to overcome a problem. Some faith traditions deny the role of suffering in the believers life whether created by themselves or by an external source.²
Let me make most abundantly clear that I in no way am attempting to diminish the unlimited power of the Holy Spirit, nor the ways in which He may operate in another man’s life. I have clear proof myself through the lives of the Saints that the Spirit imparts fantastic graces to us and, sometimes, charismatic graces. I cannot remember who said it now, but I once read an author who made very clear sense about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and that His impartation of charismatic ones usually was reserved for a very special purpose and not meant for everyday fare for everyday believers. However, the gifts given to every believer by the impartation of the Holy Spirit through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are almost always overlooked and ignored. These gifts are summed up in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and through St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. They are: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel (Right Judgment), Fortitude (Courage), Knowledge, Piety (Reverence), and Fear of the Lord (Wonder and Awe).
Also, it is not ever beyond the Lord to miraculously move a man’s heart from sinful or harmful and detrimental feelings or actions. I myself have a personal testimony to such an event. However, more often than not we can understand that God, much like many human fathers, does not provide for His children by completely removing the cause or the obstacles to better life or better choices. “If I do this for you, you won’t learn anything.” How often have many people heard this statement from their own parents? So it is with God. Sure, He can deliver you from addictions miraculously be they food, alcohol, drugs, or any other vice which presents itself to our human nature. You can get down on your knees and cry and weep to God to remove this feeling or need for vices in your life until you pass out. You may even wake up the next day feeling “cleansed” and “renewed”, but very rarely, without a very rare impartation of a supernatural grace, will a man stay that way.
Let us turn again to the example of the drinker (doesn’t even have to be an alcoholic, just a normal person who indulges) who finds himself in that all too oft position of kneeling on cold tile in front of a porcelain object putting – as Bill Cosby says – his face in a place that was never meant for his face. What does he do? He begs. ‘Please God, if you get me through this I swear I’ll never drink again.’ Does God remove the offending predicament from you? Does God suddenly cure you of your pains and nausea? More often than not God gives you over to ejecting your stomach contents into the bowl with velocity and frequency. Why? Because you did it to yourself. For lack of a better term, you got yourself there, now suffer the consequences! So I believe it is with every many who suffers foul addictions and dark recesses of sin with which they find themselves. They dug the hole and then expect God to send them the Holy Spirit to divinely dig them back out again. A weak parent would do so, but a loving parent refines the child through the pangs of suffering and hard work assisted by the Holy Spirit. Not as a sled dog but as a yoked partner and thus the person removes the dirt of sin from themselves as a way of causing them to walk in holiness and righteousness. A reminder not to go back.
So what is the role of the Holy Spirit? Better still, what is the ordinary form of help which believers receive from the Holy Spirit in order, not just to conquer sins, but to assist in their struggles of everyday living? Well, let us start with the Graces that are imparted to us in Baptism and Confirmation which again are, Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel (Right Judgment), Fortitude (Courage), Knowledge, Piety (Reverence), and Fear of the Lord (Wonder and Awe). In the Bible we read:
“… we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:3-5, NIV)
Repeatedly in the Bible we are asked to hold fast to virtues like peace, temperance, fortitude, patience, endurance, meekness, kindness. The Holy Spirit lends itself to these truths as Jesus Himself promised us saying, “I will send you an Advocate to lead you to all truth.” (John 14:26). I believe that the expectation placed on the Holy Spirit to deliver us from suffering is to place a presumptive expectation on faith itself and undue expectation on the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives as a unconditional deliverer instead of a helpmate with which we must absolutely rely on in order to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12). St. Peter’s Publication, an Anglican Publication put out a writing entitled, A Commentary on the Psalms written by C. Westin, M.W. Hawkins, and P.T. Young. On the matter of what is becoming a common belief on the expectation of faith in western Christianity today they write:
“In a day when ‘cheap grace’ is all the rage, a fear of presumption is needed desperately in the Church. What we mistake so often for faith is really only presumption”.
Tread lightly on the role of the Holy Spirit in your life. Look always for His help and guidance as you traverse through the valleys and mountains of life, but I think it is a dangerous thing to presume upon Him, as a requirement, graces that you want to be fulfilled in your life like he is some miracle currency. To paraphrase Mother Angelica, faith is not a coin you put into a machine expecting to get a miracle. In the many Protestant translations of the Bible when we read John 14:26 we see the Holy Spirit called many things: Advocate, Helper, Comforter, Redeemer, and Paraclete. I believe the tenets of the five solas have created in many evangelicals a passivity of faith and I think it is time we in “western Christianity” take responsibility for our role in our own walk of faith, not just when we sin but when we must climb back out of that hole as well. Metaphorically speaking, stop digging the hole then tossing the shovel to the Holy Spirit and saying, “Okay, now dig me back out.”
We are not to treat God’s divine power as the automatic servant of calculated acts.
– Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 4, pg. 215-216
1. Modalism is the belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three distinct persons but merely different aspects of God. That God is really just One, not Three. Oneness Pentecostalism is the same thing and the prominent minister TD Jakes has been accused of being a leading believer for Oneness Pentecostalism… a charge he doesn’t directly refute.
2. “Suffering does not come from God–it comes from the devil. To “resist the devil” means to resist suffering. You are not to embrace or accept suffering; you are to RESIST it.” (original source)