Wednesday, December 14, 2016


This is the greatest tragedy of our theological language - it clouds what God is really doing in the lives of the faithful. 

It is this that we are talking about when we talk about baptism and about how we take this moment when the faithful babes are hearing for the first time the Holy Spirit, and we tell them that it was about their sinfulness all along. They feel like sinners, not saints. They feel condemned, not created.

Everywhere we turn, we are looking for the words to put to this phenomenal experience of God, and we're coming up so far short that we're actually limiting our very theology by the description of it. 

Go back to Paul's blinding on the road to Damascus. Do any of the words that he ever uses to describe this experience do any justice to what actually happened to him in that moment? Of course not. His entire life, his very heart, was fundamentally changed. The words he uses, they are the best that he has, but it is his life that speaks louder than words. 

In today's world, we'd almost blow off the words as foolish. We would see the changed man - no one can possibly deny this - but upon hearing the story, we may just shrug and say, "Well, yeah, whatever, brother. It's just good to see you changed." As though we could somehow separate Paul from the act of the Holy Spirit there on the road.

We dismiss the words not because we don't believe them, but because they do not make much sense to us, not in this language that we speak. They sound manipulative in some way, secretive or just plain weird, as though Saul was suddenly struck on the road to Damascus by the overwhelming urge to join a cult. (Ironically, that is essentially what it was considered in his time.) It sounds nothing more than this because our language is wholly incapable of capturing the mystery of the Holy Spirit. 

Wholly incapable, but we keep trying. How do you describe a moment like Saul's in our language? There is no possible way. We can describe the change in him, maybe, but how can we capture the essence of that change? It is not just that Saul became Paul or that the persecutor became the propagator. It is not just that Saul was blinded and Paul could see. It was not just that the Jew became the Christian.

It is that the circumcised somehow had the flesh cut away from his heart (a spiritual circumcision). And even those words do not capture the essence of it.

No matter what it is that we find to say, our words somehow lessen the Holy Spirit every time that we talk about Him. (Yes, Him - the Holy Spirit is a person, not a thing, even though our language even here often dulls us to an "it.") And I think that's why the person of the Holy Spirit never speaks in our language. God speaks. Jesus speaks. The angels speak. But the Holy Spirit does not speak, yet only in grunts and groans. 

No wonder, we say, that we do not understand Him! But this...this is our native language. 

We have lost it in translation only to words. 

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