Tuesday, January 12, 2021

An Unholy Spirit

One of the things that confuses our understanding of the Holy Spirit as Christians is the way that those who are not shy about claiming the Holy Spirit's presence often claim a weird sort of knowledge given to them by the Holy Spirit that leaves the rest of us going, "Wait. What?" 

In the book I'm reading, the author claims that the Holy Spirit keeps giving him visions of other persons when he encounters them, visions like seeing a sword sticking out of their side or a word scrawled across their face or whatever. Secret sorts of knowledge that he claims only the Spirit could have, and only the Spirit could share with him. And then, when he inquires with these persons what it might mean (because of course, such visions are metaphorical, although he claims the vision itself is as real as reading a newspaper), they usually reveal some sort of worry or concern or infirmity or disease that he then heals by such actions as pulling the sword out or erasing, somehow, the word. He even says you can develop this gift yourself and even practice it, by asking the Spirit for small, inconsequential facts about your friends and checking them out with them (facts like, "Did you have a favorite teddy bear in your bedroom when you were little?"). 

If you're squirming a little right now, that's okay. Me, too. And the trouble is that when we start to squirm, these persons who claim this kind of gifting and power of the Holy Spirit tell us that it's because we don't have enough faith. Or the right kind of faith. Or whatever.

But here's the thing: any one of us who has read the Bible has never seen this kind of Holy Spirit. Ever. This is simply not the Holy Spirit that we see in the pages of Scripture, the One who was promised by Jesus and came upon believers at their baptism. 

There is not one story in the Bible where a believer, or even Jesus, walks up to an individual and claims to know something that hasn't been plainly revealed by itself (that man has a crippled hand) or revealed by the individual (my child has a spirit tormenting him). Peter never walks up to someone and says, "Hey, the Lord has given me a vision for your affliction, and I'd like to cure it!" No. Jesus Himself, and the disciples, and the prophets, and everyone else in the Scriptures who has ever done a miraculous work in the power of the Holy Spirit has done it upon the revelation of the affliction by itself, not by some secret knowledge. 

There are no promptings to interpersonal action in the Scriptures by 'visions' of someone's affliction with metaphorical swords or words scrawled across their heads or anything of the sort. There are no records of any believer ever having to 'develop' the gift of the Spirit in them by exercising it and practicing on one another. 

And that whole thing about knowing, by divine inspiration, that your friend had a favorite teddy bear as a child? That falls into the same sort of fallacy that secular psychics play on all the time - the idea that if you make a statement common and generic enough, anyone and everyone can see themselves in it and wonder how you know that. (We could talk about this more later if you want to; for now, it's just a side note.) 

The thing is, there is nothing in the Scriptures or the revelation of God to say that the Holy Spirit works the way that these persons claim that He does. Nothing. But they claim it nonetheless and then shame other believers for not having the same 'faith.' A 'faith that moves mountains,' although we should also point out that none of these Holy Spirit-claiming believers has ever used this gift to move a mountain, so there's that. 

And the way they present this raises another sticky theological question, one we must answer right now in plain and clear language: no. No, God is not talking about you to other believers. Or unbelievers. God is not whispering your secrets throughout the universe. God is not revealing your secret shame and affliction to random individuals who have the power to pull fake swords out of your stomach. It's not happening. That's not how God works. (We might say He is revealing things for your good to those with whom you are in relationship or soon will be, as He did with Ananias when a blinded Saul was on the way, but this whole thing where someone is walking into a grocery store and is suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of your shame...it's not happening. That's not how God works. You don't have to worry about God taking out bulletin boards with your affliction on them.) 

So we're left with this uneasy feeling about the Holy Spirit, and it's because the claims of some of these Christians simply don't line up with what we know about Him and what is consistent with the heart and character of God (who, by the way, the Holy Spirit is a person of, not an agent of). And it just muddies things for us. But if we dare ask, we're told it's our problem. It's not our problem. It's not a problem of our faith if we will not take hold of a promise that is not in Scripture, if we refuse to believe something of God that has not been revealed and does not line up with His character or His heart or His story. 

But neither can we ignore the Spirit altogether. We can't let these misunderstandings and misteachings that run rampant in our world, and even in our churches, keep us from connecting with the Spirit in our lives. He is, still, the promised gift of Jesus, given to all believers. And that means us. 

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