Wednesday, February 4, 2015
What about the Holy Spirit?
So here is a question I have always wondered ‘How do you know it is the Holy Spirit talking, guiding, teaching, revealing?’
First of all, I am not entirely sure it’s possible to ‘know’ when the Holy Spirit is acting, at least not in a way that is self-verifiable. If that were so, the person who had this ability would be ‘infallible.’ I know that infallibility is claimed (by Roman Catholics) to be applicable to some pronouncements (usually dogmatic) of the Pope, and by others (Orthodox Christians) generally applicable to the Church in council, but it seems to me that Christ doesn’t guarantee anything like infallibility to anyone or anything. It seems to be a non-issue for Him. What does seem to be an issue for Him, is that His hearers believe in Him, who He says He is, and in the works that He does. As for the Church, He says the gates of Hades will not prevail against it, not that it is infallible.
Back to the question, which in the context of current events and daily life, can have relative meaning.
The Church, it may seem to some, has bottled up the Holy Spirit, and restricted Him to operate only in the administration of the Holy Mysteries—baptism, chrismation, confession, communion, and the rest. If you are a sacramental Christian, depending on your affiliation, you can say you ‘know’ it is the Holy Spirit operating in these events. As for events outside this category, we are left on our own, it seems, to know when the Holy Spirit is acting. Again, if we belong to the historic Church, we’re not without guidelines. We know we are not to trust emotions, nor visions, nor ‘hearings,’ nor inexplicable happenings (maybe miracles) as evidences, without subjecting them to reason and informed faith.
Outside the Church, many Christians worshipping and ministering in such associations as ‘Christian centers’ have almost no knowledge of how the Holy Spirit really acts. Instead, they follow teachings which stem from ‘charismatic’ events and personalities, combined with their personal feelings, and use these as criteria of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s take each of the activities of the Holy Spirit asked about one at a time.
‘How do you know it is the Holy Spirit talking?’ First of all, no human being speaks as the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit can ‘speak’ to us through the words of other people. Yes, there are holy elders who can speak a word of wisdom for a particular purpose. An example of this, Fr Anatoly tells a woman that she needn’t return home for the sake of her job, because the factory has been shut down and will stay shut, and the workers sent home without pay, for three days. This occurs in the film, Ostrov (The Island), but similar things happen in the real world with real elders, not infrequently. But the Holy Spirit can speak to us in far humbler and completely involuntary circumstances. Anyone, Christian or not, can be ‘used’ by the Holy Spirit to speak a word, if that word must be heard and obeyed by Divine providence. Someone might tell you, ‘We must change your reservation, because the flight is overbooked,’ and the next day the flight you would have taken went down with no survivors. Again, an extreme example, but similar things happen on a smaller scale. You could not have known it was the Holy Spirit speaking, until some subsequent event confirmed it.
‘How do you know it is the Holy Spirit guiding?’ This works something like the previous, with similar examples. But we can imagine something more to the point. Someone may feel that ‘the Lord wants me to do’ such and such. It might be, getting a new job, or going to this college or that, or starting a company, or writing a book. Again, you cannot know it is the Holy Spirit guiding, except in retrospect. What came of it? What happened? Following the guidance you felt, what was the outcome? Success, failure, or both? The Holy Spirit is the most ‘mysterious’ Person of the Holy Triad precisely for this reason: We never see Him straight on. We only catch a glimpse of Him after He’s been with us and acted. Usually, we only see His work in our lives in retrospect.
‘How do you know it is the Holy Spirit teaching?’ This can only have meaning in the context of the Church and one’s life in it. When you read the bible as a member of the Church, you are being taught by the Holy Spirit, without a doubt. But should you misunderstand His teaching, the Church is there with the apostolic teaching to compare it to, and to correct yourself. Even in the Church you may also hear a person of authority teaching (whether spoken in a sermon or class), and your feelings may be aroused to accept it as being ‘of the Holy Spirit’ or the contrary. Ultimately, whether you are right or wrong, it is neither the teacher who is infallibly teaching (since we have One teacher, the Christ), nor you who can know for sure the teaching is from the Holy Spirit. What actually happens with that teaching, whether it promotes Jesus (the Holy Spirit never witnesses to Himself, only to Jesus) or whether it works against Him, this is the criterion. Yet the Holy Spirit does in fact teach us through many of the events that fill our lives, even without speaking, and we can often know this, in retrospect.
‘How do you know it is the Holy Spirit revealing?’ It all depends on what you mean by ‘revealing.’ Do you mean it as ‘personal revelation’? We know that there is no new dogma waiting to be revealed in the Church, since all dogmas were implicit in the beginning and identified and confirmed by the Church councils. But yes, the Holy Spirit can and does reveal things to us, individually, as He sees fit. The question is not ‘whether’ or ‘when’ but ‘how.’ The Holy Spirit works with us, as individuals, so closely in our daily lives that we cease to notice, except when we slow down, and silence our minds, really silence them. Yes, He reveals much, and the question you ask, ‘How do you know’ it’s Him is a very valid question. The answer is rather simpler than we would like. If what you feel is a revelation of the Holy Spirit, what does that make you think, say and do? Nothing revealed by the Holy Spirit will ever cause us to sin, or to encourage another to sin. It will never incite us to hatred, to unforgiveness, to revenge.
In closing, mention must be made of the Pentecostal shenanigans, the things Christians who believe in ‘the outpouring of the Holy Spirit’ take for signs that the Holy Spirit is present and active. Almost none of these has any reality, except in the minds of the uninstructed. The Holy Spirit is in fact the preserver of the disciples of Jesus, and even when they are in bondage to errors and sins, He may stand away, but He never abandons them, but patiently waits for them to repent, so that He may mature them. He never ceases showing everyone Jesus, if they will only look. But He hides from those who try to control Him, who pretend that they can throw His potency at people, or use His precious Name to work false miracles. He never yields to the demands of magic, but with logic He is of one accord, for logic is all that pertains to Christ, the Divine Logos. He never divides, but unites, the people who confess the Name. He initiates all into a tangible brotherhood, called the Holy Church, where He makes His home, together with the Father and the Son, ‘unto the ages of ages.’
at 1:03 PM