It seems to me American Evangelical culture in general is guilty of trying to sort of domesticate God. There’s an emphasis on the love of God that often overshadows (or better: glosses over) the fact that he is wholly other, that he is a God of justice, the truth that simply standing in his presence would kill us.
Not like a tame lion
“He'll be coming and going" he had said. "One day you'll see him and another you won't. He doesn't like being tied down--and of course he has other countries to attend to. It's quite all right. He'll often drop in. Only you mustn't press him. He's wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
When God asks Moses to come speak to him on the mountain, he instructs him to keep the people back, just so he does’t accidentally wipe them all out (Exodus 19:21).
Just a few chapters later, God reminds Moses that you can’t look at him in face and expect to survive long (Exodus 33:18-20).
God loves us, yes! It is a deep, abiding, and intimate love. But do we appreciate how awesome it is to be loved by such a powerful, creative, perfect, dangerous being?
Our worship is too often permeated with a casual familiarity that–unfortunately–can miss a sense of God’s transcendence. When only his immanence remains, we begin to fashion God in our own image. Our imagination of what is possible is stunted, our appreciation of who God is can be twisted, and our faith suffers as a result.
What about the Holy Spirit?
Although the mainstream evangelical culture has often sought to tame God, at least we are thinking and speaking of God the Father and Jesus quite often. When it comes to God the Holy Spirit, however, it’s another story.
When was the last time you heard a sermon on God the Holy Spirit outside of Charismatic circles? The Holy Spirit is too often not just glossed over, but left out. When tough times come, the advice is often to double down on Bible reading and prayer (fair enough), but confidence that we will meet God there in the Spirit is rarely made explicit. It’s like we’re afraid he won’t show up.
When it comes to living the Christian life, where is the talk of living in the power of the Spirit? Why are we not constantly reminded of the Spirit of Christ that dwells in us? That’s what Paul did for the Church at Rome (see Romans 8).
Why is it that prominent, popular, and widely accepted Protestant teaching on the Holy Spirit seems to make him utterly predictable? Could it be that we are afraid of what he might do? It might not fit our church growth plan. Fires might break out. People might think we’re strange (or drunk). People might try to kill us. We might have the greatest adventure of our lives.
After all, that’s what happened to the Apostles (see the story of Pentecost and the entire book of Acts).
God the Holy Spirit in Church History
Of course, the Church has had a robust view of God the Holy Spirit throughout the centuries. Not only did the Fathers understand the Holy Spirit to be the agent that applied God’s grace in the sacraments, via the hearing of Scripture, and through the Christian community, but the Holy Spirit was considered a teacher for everyday life.
Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386 AD) said,
The Spirit makes one person a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one person's self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the need of the body, trains another for martyrdom. His action is different in different people, but the Spirit himself is always the same. In each person, Scripture says, the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good...light floods the soul of the one counted worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit and enables that person to see things beyond the range of human vision, things hitherto undreamed of.
Maybe we try to tame God and avoid his Spirit because we’re not ready to be trained for martyrdom.
Maybe you’re thinking, I’m not trying to avoid the Holy Spirit. I’m not trying to tame him. So why am I not experiencing him?
First, I’ll just point out that as a Christian, you are always experiencing the Holy Spirit, whether you are aware of it or not. He dwells in you. He is doing his work in you to make you more like Jesus, he is interceding for you (Romans 8), and comforting you.
As far as the more dramatic manifestations go, I think you’ll notice if you study Acts that God the Holy Spirit shows up in pretty extreme circumstances. When people are coming to Christ, when the Apostles are out on mission, that’s when we see some pretty crazy stuff.
So, another question you should ask yourself is, “Am I living a life on mission?”
Are you taking risks? Are you living in the confidence that although neither God nor circumstances are ever safe, you are secure in him?
Stop pretending you can fully control your circumstances, or that you know exactly how God can and will work in your life. Your knowledge will always be incomplete, and God will always be impossible to tame.
Let it all go and live life as a reverent embrace of a wild, dangerous God.
Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
How has God the Holy Spirit moved unpredictably in your life? Join the conversation in the comments!