Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The spirit

I've been talking with several people about the Spirit.

On a side topic (I will get to my main points in a minute) what is it with the christian obsession with capitalizing everything. Word, God, Spirit, He, Thee, It, One: is it really that important. I know we want to seperate the idea of God from god, so that weknow we mean to talk about the one and only God and not any of the so-called gods, who, whether they are gods or not, are not the one and only. But do we really have to capitalize One and Only? I just think it's an obsession, and there's no real reason for it. Like in songs, if we sing "you," we don't have to sing "You," because it's not like we don't know what we're talking about, especially if we're singing worship music. And really, in what other setting would you see the words to the music up on a screen for you to sing with (let's discount sing-a-long childrens' videos)? So we know what we mean right? Or "Him." Can't we look at the context? That's what we do with every other piece of literature. We read the pronoun in context and quickly make the distinction of which pronoun refers to which noun. So I don't see what the big deal is. As far as "Spirit" such as many places in the bible where it is capitalized, does that really matter? There were no capital letters in the greek version, as it was written. Yeah, go pull out your Greek New Testament and see. No capitals... imagine that! So really, since we don't have the capital letter to indicate that "spirit" refers to "Spirit" shouldn't we translate accordingly, and leave it up to the interpretation? If god puts his "spirit of peace" on us, does it have to be his "Spirit of Peace?"

Anyway, now that I'm done ranting, I was talking about the Spirit. I've been under the impression for about twelve years, since I first started thinking about these things, that people in American churches don't really know what to do about the *Holy Spirit* (that was a whisper). And I'm not limiting this to my own church, my own upbringing. There are charismatics and pentacostals (not to group the two together too closely) who think they've got it, or some semblance of it, that they know what it's all about, and they certainly have more of a flair for the emotional side of christian living, but do they really get it? Does anybody? I've known people who see angels or, bless them,, see demons. And I feel like they know something the rest of the world doesn't, but I don't think they really know what it is. They just have a window, over which everyone else seems to carry shutters. I've known people who think they can discern God's will with the way they "feel the spirit", but I don't think they can really explain it, nor do I think that all of them really have the ability. A lot of the people who are into things of the spirit, seem to be manufacturing the evidence for themselves. They learn to cloak their entire mindset with an aura of spirituality, but are any of them really being moved by the spirit? I don't know. I believe some of them are. But the ones who are the most convincing have never really been taught. Things just happened. It's like God just stepped into their lives and started changing the way they experienced him. This includes gifts of the spirit which are typical of charismatic traditions: tongues, discernent prophecy. It astounds me how many people think they have these gifts.

The rest of us seem to be floating in a miasma of confusion. Let me lay out how I learned that we were supposed to "hear God's voice:"

There was the bible reading. You had to read your bible. That was the most important part of finding God's will for your life. Everything we needed to know about living in this world was found there, and if God was going to give you specific guidance for your current circumstances, he was going to do it through "THE WORD."

Then there was other people. In addition to using His Word, God would sometimes use other people, namely strong christian people, to tell you his will. This would usually come in the form of a parent, pastor, mentor figure who was wise enough to understand what you're supposed to do in life, or maybe even is moved in some mysterious spiritual way, unintentionally of course, to tell you something you need to hear.

Then of course there was prayer. If you prayed a lot, God would probably cause the right thoughts to come to your mind.

All these things were what we knew about the way of God's Spirit. The Holy Spirit did other things, too. We didn't disbelieve the accounts of miracles and tongues and other things in the modern day; we just weren't comfortable with them within our own doors. Casting out demons was cool, if God had really called you to do that, and if you went over to places where it was really happening, like South America. They clearly have a need for casting out demons in South America. But any of that done in your back yard or at some religious gathering was clearly a little weird. If the guy is not throwing himself in the fire or overpowering twelve men, each twice his size, then he's really not demon-possessed. Or at the least, let's not make a stink of it, unless he starts showing these signs. Because really, how embarrassing would it be if we started casting out a demon, and it turns out the guy was just acting creepy to try and scare us. Boy wouldn't we be chagrined. Let's not have any of that, okay? Really, we just don't like the idea of making mistakes like that, so let's avoid that whole line of thinking as much as we can.

Is this really the Way, which the disciples followed? Is this what got people burned alive or fed to the animals in the gladiator pits or crucified upside down? Is this the amazing power which sprang up in Christ's followers like springs of living water? It doesn't seem to fit. Nothing I've seen seems to fit. I just think the entire church needs to take a new look on the Holy Spirit. Because I'm sure he exists and I'm sure that we can truly learn to follow him and truly have those living waters springing up in us, but I don't really know what it's all about.

Okay, that was long, but I'm done talking for now. Give me your ideas, if you've got them.


Ulee0802 said...

Jake -

I like to capitalize all references to God, including pronouns, just as an extra sign of respect for the "Name Above All Names". What does it hurt? In fact it can also add clarification at times. As far as the Hebrew language not using caps they also didn't use vowels. Should we leave those out too as in some of the Jewish bibles (G-d)? The fact that they didn't use caps is irrelevant. We do use caps.
Regarding the Spirit, the word that we translate as "Spirit" can also be translated "wind". In John 3:8 it says, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." It seems to me that maybe the Spirit is supposed to be hard to get a handle on. The wind is invisible and even when we are standing in the midst of it, we cannot always tell which way it is coming from. We can see it's effects but it can be quite elusive. Maybe the Spirit is like that?!

srchngformystry said...

well said, ulee. i, too, capitalize God and He and Him when i use them to refer to God.

for me, it just separates when i say, "oh, god" in exclamation and "Oh, God" in prayer. i like it. it draws my eyes to the caps when i scan the page.

and as for the Holy Spirit. i know it is in me. sometimes, i feel it strongly like a wind. other times, it is not as noticeable, like a sweet breeze. and other times, its just like the air that i breathe. its there, but i take it forgranted. this is my downfall.

Jake said...

First of all, the capitalization thing was a "side note," and it really isn't as interesting as the rest of the post.

That being said, I'd like to point out that I already made excuse for capitalizing God, and the point that we should capitalize God doesn't need to be stressed to me. Second, I don't see capitalizing pronouns as accomplishing much of anything in the way of respect. It indicates nothing about the heart condition and does not signify any understanding of faith or reverence in and of itself. The fact that people feel they need to do it in order to show respect is what I'm ranting about. It's unnecessary.

Certainly, everyone is entitled to do what they want in this matter. I'm not griping about the fact that people do it. I'm griping about the fact that they're obsessed with it. It actually seems like they believe that if we don't capitalize a pronoun we will actually cease to be talking about God.

Lastly, my point about capitals in the bible was mainly in connection with the Spirit. And your points really only reinforce my own. What I'm saying is that it is precisely because the use of the word "spirit" or "Spirit" is so elusive that we should let the words be left more to our interpretation. People use verses about the "Spirit" to concoct hard-core theology structures about that Spirit. And my point isn't that translators shouldn't make the interpretation on their own, but that people should be aware that such an interpretation was being made and that the capitalization of the word "Spirit" is an interpretation of the translator as refering to a name of the one that we serve.

Jake said...

As for the more important thoughts about the Spirit, and how we interact with him. I think you're right on much of that, which goes along with what I said about most of the people who seem to get it or to have something real in terms of the Spirit, didn't ever learn it or manufacture it. It just happened. But there are enough examples in the book of Acts to point out that the Spirit was very much a part of their decision making process. He sent them dreams and spoke to them in visions. He gave them direction in their council. I just have no idea what they were really meaning when they said, "It seemed good to the Spirit and to us that..." Do you? How did they do it? How did they discern God's will? Did they guess and take it on faith? Did they feel a rushing wind? Did they hear a gentle whisper? What did they do? Because they seem to be quite sure of themselves and quite sure of the direction they're receiving from somewhere.

Anna said...

Hmm. You are assuming Jacob that the spirit is a male. I know that you really aren't, but anyway, it's kind of interesting to think of the spirit as being the female half of God. Maybe that is totally totally heretical.
In my paper I just finished I wrote about how the Spirit is what works in the space between God and humans and allows us to have a relationship with God. When there is too much sin in the world, it blocks our access to the Spirit of God. Anyway, that is what Buber would have said. Kind of interesting that he wrote about the Spirit since he was Jewish. Probably in a different sense, but for sure in the manner of the Spirit being what allows us to relate to God. I thought about capitalizing the pronouns for God in my paper and then I was like "screw it," because it would have looked nuts. Maybe I'm a heathen.

Ulee0802 said...

If the Spirit were the female side of God, He would only be 1/3 not half. (that was an attempt at humor).

Really, though, I don't think that any of God is male or female. I know that Jesus took on a male body in His incarnation but, in my humble opinion, in His resurrection body I don't believe he is either male or female.

onetenchelsea said...

i still prefer ghost.