Saturday, May 8, 2010

Where in the World is the Holy Spirit?

Doctrines about Jesus and God the Father are fairly consistent from one evangelical church to the next, but let's admit it, doctrines about the Holy Spirit are all over the map. I've attended cessationist churches, and I've attended charismatic churches, and they have sizable differences in what they expect the Holy Spirit to do in the church and in the heart of the believer. But no matter whether you believe the Holy Spirit still gives believers spiritual gifts such as prophecy, tongues, and so forth (which I do, although the idea is often abused), most evangelicals are in agreement that it is the Holy Spirit's job to comfort, counsel, and convict:

"And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.... [He] will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." John 14:16-17, 26

"When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment..." John 16:8

He is also our Intercessor:

"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." Romans 8:26-27

From these scriptures and others, these are the things I've believed about the Holy Spirit:

1. He lives inside of every believer, and He won't ever leave. This was Jesus' gift to believers when He left. He Himself would not be physically present, but He would send His Spirit.

2. He will bring conviction of sin. More than just our God-given conscience, which I think is part of every human's cognitive and psychosocial make-up, the Holy Spirit will prompt a person to repent of sinful behavior.

3. We can learn to ignore Him. Of course, believers can harden themselves to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and learn to disregard Him. Hence we are warned not to quench the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19).

4. He brings comfort. He will bring peace that passes all understanding.

5. He teaches us. When we read scripture, it is the Holy Spirit who enlightens our minds for understanding, which is why unbelievers don't get a whole lot out of the Bible.

6. He intercedes for us. This is one promise I cling to tenaciously-- that when my heart is crying out to God but can't seem to summon up any useful words, the Holy Spirit is stepping in on my behalf.

Believing all this, I've really been struggling with the feeling that the Holy Spirit is not doing His job.

In regards to His role as Comforter, I've certainly sensed that supernatural peace during difficult times in my life, such as when my Dad died. But I've hit some of the lowest points of my life during these last 9 months, and I've thought, "That whole comfort thing would be nice, Mr. Holy Spirit, sir. Any time. Any time at all."

I've also wondered why He doesn't always seem to reveal truth or convict sin, even when it's desperately needed and sought after. As I've mentioned in other posts, my husband struggles with severe depression and mental illness, and one thing he and I both pray for is wisdom, discernment, and a firm grip on reality. One facet of his mental illness is that he often blocks out and forgets things and has no recollection of doing or saying things he has done and said. Why would the Holy Spirit not bring clarity when my husband prays for it? I realize that not every prayer for healing is answered with healing, but when the illness is so intertwined with a person's emotions and spirit, how can the Spirit not step in and reveal truth? How can the Spirit allow a person to continue on in sin unknowingly when that person is praying and asking for truth and conviction of hidden sin?

All of this was brought home to me this week when my son's principal called me. Apparently my son had defaced another child's book; however, no one had actually seen him do it. The evidence was purely circumstantial. When confronted about whether or not he had done it, my son didn't say yes or no-- he said, "I don't remember if I did it." Aaahh! After two hours of grilling, talking, and listening to him--in which we talked about how God sees everything we do and how He will help us know the right thing to do-- my son still didn't know whether he needed to confess or not. Now, my son believes in Jesus and has the Holy Spirit in him. I can understand an adult being hardened to the promptings of conviction but not an 8-year-old child who generally defends his innocence and confesses his guilt fairly easily. So how could he simply not remember? Why wouldn't the Holy Spirit reveal truth to his heart? I'm terrified that he has the beginnings of the same mental illness as his father.

Or maybe I just don't understand what the Holy Spirit is really supposed to do...?