A Guest post by the Revd Ron Keynes.
Shoot me down if you like, but I have quite some difficulty with much of how some Christians understand the Spirit of God. There are rather too many who somehow manage to ‘make God in their own image,’ and require others to bow the knee to their views and aspirations. I guess that tends to be the nature of ‘religion,’ which is where and why I tend to part company with ‘religion’. Not the Faith, to be sure, but ‘religion.’ However, if you think I go too far, all I ask is that you think about what follows. You may like to compare this approach with that of a certain Jesus of Nazareth. He rarely required ‘belief’ though He often challenged people to think and then to choose.
Like so many other older people, I was brought up in an atmosphere of ‘shut up and believe’ – and to question one’s elders and betters was tantamount to heresy. Those were the days of the ‘Holy Ghost’ which tended to set the agenda anyhow. But look back over Scripture, if you will, or, better still, ponder your own pilgrimage as a person let alone as a Christian, and ponder a little deeper.
If ever you wonder how many other ‘Abrahams’ that God called, you will gather what I am on about. The real Abraham did not follow because he understood right away that Yahweh was touching him on the shoulder. If the truth is known, it was more likely to be a sense of dissatisfaction with the religion of his time and day, there in the valley of the Euphrates River. He sensed the need to go searching after more real and tangible truth, for his moon worshipping had left him somewhat out in the cold. And it was no narrow direction he was heading, but a far more fascinating and even risky one. And if he – or someone else – had not taken that journey, it is interesting to wonder where we would be now.
My real point is that rather too many Christians have reduced the powerful and relevant story of the Spirit of God, limiting the impact to ‘those who believe.’ The reality is otherwise, and it seems to me that our present age and stage is not a bad time to underline that fact. For the coming of the Holy Spirit is not so much a narrow religious experience, as it is a fundamental challenge to all of humanity to be like Abraham, and that is to search for truth in whatever area of life, and to follow wherever that search takes us. In Biblical terms, the Spirit is the Spirit of truth, and surely the rather wonderful and broad picture of the Spirit’s activity in the Acts of the Apostles is that He was at work in the most unexpected of people. Sure, the Apostles were affected, but so were that Roman centurion and the Ethiopian eunuch. In conventional terms, those men had no place whatever in the New Creation.
So the challenge that Christian Faith offers to all humans of all ages is to be open to and to respond honestly to truth in whatever situation one finds oneself. Perhaps this position has been reached – from my perspective – because in our cultural heritage, conscience has always been held in the highest esteem. That does not mean that mistakes, sometimes monumental, have been made. But it does mean something rather more significant.
First is, that this search for truth – and balance in all situations and confrontations – is the only way forward in any human society or culture. There are illustrations absolutely abounding of the truth of the opposite, are there not!!! When I am unsure of your veracity and/or integrity, then life becomes really quite tenuous. And right here lies the very basis of the Christian contribution to life, pointing to reconciliation and away from disintegration.
And the second is that, unless a person or people are so degraded as to have silenced their conscience - and really have to be aware of that fact - the veracity of this human experience is available to all humans, regardless of time, culture or history. So, for heaven's sake, release the Spirit from bondage!