It is not always what you don’t know that hurts you. More often than not the real problem lies in what we don’t know that we don’t know. In speaking of what we don’t know that we don’t know we are moving into the realm of presuppositions, assumptions and paradigms—those invisible ideas and hidden categories that shape what we see and don’t see. This is the fundamental issue in all areas of human knowledge, and nowhere more so than when we attempt to think about the Holy Spirit.
It is critical that we reflect on how we are to go about understanding the Holy Spirit. Do we simply amass all the verses in the bible that speak of the Spirit, distill them into one or two or more general categories and call this the biblical doctrine of the Spirit? While we neglect what the scripture says to our peril, this approach could quickly fall prey to the problem of what we don’t know that we don’t know and how that shapes what we see and don’t see in the scripture.
For theologians such as Irenaeus and Athanasius in the early Church, and Karl Barth and T. F. and J.B. Torrance in our own time, the way forward is to stick closely to Jesus and to the light shinning in his very identity. Part of what these theologians mean by following the light of Jesus is that the very existence of the Father’s Son incarnate speaks volumes about God, humanity and the divine-human relationship, and not least about the Holy Spirit. The identity of Jesus Christ gives us a fundamental, a starting point, and an inner logic and framework for our thought. It also exposes deadly assumptions built into the Western mind, and these assumptions (which happen to be dualisms) dramatically affect the way we read the scripture and go about theological thinking.
To speak of Jesus Christ biblically is to speak of the Father’s Son incarnate, and of the One anointed in the Holy Spirit, and of the Creator—in and through and by and for whom all things were created and as sustained. Jesus has serious connections, to say the least. And unless we are going to posit that Jesus divorced himself from his Father, unanointed himself of the Spirit, and split away from being the Creator—in and through and by and for whom all things were created and are sustained—then his very existence proclaims to us that the Father, and the Holy Spirit, and creation are not separated but bound together in very real relationship. Indeed, Jesus is himself the relationship. Jesus’ identity, his very existence in relationship with his Father, the Holy Spirit and all creation is the light of life, the secret, the key to God, to creation, to history and human existence within it.
“ I am the light of the cosmos. The one who follows Me shall never, ever walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).
This vision of the identity of Jesus as the One who lives in relationship with his Father, and the Holy Spirit, and all creation exposes several dark spots in our Western mindset. First, our presentation of the gospel typically begins with the announcement of our separation from the Father. We sinned. We are separated from God. But the very existence of Jesus, as the Father’s undivorced Son incarnate, and as the One who did not undo his relationship with humanity when he became human, proclaims to us that all forms of separation from his Father, whether mythological, theological or personal, have been overcome by Jesus himself. The gospel is not the news that we can be reunited with a separated god. The gospel is the news that the Father’s Son himself has come, the Creator, and he has overcome whatever separation from God we have created, and he did so in his own being and existence. We don’t make Jesus part of our lives. He has made us part of his.
Second, while a split or dualism between the supposed ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’ dimensions of human existence is built into the fabric of the Western mind, and of Western religion, Jesus’ existence exposes such a notion as nonsense. He is the Creator, the One in and through and by and for whom all things were created and are sustained. This Creator became a human being, and in doing so he joined the Father, the Holy Spirit and all creation in relationship.
“All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3).
What part of creation has come into being behind the back of Jesus? And what part of creation manages to continue to be without him? What part of creation is not included in his relationship with his Father and the Holy Spirit? The ultimate dualistic disaster is ripping the Father, Son and Spirit apart, such that we could possibly encounter one without the other. Given the beautiful and utter oneness of the Trinity, the fact that the Son is the Creator and sustainer of all things means that he has a relationship with all creation, and in him so do the Father and the Holy Spirit. What part of our human experience is therefore ‘secular,’ without Jesus, devoid of the life of the Father, Son and Spirit? Motherhood? Work? Play? Romance? Gardening, golf, teaching, doctoring, governing, loving our neighbors?
Third, to go back to Irenaeus and his insight that the Father and the Holy Spirit were ‘accustoming’ themselves to dwell in the fallen human race through the life of Jesus—and over against our own ideas and assumptions—we are to proceed on the assumption that the Holy Spirit is present and at work in the relationships that Jesus himself has established with the fallen human race and with all creation. For in Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit found their way, so to speak, into real relationship with us in our fallen worlds.
What we don’t know that we don’t know is that we come to the scripture and to the discussion of the Holy Spirit and his relationship with us with a mindset riddled with dualisms, which keeps us from even suspecting that the Holy Spirit may be present, at work and producing his fruit everywhere. I once heard a young man say, ‘our job is to get the Holy Spirit into people.’ To begin with, only the Father’s Son and the anointed One could ever accomplish something as staggering as uniting us with the Holy Spirit. If you take Jesus Christ out of the equation of creation, the cosmos instantly vanishes. Not a single molecule survives a second without Jesus. And if the Holy Spirit decided that he would evacuate human existence, the cosmos would become utterly fruitless, void of life. It seems to me that we are giving ourselves far too much credit, assuming that ‘ordinary’ things like laughter, fellowship, caring, working, giving ourselves for others, being parents, making music, creating things are simply 'human' and have no Jesus or any Holy Spirit in them. Our dualisms have blinded us, and we don’t even know it.
When we finally meet Jesus face to face, I don’t think we will ask his forgiveness for giving him too much credit, and for overestimating his place in the whole scheme of things. I think we will be stunned silent by the sheer centrality of his very existence to the whole cosmos and to every moment of our entire lives. And I think we will be overwhelmed when we see the fingerprints of the Holy Spirit everywhere.
Where we are in our understanding and in our believing in the Holy Spirit is another matter, and is never to be confused with the Holy Spirit's presence, work and fruit-producing.
Holy Spirit give us Jesus’ eyes. Help us to see you in our lives and living, in our work and play, in the extraordinary ordinariness of life.