Summary: We can relate to the Spirit through the feminine imagery present in scripture.
God the Father. God the Son. And God the Holy Spirit. Three of my favorite things to talk about, and today we are going to talk about God the Holy Spirit. We talk less about the Holy Spirit than about the Father and the Son, and I think we understand the Holy Spirit less than we understand the Father and the Son, so it is worth our time to turn our attention there this morning.
Who is the Holy Spirit? We stumble a little here… we imagine God the Father, we imagine Jesus, we are able to relate to them as persons even as we recognize that it is God we are talking about, but when I ask, “Who is the Holy Spirit” we pause. Sometimes it even seems we might be more comfortable with the question, “what is the Holy Spirit”. When we talk about the Holy Spirit I even most often hear people say, “it”. That has always bothered me. The Holy Spirit is not an “it” – we believe in one God, eternally existent in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a person, one of the three persons of the trinity, and we need to learn to think of her as one of the three persons.
We first meet this 3rd Person in Gen. 1:2. Right away, we see the Holy Spirit of God intimately involved in creation. The NIV text says, “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” As we read the rest of the creation account, we see that God speaks, and what He speaks comes into being. It is evident from this verse that it is the activity of the Holy Spirit which brings the Word of the Father into being. This is confirmed in Psalm 104:30: “When you send your Spirit, they [referring to all living things of creation] are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” We see this specifically in the story of the creation of humanity in Gen. 2:7: “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (“breath” is a consistent OT image of the Spirit of God, especially when used in terms of “breath of life”).
So the Holy Spirit plays a primary role in creation. God the Father speaks, and God the Holy Spirit brings the creative will into being.
The verse from Gen 1:2 uses the word, “hovering” over the waters. The image the writer is using is that of a mother bird hovering above her nest, an image that Eugene Peterson captures in his “The Message” translation: “God's Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.” The only other place where we have this word used the same way is in Deut. 32:11, where God is described “like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them.”
So the image is very much a maternal image – God the Holy Spirit, like a mother bird, tending and nurturing creation. Bringing it into being.