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.
This is significant for two reasons, one theological and one practical. The practical reason this is significant is because of the parallels here between the Holy Spirit’s role in creation of every part of the universe, and the mother’s role in creation of new human life. I don’t know if you’ve ever really thought of it this way, but a mother has an incredible, unique opportunity to participate with God in creation. As the child grows within the womb, the mother is intimately involved with God in the nurturing and creation of new life. What an amazing privilege! What the Holy Spirit does in creating life and the universe is described in Scripture like a mother bird hovering over her creation, and a human mother has the incredible opportunity to participate in this ongoing creation in a personal way as a child grows within her. That is truly amazing!
The theological reason this is significant is because of the ongoing nature of the Spirit’s role in creation. It is not a one-time, static image. The image of the mother bird is not of one that lays an egg and then takes off, but of one that stays and looks on and protects and then nurtures the new life as it begins to emerge. I am completely convinced that the Holy Spirit is intimately involved in the ongoing creation in our universe. Every creature that is born is superintended by the Holy Spirit. Every seed that falls to the ground and dies, and then is reborn has, I believe, received the touch of life of God the Holy Spirit. Every beautiful flower that blossoms expresses the beauty of its creator.