Summary: The seventh phrase of the Creed: "I believe in the Holy Spirit"
THE HOLY SPIRIT
This week we move into the second part of the Creed. The first part was almost exclusively about the nature and life of Jesus, but in this second part we branch out to a listing of other Christian beliefs. The difficult piece is that the Creed doesn’t come with study helps. It assumes that those who recite it, know what is meant when they say those things. And in former times, they did. Times have changed, however, and we need to look at these lines to understand what it is we are saying we believe.
“I believe in the Holy Spirit.” It sounds easy enough. Lots of people can tell you that there is this concept of the Trinity...a 3-in-1 God that we identify as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit...or in the older language, Holy Ghost. But what is the Holy Spirit really, and what does it mean to say we believe in it?
The word in Greek, which is the original language of the New Testament, is pneuma. It is the root of our English word pneumonia and other words that have to do with the lungs and breathing, and in the Bible it has a long, rich history. Back in the Hebrew Scriptures, the word was ruach, and both words meant breath, wind, and spirit...all at once. Our current words are so sterile. Breath, to us, is biology. Wind is meterology. Spirit is theology. Not so for those who wrote the Bible. For them, the wind that blew by, some of which you breathed in, was all the Spirit of God. God was blowing in the storm; God was giving you every breath; you lived by the Spirit of God.
This idea goes all the way back to the Creation story in Genesis. When God breathes into Adam, the word is ruach. It is the breath of God that gives the first man life. In Ezekiel, in that wonderful story about Ezekiel seeing a vision of a valley filled with the dry bones of dead soldiers, it is the wind of God, the ruach, that blows over the dry bones and brings them back to life. At Pentecost, as the disciples wait for the gift Jesus promised to them, there is a mighty wind that blows...and sure enough...it is the pneuma...the breath, the wind, the Spirit...that fills them and transforms their lives.
So the first thing we mean when we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” is all of that rich tradition. In the first part of the Creed we have assented to belief in a form of God that we could see with our eyes...God as a man...Jesus. In this next line, we are saying that there is still another form of God that exists in the world, but that is known in a different and more universal way.
In Jesus, God is very particular. This man in this place at this time. Belief in Jesus affirms our belief that God is a God who will act in history. With the Holy Spirit, we also affirm the ways that God is at work everywhere with everyone at all times. God in the Holy Spirit gives life to every human being, and according to the Psalms, every living thing on the planet. We are saying we believe that God blows in with every storm and gentles us with summer breeze. As the psalmist puts it, “The trees of the field clap their hands.” When we take a deep breath, we draw in the life of God.
It has nothing to do with our merit. God is not punishing us when our house is blown away in a hurricane and God is not praising our goodness when we are allowed to take another breath. It is simply the way that God is present everywhere and with all things. And...lest you be concerned for the fish...remember your chemistry. Even water is part oxygen. When we really realize that God’s spirit moves in and through all living things, we can better appreciate how much God cares about the way we treat the environment.
But that is not all. While one part of the Holy Spirit tradition reminds us that God is there for everyone, another part reminds us that the Holy Spirit isn’t there for nothing. The breath we all are given is given for a purpose; first for the general purpose of glorifying God and secondly for purposes as individual as the creatures who breathe it in. The Holy Spirit is known by other words and other names in both the Old and New Testaments. There is a strong Jewish tradition of the Holy Spirit as wisdom or sophia, most often portrayed as a woman. Earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as both a counselor of truth, which ties into the wisdom tradition, and a comforter. In both the Old and New Testaments, the Holy Spirit enables people to prophesy and to perform miracles, such as the way those in the passage from Acts are able to speak in languages that they have not learned.