Today is Pentecost. It’s the day in the traditional liturgical calendar, 50 days after Easter, when we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit. In most (non-Pentecostal/Charismatic) churches, it is the one Sunday out of the year that we really talk about the Holy Spirit. But why?
In my years in the church, I’ve come to realize that we don’t talk about the Spirit because the Spirit is weird. It doesn’t fit into our box of understanding about God.
See, we have an entire half of the Bible, the Old Testament, that we see as primarily dedicated to helping us understand God the Father. We have another half of the Bible, the New Testament, that we see as primarily dedicated to helping us understand God the Son. We don’t really get much on God the Holy Spirit.
The book of Acts is our primary source of understanding on how the Spirit works and moves. But even in that book, the Spirit is unpredictable. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit enables the apostles to speak in tongues so every person can understand. Verse 38 in this chapter says that in order to receive the Holy Spirit, all you have to do is repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus—and the new believers do receive the Spirit! They are so moved that they begin to share their possessions among themselves.
But by Acts 8, things seem different. Philip goes to Samaria, where many repent and are baptized in the name of Jesus, exactly what Peter indicated back in chapter 2 was required to receive the Spirit. However, the people in Samaria don’t receive the Spirit—at least, not until verse 17 when Peter and John lay hands on them.
And it gets weirder still! In Acts 5, the Spirit strikes Ananias and Sapphira dead in the first 11 verses, but then by verse 15 is healing people just because Peter’s shadow glanced across them. In Acts 19, people are healed by touching Paul’s used handkerchiefs and aprons.
How are we to make sense of this? How do we serve a God who is so unpredictable? I’ve asked myself that question hundreds, if not thousands of times. When I first grasped the ungraspable-ness of the Spirit, I had a major emotional breakdown in the middle of a class. I couldn’t handle the idea of not being able to predict the Spirit. I wanted the Spirit to fit into a system, and it didn’t.
Three years down the road from that emotional day, I can’t say that I’ve systematized the Spirit. I can’t say I understand it any better. I can’t say that I have the answers.
But that’s how God is: unknowable, yet unchanging. Incomprehensible, but indivisible.
What I can say is this:
The Spirit is weird,
and I’m okay with that.