At the end of my second last blog, I described the Holy Spirit as the shared project of God and human beings to bring victory out of defeat by importing the ultimate perfection of the universe into the present time, by living tomorrow’s life today. This is of course linked to Jesus’ ministry of God’s kingdom, by means of which God’s future erupts into the present time. Indeed Jesus’ whole ministry is inspired by the Spirit which had descended on him in baptism. But long before Jesus, the Holy Spirit is mentioned in the creation story of Genesis, and in many of the oracles of the prophets.
The question arises: is the experience of the Holy Spirit the same before and after the earthly life of Jesus? It would seem impious to suggest otherwise, but then if the action and suffering of Jesus have added nothing to what Isaiah knew, that looks like a lot of bother for nothing. I had already characterised the Spirit as the persuasive action of God on the universe, on molecules and minds, but if Jesus is seen as the conclusive act of divine persuasion, surely something is thereby added to the Holy Spirit? The Nicene Creed may take account of this with its description of the Spirit “proceeding from the Father and the Son.” Well that’s the Latin version of the Creed. The Greek version does not have “and the Son” insisting that the Spirit takes life only from the Father. Somehow we want to honour the integrity of human experience of the Spirit throughout history while recognising the crucial place of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection in the experience of God. Yes. I meant that. God was changed by the event of Jesus: the suffering of God with Jesus opens up in the Father even greater depths of compassion, and in the Spirit a greater urgency to adopt human beings as children of God, like Jesus. In his letter to Romans Paul wrote of the same Spirit that Isaiah knew, but it is a Spirit who has learned to tell the human spirit that it is a child of God. Yes, God learns. If God loves, how can he/she not learn?
Perhaps we can lean a little on the Pauline phrase, “the communion of the Holy Spirit.” In Greek this is koinonia, a word taken from the cultural and commercial life of the Greek cities. Enterprises with several partners were a koinonia. People who belonged to religious, philosophical or artistic clubs were a koinonia. Paul used it of the life that believers shared with each other and with God. The writer of the First Letter of John writes that the purpose of his letter is that the recipients may have koinonia with the senders who have koinonia with the Father and his son Jesus Christ. Something that faithful people might have looked for in the world to come, a common life with God, is said to be available now, to all. The life of the Holy Spirit is characterised in the last three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer: shared daily bread, shared forgiveness of debts, shared deliverance from evil.
This last petition is well placed to remind the one who shares a common life with God, that temptation towards evil is still possible, in fact very much possible for people who believe they are united with the Most High. The name of this basic temptation is arrogance – remember the garden of Eden? Human beings may imagine that they are such privileged creatures that the other creatures don’t really matter as much. But if the Spirit cooperates in the birth of every child, acts as the finger of God in every healing, and raises the murdered Jesus to new life, it must understand the process of every molecule, the life of every cell, and incorporate in its koinonia the planet and all its living things. It has been active in the creation of all forms of spirited dust from viruses to vaccines, from cabbages to kings. The communion of the Holy Spirit includes the ecosystem of the universe. All life and all the bases of life are holy.
This truth has been evident to some Eastern religions, especially Jainism and Buddhism for centuries, while Christians have been deceived by bad theology, bad humanism and bad science into thinking that homo sapiens is all that matters. The idiot Mr. Musk was quoted the other day defending expeditions to Mars because we’ll need to live there when we’ve made the earth uninhabitable. In all honesty I have to admit that the Bible and the Christian tradition, lacking any profound insight into non- human life , have been an obstacle rather than an encouragement to ecological awareness. A reformed trust in an all- inclusive Holy Spirit may lead to a wholesale reformation of Christian thinking.