The church sets one Sunday aside each year as Trinity Sunday so that preachers can demonstrate how little they understand of God's nature. I will attempt to demonstrate my own ignorance. In fact the first step to understanding the nature of God is to realize that it is totally beyond our mental capability to do so.
God is something, someone whom we experience. It is possible for us to experience something of God because God makes it possible. God makes it possible because He loves us. God loves us because He loves every living thing. Somehow, we can never know how, we experience God's presence through an emotional response. It is as if God breaths life into his creation and we can sense the presence of His life. The Jews described this presence which they could sense as "The breath of God". The word spirit originally meaning "breath" derives its current meaning from this expression. We experience God in our sense of wonder or fear as we contemplate the power of the storm or the emptiness of the desert.
800 years before Jesus was born, a rich young price who had abandoned his heritage for a life of poverty and prayer received enlightenment and started preaching his message to a group of disciples. Later his followers would tell a story about how God took the form of a white elephant, came to his mother in her sleep and with a tap of his trunk on her side conceived himself in her womb. Even older than that are the accounts in the Hindu scriptures of how God was conceived and born as a child. The Bible contains the four Gospels, each giving an account of the life and death of Jesus, Two of them explicitly say that he was conceived through the action of the Holy Spirit. Jesus called himself the "Son of Man" emphasising his humanity while we Christians call him the "Son of God" emphasising his divinity. The Christian experience is that through a belief in Jesus, God gives us a manageable human image of Himself. When we talk to God using the name Jesus, we talk to a brother who has been one of us and knows where we are coming from.
These then are the three experiences of God common to all Christians. The sense of awe, and wonder at the God who created this vast universe; the sense of God's presence lying on the land and the intimacy of knowing the human face of God in prayer to Jesus. The Bible describes a further experience which the church does not universally accept. Jesus attributed his preaching and the miracles he performed to his "Heavenly Father" dwelling in him and acting through him. Jesus promised that following his death, the Holy Spirit would become available to his followers, dwelling in them and acting through them. St Paul in his letters to the early church describes a number of "gifts of the Spirit" in which the Holy Spirit dwelling in a person acts in a supernatural way to enable them to, among other things pray, preach, teach, heal and perform miracles. The western churches have in the main corrupted the meaning of this and now interpret it as referring to ordinary human skill mostly acquired through training. Despite the teaching of the church, the Holy Spirit erupts in activity from time to time in periods of revival. Since I was converted in one of these revivals, my experience of the Holy Spirit confirms for me the truth of what the Bible records Jesus and Paul as having taught.
Many in the Church claim that Christianity is superior to other religions because we accept Jesus as the Son of God and worship God as Father Son and Holy Spirit.
I would prefer to say that Christianity has the potential to offer a much quicker and simpler route towards a deep relationship of love with God. It also teaches its own test of that claim. When people truly follow Jesus and are filled with the Holy Spirit, we should expect to see miraculous healing and the transformation of lives.
The translation is wrong. The word Jesus used to Describe God best translates as Daddy. The Lord's Prayer really begins with the greeting of a small child rushing to meet his father and shouting "Daddy" in excitement.
That says it all. What more is there to say.
Except perhaps "sorry Daddy" because being a human, I suffer from verbal diarrhea and am going to say more.
I think that perhaps the fist thing we need to understand is that Jesus was speaking people who were already in awe of Yahweh Sabaoth, the creator of the universe, the Lord of all. So in awe that even to mention his name seemed wrong. So great was their God that the temple in Jerusalem was simply a dwelling place for his name. In giving God the new name Daddy, Jesus wanted to add to their knowledge of God. When the early Christians formulated their experience of God into the doctrine of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, they incorporated the Jewish understanding of "Yahweh" and "the Breath of God" into the words Father and Holy Spirit.
So perhaps it would be better to say that the Lord's Prayer should begin with the greeting of a small child rushing to meet his father and shouting "Daddy" in excitement; then the exclamation of realisation that my Dad is the creator of the universe: "May your name be held holy".
All I really have to say is that the relationship between man and God is like the relationship between a toddler and his loving dad. It is not the relationship between a teenage son and an authoritarian father who will give him a good thrashing if he shows disrespect.
It is the relationship between a small child and its daddy and if I say toddler, perhaps the reader will grasp something of the gap in language and thought between God and man. We have few words and most of our concepts are poorly formed, yet our loving Daddy picks us up and cradles us in his arms. And if you have ever picked up a toddler and lovingly cradled it in your arms, you will know that after a quick intake of your love, it feels securer enough in your love to rush off again and continue exploring the world. Our relationship with God has freedom built into it. The toddler has no concept of obedience and takes advice only when it corresponds to his experience. Having been told for the first not to touch something because it is hot, he will touch it to explore the concept of "hot" and find that it hurts. Next time he is given that advise, he compares it with past experience and might heed it.
By calling God Daddy and saying that we should be like little children, Jesus gives us the freedom to be in a loving relationship with God which does not demand obedience and only takes advice after its value has been established. What kind of a parent dominates their child's will organising every moment of its day. Although I know quite a few like that, I pity their children. Children need freedom in which to explore their world and develop their minds and bodies. God, our loving Daddy gives us this same freedom.
Beware priests and others who preach obedience to God and then tell you what God wants you to do.
Jesus is the name I used when I tentatively asked the nothingness if God exists and since God answered by letting me feel His overpowering all embracing love, Jesus is the name by which I know God.
In meeting God through the use of this name, I inherited all that the Church teaches about Jesus and everything that the New Testament records about him, both during his time on earth and since his death. The Jesus whom I had known as a historical character became Jesus the revelation of God in human form with whom I could talk and whose love I could feel.
More has been written about Jesus than any other subject: I ask myself what could I contribute. It took his followers very little time before they were arguing over their different understandings of his nature. When the Roman Empire hijacked Christianity, the Bishops were ordered to define a single doctrine. The most important issue was whether or not Jesus the man really was human, or just spirit in human guise. The Bishops decided that Jesus was fully human, yet at the same time divine and that his two natures were distinct and not confused.
If God were to become man, for it to have any meaning, he must be fully human. Jesus's experience of life and religious practice would have been no different from that of other men and women. He always referred to himself as the Son of Man. My guess is that this is how God the Father addressed Jesus in their prayer conversations. When Jesus healed the sick, I do not suppose his experience was any different from that of Christians today when they are used by the Holy Spirit to bring healing. I do not suppose that when Jesus prayed, his experience was any deeper than that which we might experience if we would only surrender ourselves completely to God's love. What makes Jesus God's son is not Jesus's experience of his relationship with his Heavenly Father, but God the Father's experience of being in Jesus (through the Holy Spirit) and entering fully into the human experiences of Jesus the man. God has given us a way of understanding how God the creator who holds the universe like an acorn in the palm of his hand can at the same time be in Jesus through the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is something we can only ever understand when we allow ourselves to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us as it did in the man Jesus.
The argument about Jesus has become one about his mother and there are three doctrines to choose from. Mary was a virgin and remained a virgin; Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus through the action of the Holy Spirit, but went on to have a normal relationship with Joseph providing Jesus with bothers and sisters and the third alternative that Joseph was the genetic father of Jesus. It is reasonable to suppose that even the Gospel writers had differing views because that is how the Gospels read.
What is important is that we fully understand the nature of the man whom God chose to become. Since few readers will know the difference between a carpenter and a joiner in the common usage of the English language, our understanding of Jesus as a carpenter is likely to be inaccurate. I suspect that Jesus could turn his hand to most things in the building trade and that much of the family livelihood would have come from subcontract work in the new Roman style towns which were being constructed. All I can say for certain is that when I am in my workshop, the thought often comes into my mind that Jesus envies me my power tools. Jesus of Nazareth was no wimp. His muscles were strong and his hands hard, work swollen and scared from slips of the chisel. I can imagine him binding a bit of rag over a cut to stop the blood dripping on the work and shrugging off sympathy with an "I am a carpenter from Nazareth, what do you take me for, some Jerusalem furniture maker." The Jesus I know laughs with me over this joke as I include it in my prayers.
The Jesus I know, is different from the Jesus you know. We can read the Gospel stories, but we can only come to know Jesus through contemplative prayer. Jesus did not say we must believe in God. He did not say we should worship God. What he said was that we should love God. He did not just say that we should love, but that we should love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength. These are not just words, but an invitation to a deep emotional, all embracing personal relationship with Jesus, the human revelation of God. Such a relationship is impossible without forming a person image of Jesus in my mind. We can see how in religious paintings, Jesus so often takes on the racial characteristics and clothes of the painter's culture. My Jesus is my Jesus and if He is different from your Jesus, it simply reveals how far God is prepared to go to make himself real to each one of us.
Prayer is not meant to be a shopping list of things we want God to do for us. Prayer should be a conversation of love: a two way conversation of love in which Jesus responds to our cares and concerns. Trivial prayer consists of an exchange of words. Real prayer is of love and is therefore an exchange of both words and emotion. The relationship with Jesus has no parallel in human experience for Jesus lets us feel his love for us. No human lover can ever let their partner feel their love, but must try to communicate it through tenderness and material provision. Although we may attribute our physical well being as being due to God's intervention in the world, Jesus has no physical form: we cannot embrace Him; we cannot feel his hug. So Jesus must let us feel his love. The deepest prayer is pure emotion in which love overpowers the need for words. It can also be painful like the love between a soldier and his wife when they are separated for years by war and can only write to each other. The more intimately we are joined to Jesus in his embrace of love, the more we yearn to be in his physical presence.
My Jesus finds me funny and has taught me to laugh at myself. Often, my laughter at myself seems to be an experience of His laughter over my antics and irrational concerns.
My Jesus meets me where I am. He meets me with all my misconceptions about the physical world, other people, human society and the politics of governments and theological wrangling. He is interested only in love while my restless mind seeks answers and reassurance that my opinions are correct. As I strive to know my Jesus, I cannot help attributing some of my own thoughts to Him. Your Jesus meets you where you are and you too attribute Him with some of your ideas. Consequently, it is very easy for us fall into the trap of each assuming that while we know the real Jesus, the other one of us is deluded.
My Jesus is different from your Jesus. When we read the Bible, it is apparent that Matthew's Jesus is different from Mark's Jesus, who is different from Luke's Jesus, who is different from John's Jesus who is different from Paul's Jesus who is different from ......
Jesus meets you and I where we are, just as he met Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul ..... where they were. Consequently the various records of what Jesus did and said are all different in one way or another. John shows a total disregard for recording things as they happened and uses the story of Jesus the man as a vehicle for presenting the teaching he has received from Jesus, his "Risen Lord".
It is important to remember that the four Gospels were not and are not the only records, stories or imaginative accounts of Jesus's life and teaching. Some sources count more than a thousand such documents. Even as I write, authors are at work on new fictitious manuscripts which will in due course appear on the internet as new sects form. So strong is the human desire for self justification that we join with others who share our particular delusions and heap on the new convert all our distorted perceptions of Jesus.
The public image of Jesus is an amalgam of those portrayed by the churches. It is a confused image lacking reality. To add to this confusion, others outside the church hierarchies tell stories and act out dramas each putting a particular spin on who Jesus was and is or is not.
The only way though this maze is through prayer and the only compass is the experience of feeling Jesus's love when we are walking in the right direction. There is no single destination. Even when, after death, we meet Jesus face to face, my Jesus will be different from your Jesus. Only as times passes on the scale of the birth and death of stars will our oneness with God grow until we all perceive the same Jesus.
But in life, we have to make a distinction between those of us who know the real Jesus and those who have concocted a distorted imaginary Jesus who justifies their ungodly actions. To enable us in this, God has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit.
There are times in history when particular parts of the Church are in danger of withering and God needs to take action to bring them back to life. The experience of the Holy Spirit in these times of revival is very different from that described in the teaching of the Church. I was converted in one of these periods of revival and my experience of the Holy Spirit is very different from that of Christians who have never experienced a revival.
What makes these two experiences different is "free will". There are those religions which preach that everything is the will of god. Christianity has always maintained that we are not puppets acting out God's plan, but that we have "free will" to choose what we do. The normal human response to God seems to be to use one's free will to say no. We mostly use our free will limit the action of the Holy Spirit. Times of revival are different because God needs to override our free will and liberate the Holy Spirit to work in, on and through us.
Once the revival has breathed new life into that part of the church and added sufficient numbers of converts, our full free will is restored and we can revert to limiting the Holy Spirit. In the rational light of day, we can look back on what happened and compare our experience with that described in the Bible. We are reassured that our memory is no delusion, that we had not lost our minds and fallen into communal madness. We had in fact experienced the action of the Holy Spirit as described in the Bible. Having been part of a revival, and experienced the Holy Spirit acting in the ways described in the Bible, those passages have turned from mere words into reality. Like all revivals, a time came when sufficient numbers of existing Christians and new converts had been brought into this new deep personal relationship with God. At meetings all over the country, leaders shared with meetings the belief that the Holy Spirit was telling us to disband and go back into our local churches and quietly pray for renewal. As one of those new converts, I was confronted with the fact that on the whole, the teaching of the Church distorts what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit and presents a very limited alternative.
I do not accept the teaching of the church in saying that the Holy Spirit is given exclusively to Christians. I believe that the God who holds the universe like an acorn in the palm of His Hand is also present within every living creature. To help us understand how this can be so, God has given us the conceptual revelation of the Holy Spirit: the Breath of God which breaths life into all creation.
I do not believe that there is any way in which an individual can get rid of this presence of God within them, not by stealing, not by inflicting suffering, not by killing, not even by ordering the deaths of millions. God is infinite love and nothing can overcome the power of that love.
I believe that we are all able to listen to the thoughts that the Holy Spirit offers to our minds, but in the main choose not to. I want to make the bold assertion that religion is one of our main lines of defence against the influence of the Holy Spirit. That many of our religious leaders are among the most expert among us at resisting the influence of the Holy Spirit.
I ended the section on Jesus saying that God has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable us to distinguish between those of us who know the real Jesus and those who have concocted a distorted imaginary Jesus who justifies their ungodly actions. There is an experience which those close to God have when they meet each other. It is as if the Holy Spirit in me meets the Holy Spirit in you and we can feel Her joy. I am not saying that is what happens, just that I can best understand the mystery through this simple picture. I identify this experience with the Gift of Discernment identified in the Bible. When I enter a Holy Place, the Holy Spirit in me rejoices over the knowledge of all the prayers and experiences of God's love that have taken place there and allows me to feel that joy. Conversely, when I enter a place of conflict and anger or meet wicked people, I feel the discomfort and sadness of the Holy Spirit within me.
The Gospels record how Jesus promised his Disciples that after his death, the Heavenly Father would freely give the Holy Spirit to his followers. Luke gave an account in the Acts of the Apostles of how the Holy Spirit was given to a small group of the eleven remaining Disciples, members of Jesus's family and a few others. The result was an instant change from living in fear of their lives, just waiting to be arrested, to boldly proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Son of God had risen from the dead. Not only did the Holy Spirit give them the courage and the words to say, but also enabled them to speak in the languages of those to whom they spoke. From that moment on, those who believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the son of god have been able to experience the presence and actions of the Holy Spirit in a new and unique way unknown to the followers of other religions.
The Christian experience of the Holy Spirit is diverse, but broadly speaking we can divide into two the two functions of enabling worship and teaching within the meetings of congregations and empowering the proclamation of the Gospel.
This is an incredible claim: that God dwells within each of us giving us the power through His action, to do things which humans are not capable of doing. It is such an incredible claim that even Christians find it hard to believe. If had not experienced this for myself, I certainly would dismiss it as nonsense. I had not been a Christian long when I was at a meeting of over two thousand people in the old Methodist Central Hall in Birmingham UK. I had my new Bible which I had only recently bought and it happened to open at Isaiah 53. A persistent thought kept repeating itself in my mind "I want you to read this". Then the whole meeting became absolutely silent waiting for the Holy Spirit's continued orchestration of the meeting. Then I knew for certain where that thought was coming from and started to read "See, my servant will prosper...."
As the early Church grew, not all meetings of congregations were as orderly as that and St Paul had to write to the church at Corinth laying down the law. Together with the teaching that John's Gospel attributes to Jesus at the last supper, these few verses provide the main Biblical source of information about the action of the Holy Spirit. Paul describes these actions as Gifts of the Spirit. Gifts to the church to facilitate worship and reinforce believe. Needless to say, church leaders place many different interpretations on this scanty source of information. The principle interpretation of the Western Church is that the Gifts of the Spirit were limited to the the period of growth of the early church. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit has never been convinced by this teaching and it is always possible to find groups of Christians whose regular experience of the action of the Holy Spirit corresponds to the Biblical description.
Not only does the Holy Spirit sometimes speak through one person to another of a different language through their own language as described at Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles, but far more commonly, the Holy Spirit enables us to pray in a completely unknown language. This is called speaking in tongues. In times of persecution, it has been one of the main ways in which members of underground churches are able to identify each other for certain. Some denominations of the church mistakenly apply this as the test of evidence that a person has received the Holy Spirit.
A very good modern parable would be to say that the Holy Spirit is like the mobile phone system. Mobile phones are freely available to all and the masts are there providing the network coverage. But to get a mobile phone to work, one needs a simm card. With a simm card, I can receive calls. To make calls, I need to pay for them. But since G3, mobile phones have entered a new dimension enabling us to surf the network, navigate, even see the person we are talking to. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is in every living person allowing God to experience their life. Instead of a simm card, we need to open up a relationship of prayer with God. Allowing the Holy Spirit to act through us in gifts of the spirit is like becoming Broad Band enabled. In the language of the Bible, we might say that baptism opens the account with God and "baptism in the Holy Spirit" gives the broad band connection, but these are just words. The reality is that the creator of universe is a God who loves variety and just as flowers have different numbers of petals, the experience of the Holy Spirit varies.
The natural order of things is that we limit God and so our experiences of the Holy Spirit are limited and necessarily different. All I can do is describe my own varied experiences of the action of the Holy Spirit. Scattered within these pages are a few sentences which the Holy Spirit carefully and persistently dictated to me. Many who lead worship and spend long hours writing out sermons claim that they are inspired by the Holy Spirit. My own experience is that the act of typing gives me time to think my own thoughts rather than listen to the Holy Spirit.
Listening to a thought repeating in ones mind asking one to read a Bible passage does not demand too much faith because the words are there to read and all I have to do is to respond. The next most common experience of the Holy Spirit is the request to pray allowing the Holy Spirit to give one the words to say. In my experience, this usually starts with a request to pray and the first few words or even a sentence or two. The natural instinct is to dismiss this as simply being in ones imagination, but if the meeting becomes silent and the request keeps repeating and becoming more insistent, then one might well respond and the words might well flow. This requires a lot of faith. My experience is as described by Paul. As I listen to what I am saying, I can at any moment interrupt the flow. I am still in complete control. In my own experience, and listening to others praying in this way, it is apparent that the crunch point comes when someone whose name one does not know is about to be spoken. The speaker falters and says "this person" before relaxing again and letting the words flow.
There are a number of different gifts of the spirit which are very similar. This kind of prayer [called extemporary prayer by some] is perhaps the least contentious. Next on the list comes the gift of prophecy. Subjectively, this is no different from extemporary prayer, but the request might start with a phrase indicating that this is a message from God: "Thus says the Lord. I want you to know that I love you. ..." Or perhaps "My little ones, I want you to know that I love you."
Preaching and teaching are similar gifts of the spirit. I would distinguish teaching as being different because most if not all of what is to be said is already known to the speaker, so the action of the Holy Spirit is more one of ordering the thoughts, regulating the flow and providing the self confidence. Teaching becomes preaching when new ideas are introduced to illustrate the teaching or add to it. I am a lay preacher. There were a very few times when I received no inspiration and was left floundering talking out of the top of my head. There were other times when the Holy Spirit simply spoke through me and I listened with interest. It takes a lot of faith to believe that this will happen every time. Good preaching, whether inspired by the Holy Spirit or simply the product of the human intellect, springs from the preachers prayer life and journey of faith. This is my most common experience of inspired preaching and on reflection, the Holy Spirit's inspiration has usually been building up to the actual sermon for some time. Sometimes, I might have mentally gone over many hours worth of material. From the feedback I get from members of my congregations, I have concluded that the Holy Spirit is just as active, often even more active, in the process of listening. Sometimes, it was just half a sentence of mine that started the listener on a train of thought inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Next in the list comes the gift of healing. Many books have been written on the subject, so what can I possibly say of any significance. I can only tell of my own personal experience. Healing is a very difficult subject for two reasons. The first is that our ordinary experience of doctors and hospital is that they have limited success and while some of their treatments work, other have little effect. This is compounded by what is described as the placebo effect in which for many illnesses, completely ineffective medicine still results in a 50% cure rate. Having undergone medical treatment which has failed, it is apparent that nothing short of a miracle will effect a cure. This is the second area of difficulty because having put the medics to the test, we are now to put God to the test. Success or failure is intimately connected with belief and faith. The reality is that prayer for healing sometimes produces miracles, but can also be spectacularly unsuccessful. The Gospel writers report that even Jesus was at times unable to heal and perform miracles because of people's disbelief. But since these instances did not deter Jesus from continuing his ministry, we should also follow his example and temper our expectation. Healing through miraculous divine intervention does occur, but as with ordinary medicine, there is no guarantee. As with ordinary medicine, there are many other factors which affect the outcome. I personally have experienced miraculous healing of my own body and also experienced being used by the Holy Spirit to pray for the healing of others. But since then have had problems with sciatica which the Lord did not seen fit to heal miraculously. As with ordinary medicine, there is no guarantee.
Vast amounts have been written about the gifts of the Spirit and much of it is distorted. At one end of the scale there are those who regard the Holy Spirit as a power to be invoked and at the other end are those who redefine the gifts as ordinary human qualities. Somewhere in between are those for whom the Holy Spirit is their umbilical connection to God whether they call him Jesus or Father. The Holy Spirit enables God to know the thoughts of our minds at every level and feel our pain ans emotions. The Holy Spirit enables God to put thoughts in our minds and let us experience the feeling of His love. When we come together as congregations, the Holy Spirit has the function of orchestrating worship, but we mostly resist the Spirit and do our own thing. When we do accept the teaching of the Bible, relax and allow ourselves to be orchestrated, then the Holy Spirit will use individuals to minister to the congregation through the gifts or the spirit. Paul's hastily written list should not be taken as definitive. He left out singing. I cannot sing on tune to save my life, but sometimes the Holy Spirit gives me voice to sing on tune. Subjectively, I have no idea whether or not I am singing on tune and must rely on the comments of others.
Paul lists a gift of miracles as if the Spirit gives someone the ability to perform miracles. My experience is that this and healing are not separate gifts, but simply outcomes. The gift of the Spirit to the individual is simply the ability to listen to the thoughts the Holy Spirit is putting in ones mind and respond to the request to pray for said healing or miracle. The person who responds may well speak in their own faltering words, perhaps say the words coming into their mind or even relax and let the Holy Spirit speak directly through them. The healing or miracle result from God's direct intervention and as Christians with our understanding of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we can best understand this as the action of the Holy Spirit. However to assume that this prompting by God to pray for healing or miracles and God's intervention are confined to Christianity and our way of describing it is to say the least naive.