Yesterday the Spirit told me to keep something I wrote to myself. Anyone who has read a lot of what I write might be surprised that I hold anything back, but I do. It’s hardly ever my idea to do so, though. I would let go with everything I’ve experienced. One thing that’s true about my life is how much of it has been a surprise to me. I’d like to make it less of a surprise to anyone who is coming up on the same experiences. So mostly I tell everything.
There is also this place in me that would carve up arrogant and ignorant people with all the skills at oneupsmanship I’ve been taught in my life. I mostly censor myself from being that way myself. Still the Spirit has an even higher threshold for that sort of thing than I do, so sometimes when all I’m writing is something competitive, She loses interest. It’s not the best way, She says.
So what is the best way to get this great message across about living in the Spirit? I don’t know. I’ve never found a way that is all that effective. Liberals, conservatives or something else, everyone has defenses against hearing something they don’t already believe in. And something powerful and unseen, but not powerful enough to have been well understood, people are going to listen to this? No, I don’t think so. After all, it’s in the Bible if all these Bible-believing Christians would actually read the Bible and wonder if it actually means what everyone they know says it means. That’s what happened to me following that reading schedule in the back of my Bible for many years.
Take Galatians 5: 22-23, the fruits of the Spirit. It takes little exposure to have heard of these. Some even memorize them, some with an actual fruit associated with each quality, but I never could take seriously which quality is a strawberry and which is a banana. Suffice it to say the qualities Paul lists are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, whatever Greek words Paul used for these. Now is 9 an exhaustive list? Of course not. Coming out of 12 steps taught me a lot about honesty, open-mindedness and willingness. I’m sure these come from the Spirit. I’m sure going through the entire dictionary would produce many more benefits of the Spirit, some of the words redundant no doubt.
I haven’t even heard that obvious addition to Paul’s words from teachers and preachers. Instead everyone I’ve ever heard says these are the nine fruits because the Bible says so. They also speak as if living in the Spirit means doing everything we can do ourselves to match this list. I don’t think that’s the case at all.
For one thing these words are way off to one side from the extremely dualistic Paul. While I usually experience the Spirit as patient, She is not always patient. Sometimes I need to pick up my pace. Sometimes it’s obvious later why I did. Sometimes it isn’t. I’ve learned to trust the Spirit either way. Where does even Paul say that his list should be as rigidly interpreted as Christians do today? Instead Paul writes of being led by the Spirit (Gal. 5: 18). He is saying good things happen to those who live in the Spirit. His examples became an idol for people to pretend they can follow themselves. That's not living in the Spirit, as someone's overall behavior shows.
Everyone does this. Atheists wouldn’t credit the Spirit for any role in being good. Liberals would want more freedom in deciding what is good. Conservatives would claim they are following some absolute standard that’s better than anything else. Yet everyone is just following themselves, and the hatred, indifference and falseness that comes from that is obvious. One can say a lot about why this is, but one reason is that all these people think it’s impossible for them to follow a real Spirit instead of some abstract and/or mystical Spirit or some abstract good.
I thought that until 1989, and then it took me a long time after that to accept that the Holy Spirit is real. The Bible helped me with that. Between the gospel of John and things Paul wrote about the Spirit, there are several specific things one can expect from the Spirit. One can expect help with prayer, with memory, with learning “all things” (John 14: 26). I had had dramatic spiritual experiences, but it was these little things building up everyday that convinced of the Spirit. She always helped me. She continues to do so.
But hardly anybody believes that. Conservatives might, but I’ll tell any conservative that the Spirit says they’re wrong about something, and no conservative will believe that. They will live or die by their beliefs. Yes, they will. And as with relying on oneself to be good, atheists, liberals and conservatives all wind up agreeing on something – if they haven’t experienced something and can’t believe someone else has, then it must be impossible.
Everyone focuses on conflict over religion, but there are some powerful places of agreement among almost everyone. Almost everyone agrees on the power of modern medicine. Hardly any Christians stick to the Bible any more when it comes to relying on prayer and laying on of hands. They might do both prayer and pharmaceuticals if they are devout, but imagine how many Bible-believing Christians just go with pharmaceuticals most of the time? I suspect there would be impressive unanimity now about that.
So it is with being realistic in many areas. Surely it’s impossible to be directly led by God, isn’t it? That’s what I used to think. It's not that God is against pharmaceuticals. His grace is in them, too. Being led by the Spirit is not that strange, if it's really the Spirit, but it is strange, even if one doesn't try to tell others about it.
God can lead us directly. The Bible says so. My experience says so. People don’t want to hear it. I understand it’s strange. Maybe there’s no way to talk about it that sounds humble or sane, or maybe just I can’t sound that way. The one reassuring thing I know is that it is in the Bible. If you keep reading Paul each year, you can realize just how alive a Spirit he means, a Spirit that can only speak through the limitations of whatever mind She lives in. Maybe the Spirit has to force the issue to get even that much.
Even if She can’t defy every limitation, the Spirit does the impossible. I’ve never seen that physically, but I see it everyday with mental miracles. Yes, it’s strange. One way that it’s strange is that the Spirit doesn’t just tell me what I want to hear. Atheists can pretend the opposite as much as they want. So can liberals and conservatives for that matter. It’s an easy excuse to explain something unexplainable physically. But that’s not it. I’ve paid attention as the good scientist I am. I’ll write about it as it comes to me. Hardly anyone will take it seriously. It’s too strange for the 21st century, unless it happens to you.