My name is Solomon Keal. I am a minister for the General Church of the New Jerusalem, which is a Swedenborgian Christian denomination. These are some of my thoughts about the Lord, the symbolic meanings in the Bible, life after death, faith, charity, usefulness, loving the Lord and one's neighbor, the 2nd Coming, Swedenborg's Writings, and other theological stuff.
Monday, March 8, 2010
What is the Holy Spirit?
In the General Church of the New Jerusalem we stress the importance of a belief in one God and not a Trinity of persons in God. In doing so, I find that I often tend to avoid the subject of the Trinity entirely. But the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg clearly tell us that there is indeed a Trinity in God. And the more passages I read in the Writings about the Trinity and especially the Holy Spirit, the more I get a clearer sense of the true nature of our Lord Jesus Christ, the One Human God of Heaven and Earth.
So what is the Holy Spirit? To put it in the simplest way, “the Lord himself is in fact the Holy Spirit.” (TCR 139) The Holy Spirit is Jesus Christ. Just like when we die and put off our physical bodies and become a spirit, Jesus Christ also died, put off His physical body and became the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is Jesus Christ’s personality without the constraints of space and time placed on Him while He was in this world.
Without those constraints of space and time, the Holy Spirit is essentially the Lord’s presence everywhere and all the time. The Holy Spirit is His proceeding, or His radiation (but this is a good kind of radiation which we want a heavy dose of.)
Did the Holy Spirit exist before Jesus Christ? In John it says that “the Holy Spirit was not yet in existence, because Jesus was not glorified yet.” (John 7:39) Prior to the 1st Advent, there was still a Divine proceeding, only then it was proceeding from Jehovah. After the Advent, Divine Truth had a Human form in Jesus Christ, and so the Divine proceeding came directly from Jesus Christ. Prior to the Advent, the Lord was able to be present with us only by means of heaven and the angels there. After the Advent the Lord was able to present with us by means of His own Holy Spirit. (TCR 158) God’s personality of Jesus Christ - which existed in time - forever changed the way that He interacts with this world, and that is why very specifically the Holy Spirit didn’t exist before He was glorified. Before He was glorified there was no Divine proceeding that came directly from the life of Jesus Christ.
In the Christian world, the Holy Spirit is thought of as a separate Person of God. Perhaps the Christian world went astray because it attempted to place the Trinity in the context of the dimension of space (three separate Persons), rather than placing the Trinity in the context of the dimension of time. “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” (Revelation 1:8) The Lord existed before time and outside of time, as Jehovah. He existed in time in the life of Jesus Christ. And He exists for all time as the Holy Spirit. But in the same way that placing the Trinity in the context of space led to the false assumption of three Persons in God, placing the Trinity in the context of time could lead to the false assumption that God changes. God does not change. But the way that we are able to interact, communicate, and conjoin with Him makes it seem as though He does.
But despite the fact that the Lord doesn’t change, it’s important that we don’t have a static image of Him. The Lord is dynamic and active. The Lord’s action is in fact the Holy Spirit (TCR 138). When we think of someone who is very active, energetic, and dynamic, we often say that he or she has ‘got spirit!‘ In a very similar way, the Lord has got Holy Spirit!
Another way we could think of the Holy Spirit is as the mind of God. In the same way that we might think of our spirit as being the equivalent to our mind, we might also think of the Holy Spirit as being the equivalent to the Lord’s mind. (TCR 156) We might even say that the Holy Spirit is like the consciousness of God. It is the part of Him that thinks and acts based on His essence. As humans, we don’t think and act directly from our soul, we think and act from our conscious mind. It is the same with the Lord, and so His thoughts and actions are the Holy Spirit. And because in the spiritual world ‘thought brings presence,’ it is through the Lord’s thoughts (His Holy Spirit) that He is present with us.
So what are the Lord’s thoughts? They are the Word. (TCR 139) The Divine Truth itself. When the Lord came into the world “the Word became flesh,” (John 1:14) and when the Lord left the world, the Word became Spirit. The Lord told His disciples that ‘the Spirit of Truth’ would be coming. (John 16:13) This was the Holy Spirit. The spiritual sense of the Word. We might even say that in regards to the Word we have the Holy Letter and the Holy Spirit. And so it is through the Word, the Spirit of Truth, that the Lord inspires and enlightens us. (TCR 140). This is how the Lord has an effect on us.
True Christianity number 139 says that “The Holy Spirit is the divine truth and also the divine action and effect that radiate from the one God.” In a very real sense, the Holy Spirit is the effect that the Lord has on us. It’s the part of the Lord that we are filled with, when we turn to Him. We can’t be filled with the essence of His Divine Love and Wisdom or we would either be destroyed or become God. But we are made to be filled with a part of God, and that part is His Holy Spirit.
Another way to put it is that the Holy Spirit is the Lord’s Divine influence on us. (TCR 172). It’s the sphere of His thoughts and affections that affect us. It is the Lord filling us with his goodness and truth. (TCR 145) Or we might say, the Holy Spirit is the quality of the Lord that He is recognized by. For example to compare it with us, we might say, “Let’s do that in the spirit of Uncle Ned!” recognizing that the hypothetical ‘Uncle Ned’ had qualities or characteristics or motives that we would like to emulate. We often use the phrase, “That’s the spirit!” One could almost ask in response, “the spirit of what?” The reply might be something like, “the spirit of giving, or the spirit of determination, or the spirit of Christmas.” It’s the same with the Lord. When we say “the Holy Spirit,” we might ask, “the Holy Spirit of what?” The correct response could be, “the Holy Spirit of love, or wisdom, or usefulness.” When we are living the life of religion we hope to be living in the Holy Spirit of the Lord.
So the Holy Spirit is the Lord’s action and effect on us. What is that effect? How do we change? The effect and change is that we are reborn. I said before that God doesn’t change. But God changes us. That is the Holy Spirit at work. In New Church terms we call this reformation and regeneration. (TCR 142) Because the Holy Spirit is Jesus Christ, we have the model for our own regeneration. In the same way that the man Jesus Christ became the Holy Spirit through glorification, we as people can become angelic spirits or angels through regeneration. And because the Holy Spirit is the Lord’s Truth, the Holy Spirit is “the force that reforms and regenerates us; then renews us, brings us to life.” (TCR 142) This is why the Holy Spirit is represented by a dove, because a dove represents regeneration. (TCR 144). This is also why ‘spirit’ means ‘breath,’ because the Lord’s Holy Spirit breathes spiritual life into us. (John 20:22) And this is also why the Holy Spirit is called the ‘Comforter,’ (John 14:26) because through regeneration the Lord comforts us and lifts our spirits.
The more we understand what is meant by the Holy Spirit, the more we can understand how real and present the Lord is with us. As was stated at the beginning of this article, the most important thing to remember about the Holy Spirit is that it is simply the Lord God Jesus Christ, Who is here with us right now.