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Coop's Column - Not as Orphans

To acknowledge that the Immortal God, the very Creator of the entire universe, is Father; and to affirm that this Father’s firstborn Son, Jesus Christ, once came to dwell on earth, to suffer, to die, and then to rise victoriously over death.

When Christians gather Sunday after Sunday for fellowship and worship, together they confess: “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Thereby they acknowledge that not all has been said when people affirm that God is Father and that Jesus Christ is God’s Son. They (must) also affirm the Holy Spirit, who, as the Nicene Creed puts it, is “the Lord, the giver of life, [who] proceeds from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.”

Yet it is precisely here that many Christians nowadays trip up and lose their way. They find the Spirit so difficult to comprehend and understand. To acknowledge that the Immortal God, the very Creator of the entire universe, is Father; and to affirm that this Father’s firstborn Son, Jesus Christ, once came to dwell on earth, to suffer, to die, and then to rise victoriously over death—those two claims, while not easy to get one’s mind around and to believe with one’s heart, are at least intelligible. But the Spirit? How nebulous and vague—and yes, how “windy” (cf. the Hebrew word for spirit: ruach, which means “wind, air, breath”).

Even the earliest Christians had their share of questionings and misunderstandings about the Spirit. The complete story about their theological head-scratching is too complex and lengthy to discuss here, but the comment made by Gregory of Nazianzus, fourth-century Archbishop of Constantinople, gives telltale sign of the general confusion and puzzlement: “Some considered the Holy Spirit to be an energy, others a creature, and others were uncertain what to call it, out of reverence for Scripture, which made no clear statement.”

How sad the ambiguity and ignorance of these early Christians. The Holy Spirit is no one other—nor anyone less—than the continuing presence and power of the risen, ascended, and now reigning Jesus Christ himself. The Holy Spirit is not some hazy and indistinct spirit-in-general. He is the “Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Acts 16:7; Rom. 8:9), the very One whom the risen Lord declared would bring the reality of Easter to its final crescendo, its God-ordained finale.

In the next few columns I hope to indicate several features about the person of the Holy Spirit and his all-important work. I begin this series by reflecting on Jesus’ word of promise in John 14:18, his pledge not to leave his followers as orphans. By sending them his Spirit after he had returned to heaven to be with his Father, Jesus made good on that promise.

Everyone knows the dreadful state of being an orphan. To be orphaned is

  • to feel the intense sorrow, the awful pain of knowing that one’s parents are dead;
  • to be severed forever from a mother and father’s counsel and advice, from their comfort and companionship;
  • to be bereft of parents’ protection;
  • never to be able to learn from parents, nor to depend on them for food, clothing, and life’s other daily needs.

Those who belong to Jesus are never in this state of orphaned peril or forsakenness.

In late 1953, a band of Hungarian communists, their pistols at the ready, burst in upon a small band of Christians who had gathered secretly for worship. “Number them, and then arrest them!” barked their commandant. One by one the godly women and men—their children and grandchildren, too—were counted, and then handcuffed.

“A total of 43,” reported one of the swaggering young thugs to his leader.

One of the Christians interrupted. She spoke softly, but clearly and confidently. “I’m sorry, sir, but you have miscounted. There are 44.”

The soldiers recounted their hostages. Again they tallied 43. The godly woman spoke again, but this time in loud, daring defiance, with courageous contempt: “I tell you: There are 44! Jesus Christ is here. He is present with us; we belong to him.”

Forsakenness is the most hostile idea in the whole universe. However, those who trust in Jesus are not forsaken; never are they orphaned and alone. By his Spirit’s presence the risen Lord is with them. And by his Spirit he promises to remain with them forever.

That supreme truth needs heralding. It needs remembering and recalling again and yet again. It deserves confessing together every time Christians congregate for worship. And it bears repeating by each of them a good many times during the week when they’re not together.

Alleluia! Not as orphans
Are we left in sorrow now;
Alleluia! He is near us,
Faith believes, nor questions how:
Though the cloud from sight received him
When the forty days were o’er:
Shall our hearts forget his promise,
“I am with you evermore”?

“Alleluia! Sing to Jesus,” W. C. Dix, 1866
Psalter Hymnal (Gray), p. 406