Coop's Column - Spirit at Work: Revealer
How do we humans know what we know or, at least what we think we know? The question of knowledge is one of the most centrally important—and vexingly complex—issues facing humankind today, and cries out for a solid, appropriate answer.
Read these words slowly, meditatively, and well:
Christian theology presupposes that there is a God who can be known precisely because God has revealed the divine life to humanity through creation (general revelation), but especially through God’s redemptive acts in history that culminate in the Christ event as witnessed in scripture (special revelation). Christian scripture—the authoritative, inspired word of God—is trustworthy, because the triune God has providentially acted in such a way that the Christian church has been given a faithful and reliable account of who God is, what God is like, and how we are to live before God. … The primary check and balance for Christian theology, therefore, is the biblical narrative, the publicly accessible constitution of Christian faith, the special revelation that witnesses to the triune God, especially the incarnate Divine word—Jesus Christ. The biblical materials are the primary source and norm for knowing the identity and character of the triune God.
(R. Plantinga et al., Introduction to Christian Theology, p. 76)
How do we humans know what we know (or, at least what we think we know)? The question of knowledge (epistemology) is one of the most centrally important—and vexingly complex—issues facing humankind today, and cries out for a solid, appropriate answer. With change happening all about us, and the pace of that change continuing to accelerate, thoughtful human beings increasingly are asking what—if, indeed, anything—is sure and lasting, what is certain and true.
Christians boldly claim that God is the font of all knowledge, the foundation of certitude about the nature of reality. God’s Holy Spirit makes (all) knowledge possible—knowledge about God, about the world God made, about humanity, and about God’s grand campaign through Jesus to rescue a world sadly distressed and broken by sin. Christians declare that without the revealing activity of the Holy Spirit, humans can know nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Christians make a second claim about the Spirit’s role in human ability to know: The Bible, a corpus of sixty-six books which form the Old and New Testaments, is one of the Spirit’s strategic means to instruct humans about God and the world. Though quite similar in certain respects to other ancient writings, the Bible is also unique and special. It was written by the finger of God, as it were. Thus these biblical books are Holy Spirit-infused—“God-breathed,” as St. Paul puts it (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16). The Spirit intends these books to serve as Scripture—the very Word of God to humanity. Christians receive and regard it, therefore, for what it is—an utterly holy and uncommon book. They believe that through it God’s Spirit “reveals” truth—that is, sets forth sure and certain knowledge—about God, about the world, and about God’s intentions and ways with the world.
Christians make yet another claim about human knowledge and about the Holy Spirit’s work as Revealer. They declare that though Scripture is God’s written Word and thus holy in and by itself, it will never accomplish its God-intended reach and purpose without the Spirit’s continuing work in the hearts of its readers. The Spirit must rouse them to trust and obey the Bible’s message. They must become prompted to not merely read the words, but also to “hear”—to heed—those words. “The Holy Spirit,” Jesus promised his disciples, “will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).
Christians gladly sing what they confess about the Spirit’s role in communicating God’s Word to them:
He, himself the living Author, wakes to life the sacred Word,
Reads with us its holy pages and reveals our risen Lord.
(“For Your Gift of God the Spirit”)
Regularly, too, they make the plea of the words in Charles Wesley’s hymn their very own plea:
Spirit of faith come down, reveal the things of God
And make to us the Godhead known …
These three claims, taken together, in part explain why many Christians weekly incorporate a “Prayer for Illumination” into their Sunday worship. Immediately before they read Scripture and prepare to deliver and listen to a sermon, together both preacher and congregants call upon the Spirit for help to hear God’s Word. Their joint prayer is an act of declaring that they utterly depend upon the Holy Spirit.
Depend on the Holy Spirit we must—and not only during a worship service. We need help daily to put into practice some of the central Scriptural truths worth living and dying by: the Triune God is God alone; God is our Creator and Savior; God makes good—always—on his pledge to sustain us along our life’s journey; and, our earthly journey ended, God will bring us safely home.