Who is the Holy Spirit?
Who is the Holy Spirit? We often have difficulty answering this question and perhaps are rightly suspicious of those who are only too eager with a response.
Yet the Spirit is as close to us as our nearest breath. The Hebrew word for "spirit" (ruach) means wind or breath of life -- the animating power in people, animals, and even evil spirits. The same word is used for God's life-giving presence in our lives, not just as a force but as God's efficacious presence within and among us.
The Bible is most interested in how the Spirit -- God's life-giving presence -- brings us into relationship with God and with one another. In Israel's early stories, the Spirit comes upon leaders and kings at certain times, giving them charismatic, or compelling power to perform extraordinary feats. When David is anointed as king, the Spirit remains with him so that he can embody and represent Israel's special relationship with God.
An Ethical Spirit
The Spirit is not just a charismatic Spirit. The Spirit is also an ethical Spirit who inspires prophets to speak truth to those in power -- although we should note that the "classic" pre-exilic prophets (Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah) appealed to God's word (dabar) and not to God's Spirit (ruach) when they spoke out against idolatry and injustice. Nonetheless, during Israel's exile into Babylon, we find the Spirit explicitly linked with bringing justice not just to the nations, but to nature itself.
An eschatological Spirit
In Isaiah, the Spirit is an eschatological Spirit who will bring about a new messianic age in the line of David. Like a burning fire, the Spirit will cleanse the people of their sins, and in a final Exodus (that echoes Israel's Exodus from Egypt) death itself will be overcome. A new creative act of God will bring about "a new heavens and a new earth" (Isa 65). Likewise, Ezekiel describes how the Spirit will revivify dry and dead bones, infusing the people with God's life-giving presence.
In turn, Jeremiah describes how the Torah will be written on people's hearts. As Joel declares centuries later, the time will come when the Spirit will fill all people -- including young and old, slaves and free persons, and men and women -- in a way that is direct and enduring.
To be continued