In John 14, when Jesus describes the Holy Spirit to his disciples, the Spirit is described as an advocate, helper, comforter, or counselor (depending on which translation you use). That’s the truth, the alpha and omega of the Holy Spirit’s character, and where I’ll begin and end this blog post.
But here’s another, harder truth: Sometimes the Holy Spirit — or things done “in the name of the Holy Spirit” — has seemed less like a counselor and more like why I need counseling.
Sometimes someone “lays hands” on you a bit too intimately and even if you protest they say they’re “blessing you in the name of the Holy Spirit.”
Or someone prays for your twisted ankle in lieu of medical treatment, calling on “the name of the Holy Spirit.”
Or someone puts you on the spot to pray in tongues right there, right then, or else you’re not really living “in the name of the Holy Spirit.”
To be clear, the Bible does affirm the aforementioned laying on of hands, praying for the sick and injured, and speaking in tongues/different languages. For many people these are cherished, holy experiences.
So, when does a line get crossed from holy to hurtful?
When there’s confusion involved. Actions done “in the name of the Holy Spirit” must be done in order to advocate, help, comfort, or counsel (1 John 14). What’s more, they must be done with order and accountability. Interestingly, in 1 Corinthians 14, the apostle Paul talks extensively about praying in tongues and prophesying…and at the same time lays out guidelines for ensuring that tongues are interpreted and prophecies confirmed. “Let all things be done for building up,” Paul writes, “for God is a God not of disorder but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:26-33). Anything done in the name of the Holy Spirit begins and ends in peace for all parties involved.
When there’s coercion involved. Coercion is the hallmark of abuse. Kids are taught to speak up when they’re uncomfortable with the way they’re being treated physically, verbally, or sexually — and if the treatment continues that’s abuse, plain and simple. In the same way, people should be able to speak up when we’re uncomfortable with the way we’re being treated spiritually — and if the treatment continues that’s spiritual abuse. Too often, neither the abuser nor the abused even realize what’s going on, much less speak up about it, if the action is being done “in the name of the Holy Spirit” because, seriously, who wants to argue with the Holy Spirit?! But coercion, and the fear it elicits, is not of the Holy Spirit. Rather, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
The truth is: the Holy Spirit does not insist. It invites.
It invites us to experience the fruit of the Spirit in a myriad of ways from silence to singing, from the food of Communion to the fun of community. As I heard a preacher put it this morning, every part of church life — perhaps even every part of life — is a door through which we can enter into experiencing the Holy Spirit. We don’t have to open the door, but we’re invited to.
We’re invited to receive the words of Jesus in John 14, spoken truly in the name of the Holy Spirit: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”