Reflections on the Holy Spirit
What do I think of when I think of the “Holy Spirit”?
Firstly, whilst my two mainstay bibles are the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and the New American Standard Bible (NASB), I grew up preferring the King James Version (KJV). I use the NRSV now because I need a translation that is readily “approved” for my studies and the NASB because it’s even closer to the originals than the NRSV. However, my home bible is, still, the KJV and in the KJV, the Spirit is named the “Ghost”.
Thus, harking back to my heritage within the High Church of England, I have always heard the Trinity spoken of as “Father, Son and Holy Ghost”. Of course, language changes and the third part in that triad of words is not what we modern people might term a ghost. It is not an apparition, a poltergeist or something that slimes you as on Ghost Busters. Instead, it is something akin to “spirit” or “soul”.
Now, why do I answer this question like this? It is because I think of the “Holy Spirit” from within the tradition of the Church of England. There is another word. Notice I am not saying Anglican. I will generally use the term Anglican to most outsiders but I do prefer the term Church of England (Anglican is just a term invented to not upset people whose patriotism extends to the ecclesial life in my opinion).
Understand now that when I say Ghost I mean Spirit.
I have heard this term mainly in the liturgical phrase, “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.” If I talk of the Trinity itself and name the Trinity, this is how I think and what I want to say. These days I usually elide “Holy Ghost” into “Holy Spirit”, as modern hearers generally look at me funny when I say the word “ghost”, but it is what I think of.
I don’t actually think of the Holy Ghost without also thinking of the Father and the Son. Couched in these terms, I don’t really think of any of these individual names without the other two. This makes sense considering that this is the name of the three heads in the Trinity. For me, it makes no sense not to think of the Father and Son, when I think of the Holy Ghost. It makes no sense to think of the Son, without the Father and the Holy Ghost. When I think of the Holy Ghost, I also think of the Son and the Father.
Now, if I want to think of them individually, I tend to speak of “God” as the Father. The Son is easy - He has a name and His name is Jesus. However, do I ever think of the Holy Ghost individually? Truth be told, I do not. And I think I know why. The Holy Ghost is a Person to me (who is also the other two, namely the Father and the Son). Thinking of the “Holy Ghost” as one person doesn’t make sense to me - there are always three in one even though I may only be talking of the one.
I must confess that I have a natural suspicion of those who run around talking about just the Holy Spirit (or the Spirit) and using that particular word. The actions of the Holy Spirit alone have always been the ones most difficult to test and many will test the Holy Spirit’s actions against whatever their interpretation of the Scriptures happen to be; and of course their interpretation is the correct one.
When I think of the “Holy Spirit”, I think of God, the triune God. And I am suspicious of those who claim to do or be informed of the works of the Holy Spirit especially if they’re proving it on their own and only their own interpretation of the scripture. Test the spirits to see if it is THE spirit, we must, but if it relies on what I consider any special interpretation of scripture (and I consider the classical fundamentalist doctrine of scriptural inspiration a special interpretation) I will be suspicious.