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Exploring a New Way to Understand the Holy Spirit

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With Pentecost around the corner, I think it’s time we address the third wheel of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

We seem to have a clear explanation for who God is and who Jesus was, even though I doubt anyone really has those answers pinned down with 100% accuracy.

If you’ve ever taught a child about the Trinity, they pick up on the inconsistencies immediately.

They ask great questions about three gods versus one God, Jesus and God being the same “person” but two different entities, and the Holy Spirit being the very definition of who God is but somehow more like a ghost.

These curiosities are just the tip of the iceberg for children, and I suspect many adults as well.

Over decades of teaching this concept of the Trinity and about Pentecost (the arrival of the Holy Spirit, called the feminine “ruah” in Hebrew Scripture and the neuter “pneuma” in Greek), I’ve been inspired and challenged by a new way of thinking about the Trinity.

This new way of thinking puts much more responsibility on us as believers.

Throughout the Gospel of John, we read about the relationship between God and Jesus.

It is often compared to a home with many rooms, a dwelling place; references are made to “my Father’s house.”

The New Interpreter’s Bible explains that the specific Greek words used throughout this text “describe the mutuality and reciprocity of the relationship between God and Jesus.”

Jesus makes it clear, and the Greek used in the text also supports the idea that Jesus is extending an invitation of inclusivity to others, for humanity to be part of this home or dwelling place (and, in essence, part of God through this intimate connection revealed in Jesus’ metaphors).

The verses in John 14 continue to speak about God sending the Holy Spirit after Jesus has been murdered, resurrected and his physical body is gone.

The author refers to the Holy Spirit as “Paraclete” (which translates “comforter” or “advocate”), with a specific role from the Paraclete to help people “remember” who Jesus was.

The Paraclete’s role was not to teach new things, but it was a way in which the community would remember the work and role of Jesus.

God’s instruction and Jesus’s invitation for the community to respond and receive the “Holy Spirit” was actually a challenge for the community (communal living was a huge part of this culture, as opposed to our individualistic society) to become a significant part of the relationship and the essence of God.

This was an invitation of inclusivity into a Holy Circle or Holy Partnership.

With Jesus’s physical presence gone, God is now calling on the community to be filled with the Holy Spirit – the memories, stories and experiences of Jesus – and live out his teachings as a physical manifestation of the love Jesus embodied.

What’s new about this? I am suggesting the third wheel in the Trinity of God and Jesus is, well, you.

Let me explain. Humanity is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). As Christians, we are part of an “advocate community” filled with God’s spirit (John 14:16), receiving God’s divine breath, wind, spirit (see John 20:22; Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 13:6) and finding our unique gifts affirmed and enlivened (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).

These beloved communities are welcomed into the divine interplay that we call the Trinity, empowered to partner with God in working for justice in the world.

The Trinity as we have always recognized it (God, Jesus, Spirit), suggests a magical guild of sorts in which we have contact only from the outside.

We worship them, call on their aid and interact with them from a distance. We are not a part of this Holy Trinity, but we can revere it.

Jesus’ life and ministry was one of inclusion and invitation. He opened his daily life to everyone and called on people (communities) to touch, eat, pray, travel, rest, fish, teach and even heal with him.

Jesus was a person with few boundaries, inviting those who were accepted and rejected by communities to experience joy, love, belonging, even suffering with him.

He broke down barriers of all types – social, physical, emotional and spiritual.

The significance and redemption we, as believers, have received from Jesus may have less to do with an individualistic salvation focused on life after death and more to do with an opportunity to be a part of the essence of God, creating opportunities for redemption, reconciliation, compassion, love and peace.

Jesus was pleading with his friends and followers to accept the invitation to join in a relationship with God in which they could continue holy, redemptive work in the physical, here-and-now world.

When one views the Holy Trinity, this essence of God, in this new paradigm as a relationship between God, Jesus and Spirit-filled “advocate communities,” there is a greater sense of responsibility and a more meaningful calling on us as believers to do the incredibly difficult work of reconciliation, restoration and rebuilding within our communities.

It means we, as part of the active essence and being of God, have a greater responsibility not to turn our backs on the poor, immigrants, uninsured, homeless, sick, mentally ill, downtrodden, depressed, anxious or suicidal.

We cannot ignore or show little concern to victims of violent crime, gun violence, rape, sexual abuse, police brutality, hate crimes, discrimination, racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, ageism, the list unfortunately goes on and on.

We have to respond, and in the compassionate, loving, all-embracing way of the Divine.

It means each of us – no matter our age, race, economic status, sexual preference, gender, career, political affiliation or legal status – are equally viewed by God as worthy participants in God’s work in the world.

This also means none of us is “too far gone” to be redeemed or have experienced too much pain to experience reconciliation.

It may appear that this paradigm shift in the collection of the Trinity is a simple issue of semantics, but it’s much more than that.

To break it down much more simply, it is the difference in watching a game on television versus being in the stadium, among thousands of zealous fans, feeling the energy and experiencing everything firsthand.

God has called each of us, and Jesus gave us each fair warning that we would become bearers of Jesus’ story, rememberers of his teachings, sharers of his peace, reconcilers and advocates for his people.

Carra Greer

Carra Greer has a Bachelors in Justice Studies and Master of Divinity. She is a bivocational minister in Atlanta, a mother of four, an advocate for survivors of sexual assault, and a True Crime junkie.