“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
The gospel writers were presenting a radically different understanding of God than what is commonly understood. Typically, descriptions of God, then and now, include the ‘omnis’—omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Limited by words we know to describe what we do not know, God becomes a super human. Anything we can do, God can do bigger and better. That’s what makes God, God. Our first imagining of God tends to be parental— a parent God who is kind and embracing and/or strict and judging. We try to figure out who is good and who is bad in order to gain approval. Such a God protects, rewards and punishes. Unfortunately this way of thinking runs the serious risk of our creating God in our image instead of the other way around. It is difference between thinking of God as an ideal parent versus seeking to parent as God loves.
We can barely conceive of God suffering much less being helpless. No matter how many times we hear: “The Son of Man must suffer, be rejected and be killed…”, it is nearly impossible for us (or the disciples) to include such characterizations as part of the divine. How can a helpless man correct injustice, save us from oppression or offer new life? The disciples were called to testify to the ‘facts’ of the case (they have been there since the beginning). The Spirit of Truth is sent by God and the Paraclete by Jesus (Literally meaning ‘to call beside’ and is variously translated as “Comforter”, “Helper”, “Counselor”, “Advocate”). Combined, these are the elements of the Holy Spirit which help us make sense of such a Messiah. There is a new truth about God that we must learn and we need help learning that truth.
Typically, we are slow to learn anything that changes and challenges how we see the world. In counseling, I tell people the brain is like a self sealing tire. A new idea can get in but it is quickly sealed off. The concepts of better communication, regard and mindfulness are relatively straightforward and easy to teach. The visceral learning and application are what takes the time. Viewing an itinerant Rabbi as the human manifestation of God fundamentally changes how we understand and experience God. God is no longer just above and beyond us. God is neither puppeteer, accountant, clock maker, or Santa Claus. God is not a divine handyman who fixes our troubles. God is a presence during and through those hardships.
Up until now, Jesus has been present with the disciples, teaching, coaching and loving them. But now he knows he is about to be killed. Not only will the disciples have to manage on their own, they will surely feel abandoned and bereft. No matter how many times they had been warned, such an outcome did not match their vision of the Messiah.
It is hard to trust love when the loved one is absent. It is one thing to be held in the arms of a mother and quite another to be separated by distance or death— even with the promise, “I will love you always.” Ask any child who enters school, any adolescent who goes off to college, any of us who get married, have children or face the loss of someone we have loved and depended upon.
In FIRL, RG described going to St Louis on his own and having to figure out all of steps of living on his own—finding a place to live, finding out how to get work, figuring out his new routines etc. It was scary. Several of the women spoke of the loneliness of checking the ‘widow’ box on forms for the first time, wondering who to call when the car started making funny noises, who to put down as their contact person. I remember vividly when my father took me to my college dorm for the first time. We unloaded the car and as my father was leaving he noticed my roommates’ large shoes. Then he left. I was alone and apparently rooming with a giant I had never met. Each of these transitions calls us to be more of who we are. They can be exciting, frightening and sometimes unbearable.
There is no real preparation for such times. In the first century Jesus promised the disciples that the Holy Spirit could only be present after he left them. The love of Christ became in-dwelling by way of the Spirit. The Jesus they had known in the flesh would be gone but that same Jesus would live in them and through them. When we are on our own, we must learn that we can draw on the foundation of support we have known. We seek that support in new places, from new people and in new ways. The Holy Spirit is what makes that possible.
Jesus sees these hardships ahead for the disciples and promises the Holy Spirit—a spirit of truth and a regular reminder of a presence that sustains and comforts. The spirit of truth “will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” This is a very important sentence. Conventional understanding of God and faith are being turned on their head. Sin is no longer a list of particular misdeeds, Sin is losing touch with the source of our value in the world. The minute we forget that our lives are gifts and have intrinsic value apart from anything we do, we will try to try to earn our place in the world. Righteousness is no longer a function of our obedience, it is living in ‘right relationship’ with God. It is living in the confidence that we matter and we are loved. Judgment is no longer about indictment and a means of separating the sheep from the goats. It is about a process of discerning our unique abilities and limitations.
The spirit of truth teaches us how life really is and who God really is. There is nothing about our faith that protects us from hardship and loss. Contrary to our wishful thing, that isn’t what God is about. God is about being present to us so that we might live fully the life we have—no matter what that life includes.
If we listen, the Holy Spirit will tell us how it is in the world. We will struggle an we will feel lost and abandoned. She will remind us of what is important and lead us to love. She will not leave us comfortless. Let it be so.
Vernon Gramling is a Parrish Associate at DPC. He has been providing pastoral care and counseling for over 45 years. You can find more about Vernon, the Faith in Real Life gatherings and Blog at our staff page or FIRL.