“The Spirit of Truth”
“The Spirit of Truth”
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31;
Dr. William C. Poe
June 12, 2022
“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
That’s a familiar question to our ears. The trouble is that you can’t tell what the truth actually is just by listening to court proceedings or legislative hearings. The questioner will accuse and the answerer will deny, or fall back on the Fifth Amendment or that other favorite dodge, “I don’t recall.” We are left on our own to sort things out. Did he do it? Is she telling the straight story or is she embellishing it to strengthen her case?
The world at large is filled with misinformation, contradictory testimony, and even outright lies. In nearly every arena of life, the truth can be hard to determine. This car is better than that one, the ads tell us. This politician is right and the other one is wrong. This economic policy will work and the other will bring disaster.
President Harry Truman once asked his advisors what results might be expected by following a certain economic plan. They told him that, on the one hand, the plan might do this; on the other hand, it might do the opposite. Truman then remarked that he wished he could consult a one-armed economist.
In his last long conversation with his disciples in John’s Gospel, Jesus says that he has taught them as much as they are able to accept. He has more still to teach them, but there are things, thoughts, realities that they are not yet ready to bear. But he also says that he will make provision for their continued learning, as the truth continues to be revealed to them by the Spirit of Truth.
Is it possible, as one theologian has put it, that “God has yet more light and truth to break forth from the Word”? Is it possible that, like Paul, none of us has arrived as far as the faith is concerned, but that we are all on “the Way?” Is it possible that the way I think and believe and act is not a result of the Spirit of God being done with me, but part of an ongoing growth process, where the Spirit, as Jesus puts it, “leads us into all truth”?
On many Sundays, we use portions of a document titled “A Declaration of Faith,” as our affirmation of faith. The affirmation we will use today is taken from parts
of that Declaration. It is a product of the Presbyterian Church in the last third of the 20th century and is, from my perspective, a good contemporary statement of Christian faith. In speaking of how the Spirit helps us to continue to come to new realizations and learnings of the truth into which Jesus wants to lead us, the Declaration says the following:
The Holy Spirit is free.
The Spirit created readiness for the gospel
where the first Christians least expected it.
The Spirit often thwarted their plans
and led them in new directions.
They could not coerce or restrict the Spirit.
We affirm the Spirit’s freedom.
The Holy Spirit works in the church
but not on our terms or under our control.
The Holy Spirit works beyond the church
even among those we suspect or scorn.
The Spirit comes not just as a Comforter, but also as a Challenger. The Holy Spirit is a power, not to be found within ourselves, but outside ourselves, outside of our will to control. The Spirit helps us in our weakness, certainly, but the Spirit also pushes us, prods us, and rarely leaves us as we are.
Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of Truth comes, the Spirit will guide you into all the truth; . . . the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
Is it possible that we really don’t have to have everything figured out before starting on this path of discipleship? And is it possible that the Spirit of Truth may have led us in the past, is leading us in the present, and will lead us in the future into understandings of what discipleship requires that we weren’t or aren’t ready for? Maybe it’s not so much a matter of whether we will have our questions answered, but whether we are willing to have our answers questioned!
The great theologian, Karl Barth, once wrote that Christians must continually cultivate among ourselves the “spirit of the amateur.” There can be no “professional Christians,” said Barth. I think he was talking particularly to members of the clergy, but all of us need to hear this warning. All of us must guard against the mistaken notion that we have arrived in our faith, as if there were no more growing and discovering for us to do and we can just settle in and be comfortable.
Scripture keeps talking about the “gift of the Spirit,” the gift that empowers the church, that enables the church to be the body of Christ in the world. But the church also knows that the Spirit is a gift we are not always sure that we want. The Spirit tends to push us into places that we would not have gone if it had been left up to us. This Spirit brings us into relationship with new people, people whom we might have wanted to avoid or whom we have considered less worthy than ourselves.
Paul says to one of his churches that, when he first taught them, he fed them baby food – soft, easy to chew and digest, before he dared to give them more substantial and more demanding nourishment.
One of my teachers once told us that we should be aware of the “used-to-thinks” in our lives – those times and places where we become aware that our mind and/or heart has changed over time. Where we “used to think” something, now we recognize that we have been led to think differently, to believe differently, to act and to relate to others differently, to know ourselves as having been opened to new truth. The God who meets us through the Holy Spirit may not be the God I had previously imagined. I will have some of my cherished notions rearranged, maybe even shattered, in order that I might receive new notions.
The Spirit of Truth is like that. So don’t be surprised to discover that your faith is leading you in directions that would have seemed odd, or even wrong at an earlier time in your life. To be a Christian is always to be willing to grow, to change, to have your horizons broadened, to be shocked and surprised by the work of the Spirit of Truth among us.