Are You Afraid of the Holy Ghost?

When I hear of modern day “prophets” or faith healers, I cringe. When I read about the spiritual gift of healing or speaking in tongues, I scoff.

I tend to reject these things outright.

Toa Heftiba

And yet, the Bible—a collection of books I hold to be authentic, reliable, and authoritative—speaks of prophecy, spiritual gifts, tongues. God granted the disciples power to heal others.

Am I a hypocrite?

Of course part of my skepticism is based on scammy, scummy televangelists who prey on those in pain or struggling to find hope in their lives. These guys and gals give Jesus a bad name and shine a hideous light on all of Christianity.

The other source of suspicion is the claim's lack of concurrence with reality I experience every day. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never received a vision from the Holy Spirit. I’ve never smacked someone with a Bible and healed her of cancer. I’m a firm believer that truth claims must correspond to reality and be internally coherent (e.g. I can’t claim both that Jesus rose from the dead and that he did not actually die on the cross).

So if someone tells me he’s a prophet of God, I need to see that his “prophecies” align with scripture and that they do indeed come true. If not, he’s a false prophet.

Similarly someone who claims to possess healing power from the Spirit better back that up with actual healing—like medically verified, we-don’t-know-how-this-happened, kind of healing.

I believe miracles still happen. I do. I’ve heard far too many stories of unexplained medical recoveries from trustworthy sources. And in my own life, the dramatic change Katie and I witnessed in our foster son can only be explained by the power of the Holy Spirit. This was not some gradual amelioration of the soul, but rather a flipped-switch type of transformation. A hitherto nonexistent peace descended upon him. (I like to respect the privacy of our children, but I told a bit more of the story here).

Yet I also believe something need not be supernatural to constitute a miracle. That a plant can take sunlight and convert it into food is astounding, yet we accept this thing because it is explainable, because it happens every day without fail. British journalist and author GK Chesterton once wrote:

It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.[1]

Unlike photosynthesis, though, the Holy Spirit cannot be explained. He is one of the great mysteries of our time. And that makes me uncomfortable. Even saying the name Holy Spirit quite frankly gives me a bit of discomfort. Why? I like to know what I know what I know. I like certainty. That’s in part why I love the Bible so much. Even though it’s not always simple to understand and not everything is explained (or even explainable), the word of God is concrete. I can hold it in my hands. It is the most reliable and scrutinized document in history. Therefore I know the collection of books are reliable despite centuries of attempts to discredit it.

The question then is, am I afraid of the Holy Ghost? And I don’t mean afraid as in terrified, nor in the sense of reverent fear. I’m talking instead about making room for Him to do the miraculous. To transcend the material world and work in my life. I’m afraid of false theology and false prophets if I open the door too much for the Holy Ghost.

In the conservative, evangelical, world of which I am a part I think sometimes we can be guilty of this. We want certainty so badly that we will close ourselves off to the supernatural. But on the other end of the spectrum, we cannot manipulate the Spirit to do as we please. We can’t wake up one day and decide we can heal whomever we choose simply by speaking the name of Jesus. That’s not faith, that’s just stupidity.

While Jesus was mocked and crucified at Calvary, the Spirit takes just as much abuse every day from people who think they can exploit Him for gain. But we mustn’t let these fools fool us into rejecting the work of the Spirit outright.

1. GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy: The Romance of Faith (Chicago: Moody, 2009), Kindle edition, 92. 

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