In the summer of 1741 the composer Handel (1685-1759) had run out of money, felt "burned out," in great physical pain, and he was in the depths of depression. When he was given the text of the Messiah he felt totally unable to do justice to such powerful words. Then inspiration took over and, hardly stopping to sleep and eat, he wrote the score in 24 days. The Messiah is still performed by thousands of musicians and enjoyed by millions of people every year.
An underperforming athlete can be energized (inspired) by a new coach. A team of individuals can be touched by a team spirit that enables them to surpass other much better players. Similarly when a country has suffered under plodding unimaginative leaders, people quickly recognize a leader who is obviously inspired to free them and revive the enthusiasm of millions of people.
It is not that inspiration takes away our freedom. It frees us to be and do what we would enjoy, but could never attain on our own. Nor does inspiration make us passive and lazy. Michel Angelo had struggled for weeks wondering how to bring a mother and child out of a huge piece of marble. When he was inspired to see the final product he picked up his hammer and chisel and worked furiously cutting into the marble to reveal what he had seen.
An atheist could view inspiration as something natural and impersonal, like oxygen in the air or vitamins in the soil. The Greeks pictured a very personal source of inspiration coming from the nine Muses. They assumed this familiar experience of inspiration must have a divine origin, and it was recognized in different ways by writers of tragedy or comedy, epic or love poetry, singers or dancers, and even historians and astronomers.
As we move from the familiar human experiences of inspiration, we can picture God as the original inventor and creator of this astonishing activity. If God is the Artist or originator of our world, inspiration is part of his creative work. It is not something we invented or can produce by our own efforts. Those who define God as love think of inspiration as one of the ways in which God loves us.
In chapter 1 we explored the idea of God as Father (or Parent if father love sounds too threatening). God loves us by parenting us as individuals, and acting as Father to create the environment of our nation. In chapter 2 we thought of God loving us by working in us to create personal and social relationships. In this chapter we are describing the Holy Spirit loving us by creating the inspiration we need both as individuals and as churches be free for our creative task in the world. The word inspiration means breathing in (as in inspiration and expiration). A life giving force (oxygen) comes into our lungs. Without it we would soon be dead.
How would we experience this divine inspiration? As in the case of artists, sculptors, composers, writers, coaches, and national leaders, nobody thinks of seeking inspiration if they are satisfied with their current abilities. Self-satisfaction is the hack's rejection of inspiration. Humility is being open to receive empowering from beyond the resources of our body and mind.
Just as the Greeks named the Muses to express different forms of inspiration, we also need to distinguish the activities which demand and can receive the empowering we need. For this, the Bible offers us some categories to work with. The Hebrew work for Spirit was ruakh (Arabic ruh) which was originally the ordinary word for wind. And wind has different functions. Wind moving can lift the gulls, make eagles soar, take sailing vessels across the Mediterranean. In Holland they used it to power windmills. Wind breathing gives us the oxygen needed for life. Wind burning can be dangerous in a forest fire, or a house in flames, but quietly controlled it can cook a meal, warm a room, soften metals, refine gold.
Similarly we can think of the Holy Spirit of God lifting us, enabling us to soar, moving us when we are becalmed, empowering us far beyond our own strength. The Spirit can inspire us for artistic, musical and literary creation, give us wisdom for leadership, and give us prayer according to the will of God, prophetic speaking and writing.
In the New Testament the Spirit is also pictured as the life force that animates a human body. When we are healthy our blood, lungs, heart, liver, kidneys, pituitary and other glands, digestive and procreative systems, brain cells and nerves, bones and muscles, eyes, ears, noses, not only perform their work day and night, but they relate to all the other activities in perfect harmony. It is only when something goes wrong that we feel pain, weakness, or dis-ease. Similarly a local church congregation is to be animated by the many different functions that are needed to make visible the love of God in their community.
These functions of a local church functioning as a body are called gifts of the Spirit. "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit . . . To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good . . . All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses" (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). We defined grace as the expression of the Creative Love of God, so whenever these gifts appear they are expressions of grace and each is designed to free us as a community for our task in the world. But grace can be ignored or rejected. Which is why Peter says, "Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift you have received" (1Peter 4:10).
There is also the awesome ability to inspire others to do what they would not have thought about doing themselves. An outstanding teacher inspires students to achieve far beyond the average. A coach can vitalize a team to outstanding success. A conductor brings an orchestra to life. A great artist does not just paint for himself but is able to inspire a whole group into new forms of creativity. Each of these activities points to the Holy Spirit of God as the originator of life in our world In the first two verses of the Bible He is pictured as brooding or sweeping over the face or creation (Genesis 1:1-2).
The most gracious of the Holy Spirit's activities are described as the fruit of the Spirit. As opposed to works of the flesh, which can all be produced by humans at will (Galatians 5:19-31), the fruit of the Spirit can only be produced by the life of the Spirit in us. "By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-24). Each of these aspects of character is therefore a grace given by the Spirit.
Obviously there are persons who have never heard of the Holy Spirit but they are patient, kind, generous, gentle, and self-controlled. But again, as with all other kinds of gracious activity, none of us invented or produce these fruit by our own exertion. Those who are naturally endowed with various kinds of grace can refuse the grace that has been given them, and without the constant in-breathing of the Spirit the grace will tend to fade away.
As we saw in the two previous chapters, there is no theological reason for us to deny the grace of the Holy Spirit among people who have never come to a cerebral understanding of the Christian faith. All inspiration, all gifts of the Spirit, and all fruit of the Spirit, come from one creative source. What we can do is it to recognize the grace that is evident among others, and perhaps explain that this is given to them by the Holy Spirit of God. If this is granted, then we might be able to introduce them to "the multifaceted grace of God" that comes not only from the Creative Love of the Spirit, but also from the Son, and by the continual love of the Father.
We should conclude this celebration of the multifaceted work of the Holy Spirit of God with an astonishing fact. On at least three occasions Jesus predicted his own crucifixion and resurrection (Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:18-19). But because He was fully human, he was willing to go into the jaws of death with no power to escape from its power. Paul announced the tremendous implications of the resurrection with these words. "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised the Messiah from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you" (Romans 8:11, we have translated Messiah instead of Christ, as in Matthew 1:1, 16-18).
What does this mean for us in our own death? Humans have no power in themselves to survive in any form the disintegration of their bodies. But the Holy Spirit, who from the beginning brought life into being (Genesis 1:1-2), has the power to resurrect our personality into a body suited for heaven. All the Spirit's gifts are astonishing and wonderful, but the creative loving grace of resurrection surpasses them all. It seems that, as with other manifestations of grace, humans can refuse that resurrection to the light and love of heaven. And in doing so they choose eternal death instead (In John 3:19 death is called darkness. In our Commentary on Matthew we explain why the references to gehenna, which was the rubbish dump over the wall of Jerusalem, Matthew 5:22, 29, 30, 18:9, 23:15, 22, are metaphorical, not of eternal punishment, but of the wrath consequences of certain kinds of behavior in this life).
In the next chapter we will see how God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, complete their work by perfecting ordinary humans to love the way God loves. The end product will be experienced in a heaven that is perfect beyond every human aspiration. And obviously life after death and the very possibility of heaven is the supreme gift of grace.
Chapter 4 .....