Why Doesn’t the Holy Spirit Have a Face?

I don’t know if you were like me growing up, but I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the nature of the Holy Spirit.  I knew He was important because He’s mentioned with the Father and the Son.  But unlike the Father and the Son, the Spirit has never been “personified.”

Of course the Holy Spirit is a Person in the literal sense; He is the third Person of the Holy Trinity.  But He has no face that my younger self could imagine.  I can see clearly the face of Jesus in my mind’s eye, influenced by art and movies.  I can have some fuzzy image of God the Father because I have a concrete example of a father right in front of me.  But not so with the Spirit.  So in my childish understanding, I envisioned the Trinity as the Father sitting there with Jesus and in between them was their pet bird: The Holy Spirit.

And if you continue to search the Scriptures, you will find that they are dogged in their refusal to “personify” the Spirit.  As a result, many find some difficulty understanding Who He is.

From a theological point of view, it must be remembered that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  What this means is that the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father.  And that love is so real, so powerful, so intense that it is alive!  It is the Holy Spirit.  The essential nature of the Spirit is love.  But even saying that, true though it may be, does not help “personify” the Spirit in our minds.

So why doesn’t the Holy Spirit have a face?

The answer lies in John 16:17:  “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

Notice what Jesus says: He has to go away or the Advocate (i.e. the Holy Spirit) cannot come to us.  I remember once meditating on Jesus leaving us at the Ascension and being very sad that He left this world when I want to hear His voice with my ears and look on him with my own eyes.  But He left us.  And He did so because He NEEDED to go.  If He did not go, we could not receive the Holy Spirit.

Why not?

Because that is the only way we would ever really understand who the Spirit is and who God wants us to be.

In every other religion, God or the gods were “out there.”  There was this epic chasm between the divine.  Zeus and his fellow gods lived high above on Mount Olympus.  Humans only interacted with the gods when praying at their temples or offering some other kind of intercessory prayers.  They turned to someone outside of themselves to do something for them.  But that is the extent of the relationship.  The ancient Jews came much closer to it with their great Shema “Hear or Israel… you shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, and strength.”

But the truth goes even deeper.  If Jesus never went away, we would always look to God outside of ourselves.  And that great separation would never be overcome.  But that is not what the Lord wants.  He wants to be much closer.

That is the role of the Holy Spirit.  He is the life of God inside of us.  God is not just “out there.”  God is “in here.”  He is at the very center of our person.  In some ways He is closer to us than our own souls.  We don’t experience the Spirit outside of us in the same way we do the Father and the Son.  We experience the Spirit as He lives inside of us.

I am reminded of a wonderful quote from CS Lewis regarding prayer:

“What I mean is this. An ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get into touch with God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God: God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God – that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing to which he is praying – the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on – the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers.”

C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity (p. 163)

In other words, we pray to the Father with the Son, but only by the power of the Spirit inside of us.  Whenever we pray, we are caught up, as the great Christian poet Rich Mullins said, in that “reckless raging fury that they call the love of God.”

He has accomplished the truest meaning of love, which is to be united completely to the one you love.  And He is united with us in a way no other human being can be.  He is the life’s breath of our soul.

The Holy Spirit has no face, because the only face He wears is the one we see in the mirror.

Copyright © 2013, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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