All human beings have beliefs about God.
These beliefs range from absolute literal beliefs in the scriptures of one’s religion, whatever that religion may be, through mythological understandings to agnosticism to atheism.
Whatever our particular belief about God, we all put God in a box; we all see God as smaller or different than God really is. By keeping God small, God is more comfortable, more manageable, more like us. For those of us who are believers, the box usually limits God to our human and therefore partial understand of God and creation. As St. Paul writes in his first letter to the church at Corinth: “for now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
On the upcoming Feast of Pentecost, we celebrate God’s escape from the box.
“When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
Fire can be warming and comforting. It can also be uncontrollable and dangerous. (Acts 2:1-4) The Holy Spirit is the fire that only God controls and we are swept up in it, to be controlled by God rather than God being controlled by us. The fire of the Holy Spirit burns down all of our boxes.
Acts continues, “Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in their own native language. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power. (Acts 2:5-8)
God’s deeds of Power, the Marvelous acts of God! Pentecost releases God’s power, Pentecost releases us to see a larger God than we can ever imagine. The Hebrew Prophet Joel, some 400 years before the birth of Jesus recognized this power when he proclaimed,
“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon the slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy." (Joel 2:28-29)
Eight hundred years earlier Moses proclaimed to Joshua, when questioned about “inappropriate prophets, Eldad and Medad: “Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!" (Numbers 11:29)
That Spirit was again released at Pentecost and we see that Holy Spirit in Christians, and in Jews like Joel and Moses, we see it in Muslims and Buddhists and people of other faiths and of no faith at all. For none of us can control or box in the Spirit of God. As Jesus said to Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 227)
Ben Alford is the former rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Albertville.