Last Monday I grappled with the concept of the Holy Spirit, and this week I got another dose from John 14:15-20. We read the NRSV version, in which Jesus describes the Holy Spirit this way:
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth…”When I first read the verse in church on Sunday, the word “Advocate” leapt off the page, so later I looked up other translations, interested to see what additional word choices are used to describe the role of the Holy Spirit. I found these: Comforter, Helper, Counselor and Friend. All descriptive words; all provide a nuanced interpretation of the Holy Spirit. But I have to say, I think I like “Advocate” best.
I like to imagine the Holy Spirit standing beside me at Heaven’s gate, advocating to God on my behalf: “Really, Lord, she did well, all things considered. I know it was touch and go for a while, but I think we should let her in.”
Yet I don’t think God intended the Holy Spirit to advocate merely at the eleventh hour, but daily, too, through the dozens of decisions we make in the everyday. After all, the word “advocate” comes from the Latin word vox, which simply means “voice.” And I like to think of the Holy Spirit, my Advocate, literally as that little voice inside my head, the voice that knows best.
It’s there, that voice; I hear it from time to time. The trouble is, I often fail to listen. I hear my advocate gently prod in one direction, yet I choose to do exactly the opposite.
How often, for example, as tensions and frustrations escalate with my children, do I think, “Okay, Michelle, breathe…relax…be patient.” As the voice of the Holy Spirit cascades through the chaos, occasionally I choose to listen. Sometimes I inhale deeply, sit down with the boys, talk the matter through reasonably. But sometimes, even when I consciously know exactly how I should react, I allow caustic words to erupt from mouth like bubbling lava.
Or take gossip. I’ve heard myself preface a remark this way: “I shouldn’t even say this…it’s not very Christian, but…” That’s right. I know what I am about say is wrong. And I say it anyway. As the Holy Spirit advocates for loving kindness, I blatantly disobey and spout malicious gossip instead.
It’s one thing to err unintentionally, but blatant disregard? Suppressing that voice to embrace anger and cruelty instead?
It’s frustrating, this business of being human. This flawed life. It’s disappointing. Discouraging.
But look again at that passage from John. Jesus doesn’t suggest we have a temporary Advocate. He doesn’t imply we get the benefit of a counselor for a limited about of time. He doesn’t threaten us, tell us that if we blow through our pile of “get out of jail free” cards, we’ll be out of luck. No, Jesus tells gives us an Advocate, to be with us forever.
A lifetime warranty, unlimited guarantee. No matter what.
Quite a deal, God’s grace. Quite a deal indeed.
Which word do you prefer for the Holy Spirit? Advocate? Counselor? Helper? Friend? Something else?