THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE HUMAN SPIRIT AND THE HOLY SPIRIT
May 27, 2008
Read 1 Corinthians 2:6–13
The human spirit comes in all shapes, sizes, styles and colors. For example, during a graduation ceremony that I attended last week, a young woman stood up to receive her degree. With her robe flowing behind her, she marched toward the platform and extended her hand. She moved with a great sense of confidence and poise. But then, from the midst of the congregation, came this cry from a small child. The shrill voice broke through the solemn quiet of the moment with a reckless and uninhibited affection: “Yeah, Mom!” The graduate, at that point, receiving her diploma, burst into tears. And the rest of us were left to wonder, “What obstacles had this woman overcome to arrive at this place? What wild moments of pride and joy would she share with her little boy as he himself grew toward maturity and to his own graduation?”
The human spirit, as you know, finds a myriad of ways to express itself. Self expression, in fact, happens to be one of the hallmarks of the human spirit. The human spirit is free, creative, tenacious, ingenious and gregarious… And yet, before we wax on too poetically or too romantically about how great a thing it is to be human, or how a great thing it is to overcome adversity and win the Olympic Gold, or how great thing it is to die for a cause larger than one’s self—it’s also critical to emphasize how the human spirit often wanders around like a lonely orphan. According to Walker Percy, it “caroms around the Universe” like a pinball, sometimes setting off bells and whistles, but just as often rolling aimlessly around.
Now, if all this sounds like so much highfalutin pop-psychology, let me remind you of what the apostle Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 2:11. In the middle of a discussion about the wisdom which God gives through the Holy Spirit, he says,
“For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within.”
What person knows? Each person, presumably, understands and comprehends what he or she is thinking. Each person tries to match his intention with the life he strives to live. Each person dreams about doing something with her life and then hopefully she does it. But, you see, already we have a problem, don’t we? Already a large chasm opens up between our spiritual goals and our tangible results.
The movie, Invincible, depicts the real-life achievements of a part-time bartender and school teacher, named Vince Papale. Papale, against all odds and through a freak set of circumstances, made the cut with the Philadelphia Eagles professional football team. In doing so, of course, this particular human being accomplished something that thousands of men and women often only dream of doing. But here’s the problematic thing of movies like Invincible: the film casts Papale’s wife as leaving him because he would never amount to anything, and in fact shows how she left a nasty note to that effect. The note, during the course of the movie, serves as a motivation for Papale, who strives to prove her wrong. And the note, when it’s eventually torn to pieces, clearly symbolizes all that the human spirit may overcome.
But, alas, I know something about Vince Papale that the film does not portray. My brothers attended Interboro High School where the hero of the story had been a substitute teacher, and they recall very vividly how Papale actually had an affair with a high school student.
So let’s review what just happened and what tends to happen repeatedly in all of our relationships:
1. the human spirit has wild and wonderful potential;
2. the human spirit sets goals and strives to achieve them; but
3. the human spirit fails to live up to potential and invariably taints or spoils the very goals to which all human beings aspire.
One author that I read this week puts it like this:
“When the human spirit operates as an image separated from its original, it works as ungrounded transformation, a kind of loose canon of creativity giving rise to a random sense of freedom…” (The Logic of the Spirit, James Loder, p. 36).
I had a roommate in college who used to wear a black t-shirt with the white bold letters, G-O-D, pasted on the front. At a party, somebody asked him why he wore that shirt, and he said, “because I’m #####.” We all laughed. But later, when the party came to an end, I remember looking out the window and seeing my friend wandering down the street like a child lost at the mall. It’s not that the human spirit is inherently bad; it’s that without the grounding of God’s Spirit, we lose our way. Moreover, when we aspire to live as if we do not need that grounding, we become a danger to ourselves and to others.
“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed upon us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.”
That’s a mouth full, I know. But what “the Spirit… interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual” may mean for us here at Latah Valley is much, much, more simple than those words indicate. Let me offer this scenario: Denise and Dorothy approach one another during the Passing of the Peace in worship. Fastened to Dorothy’s blouse is a large, ornate pin and so, when they hug one another, Denise’s sweater becomes hooked in the process. So, as the rest of us return to our seats, the two women cannot break free of their embrace. Dorothy is about eighty years old and her husband has just died, leaving her alone in a drafty house. Denise is the mother of two boys, the younger of which suffers from Spina Biffita and must be constantly monitored by a nurse whom the family has hired, and the other who is a little angry that his troubled brother gets most of the attention. Anyway, here are Dorothy and Denise, one, originally from up-state New York, the other, from the sticks of Missouri, one who will eventually pass away in a nursing home, the other who will go on living a life, loving her children the best she can. There they are, hooked together, two unique human spirits, in the midst of the congregation, in the midst of the world. And as our nervous laughter turns to tears, and as our tears turn to songs of praise, we understand. We comprehend what God must have in mind, not only for us, but for every age and every place.
Theologian Jurgen Moltmann offers this promise:
“Life, temporarily limited and historically forgetful and fickle as it is, is set in this perspective. The incompletable fragments of a human life become fragments of the rebirth of the whole creation” (The Church In the Power of the Spirit, p. 281).
Fragments of the rebirth of the whole creation… That phrase, I think, epitomizes the difference between the human spirit and the Holy Spirit. Left on its own the human spirit is a sliver or a shard of the shattered creation. And yet, in the mind of the Maker, in the mind of Christ Jesus, it is the broken pieces that become the signs of our wholeness.
Lillian Daniel tells this great story about going home to her mothers and noticing this vase on the mantelpiece. The vase has these major cracks and there is glue that has hardened in those crevices, making that particular heirloom a real eye-sore. When Lillian Daniel implored her mother to throw the ugly thing in the garbage, she refused and told her this story. She described how her father had traveled all over the world as a photo-journalist and upon returning home from a long, long trip in Vietnam, he brought a vase that he had picked up during his travels. The vase was extremely rare and delicate, which is why he carried it in his hand the whole way. But upon getting out of the taxi, the photo-journalist’s little girl ran to him and leaped into his arms. As he caught her in mid-air, the gift fell to the pavement and broke into a thousand pieces. Lillian Daniel’s mother then spend the entire night, gluing the pieces of that vase back together. “I’ll never throw it away. I’ll never…” Amen.