How Can We Be Certain?

Pentecost Sunday

I looked this up on Wikipedia (which is not the best resource when other better and more reliable resources are available). But in this particular case, using Wikipedia is completely and totally justified. I was interested in the lure of technology, this obsession with gadgets and electronic devices. I took a wild guess and googled Technophilia. Yes, it happens to be a real word. It “refers generally to a strong enthusiasm for new technology,” things like computers, desktop publishing, digital media devices, digital wireless systems, the internet, and anything to do with music studio and home cinema. The term is used in sociology when examining how individuals interact with society, more noticeably with today’s pervasive use of social media. If we are not fearful of new technology, it can be a truly exciting time in human history. But there is so much we do not yet grasp.

These days, when we mention technology, we are not talking about transistor radios anymore, nor personal computers, not microwave ovens (that’s so 1970), or even mobile phones. And that cutting edge digital device in your pocket just became obsolete while you’ve been sitting in church. Some people will proudly refer to themselves as technophiles. They have a positive regard for advances in technology, “embracing it enthusiastically, and seeing it as a means to improve life and combat social problems.” They love their electronic toys. They cannot imagine life without them. In contrast, a technophobe is one who “fears or dislikes new technology, and regards most or all technology with suspicion.” I like technology, but personally I don’t see how Farmville, or Halo 4, or Call to Duty: Black Ops II belongs in the picture. Not a fan, you can tell.

Technology is an amazing byproduct of human intelligence. When confronted with obstacles or challenges, some people will be immobilized with fear, lose heart, and lament their helplessness, while others will be inspired to call on God and search deeply within themselves for creative and realistic solutions. The uninspired and fearful will often be tempted to just keep falling back on tired answers and old solutions. Those who rely on help from God will see visions and dream dreams. And since we live in complicated times, the obstacles and challenges we confront will become increasingly more complex. It takes much courage to call on God for new insight and wisdom, and to search deeply within oneself for relevant, creative, and compassionate solutions.

When Jesus announced to his apostles that he had to leave them so that the Father would send an Advocate, he was hinting at some new reality they had never before experienced. And ever since, the Holy Spirit has guided the church through times of great upheaval and turmoil. It is simplistic to think that God just has to reveal an answer, demand unwavering obedience, and we would all do as we are told. Rather, the process of listening attentively to the Spirit of God, developing relevant, creative, and compassionate responses to the challenges we face, and making the best decisions can be extremely messy. It is enough to make one fearful, and lose heart, and lament our helplessness. But from our experience of technology’s advance, we see that God can not have run out of ideas, if only we are willing to hear what the Holy Spirit has to say.

I imagine the idea of welcoming gentiles into the Christian fold caused some eyebrows to rise as early as the first generation of Christians. If they had just gone back to easy and well-worn answers, the church would have missed out on so much God wanted to share with us. In the first two centuries, there was much persecution and shedding of blood, and some turned their back on the faith in fear for their lives. This sin of apostasy was the ultimate betrayal, the breaking of communion with one another. Yet when these returned seeking reconciliation, the Spirit of God inspired the church to take them back and reexamine the meaning of discipleship. The Great Schism in 1054, which split the church into east and west, and the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century were also great wounds to communion within the Body of Christ. And it has taken many generations to convince us to set aside hate, divisiveness and unchristian behavior, and work to restore unity to the Body of Christ. We might not achieve this great reversal in our lifetime, but we can agree the Holy Spirit is not giving up.

God’s creative wisdom and outside-of-the-box thinking through the history of the church can cause us to ask how we can be certain it is the same Holy Spirit we are hearing, and not some other strange, misleading voice instead. The scriptures we read today shed light on what we might pay attention to.

When the Holy Spirit inspires the church to confront the challenges of our times, God’s grace will build on our human nature, making use of the gifts we have already received. So when we hesitate to step outside our comfort zone, God sends us prophets to steel our nerves, and point out the way for us. If we were attending primarily to our own selfish interests, we would never venture into unchartered waters. But God desires to stretch our hearts. God is never satisfied with easy and well-worn answers.

When the Holy Spirit inspires the church to confront the challenges of our times, God will reveal to us his own wonderful plan. We have to remember that God is ever aware of our every circumstance and already knows what to do. So when we are ready to discern God’s holy will, when we are willing to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, God will let us in on his plan. God is not obligated to do so, nor does God need our permission or approval to bring about the fulfillment of his will. We need to learn to let go of our need to understand and control everything. God is still in charge; we are not.

When the Holy Spirit inspires the church to confront the challenges of our times, God will do so ultimately for the glory of his Name and for the good of his people. The Kingdom of God that Jesus spoke of on several occasions may be found in the church, but can not be limited to it. What God has in mind can easily extend beyond the limits of our experience and understanding. God’s plan and God’s purpose governs the entire created universe. Whatever God desires to bring about will be fulfilled ultimately in the establishment of the heavenly Kingdom, in the church which is his people, and beyond it, in all creation.

So how can we be absolutely certain that the Holy Spirit is still active in the world, that God is still leading and guiding his people to all truth, that we need not be fearful or hesitant to receive God’s inspiration? If we are attentive to the story of the church in sacred scripture and history, we learn that God’s Spirit will always build on the gifts of our nature, to stretch our hearts, always to fulfill God’s great design and purpose, and always for the good of God’s people, with relevant, creative, and compassionate solutions for the challenges we face in our time. God clearly does not settle for less. Why should we?

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