Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry come to you! Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress! Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call!
For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace. My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread. Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my flesh. I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places; I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop. All the day my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse. For I eat ashes like bread and mingle tears with my drink, because of your indignation and anger; for you have taken me up and thrown me down. My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass. But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations. You will arise and have pity on Zion; it is the time to favor her; the appointed time has come. For your servants hold her stones dear and have pity on her dust. Nations will fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory. For the LORD builds up Zion; he appears in his glory; he regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer. Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD: that he looked down from his holy height; from heaven the LORD looked at the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die, that they may declare in Zion the name of the LORD, and in Jerusalem his praise, when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the LORD. (ESV)
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Philipp Nicolai, Johann Heermann, and Paul Gerhardt, Hymnwriters
26 October 2015
Those who question the full divinity and personhood of the Holy Spirit resort to the argument from silence. In other words, since the Bible seldom expressly calls Him God, they argue that Holy Spirit is not God or even that He is not fully God. Sometimes, people will think they are treating the Holy Spirit as a coequal and co-eternal person of the holy Trinity, but they are really treating Him merely as a power or spiritual influence. In this case He becomes more like "the force" from George Lucas's Star Wars films. Luke Skywalker has extraordinary powers when he can "feel the force." This is not far different from, "Can you feel the Spirit working in your life?" The influence of the Spirit becomes more important than the person of the Spirit.
Such arguments, of course without the benefit of Star Wars, were already being made in the third century of our era. The argument from silence is not a very strong argument, even if the Bible did not testify to the divinity of the Spirit (which of course, it does [Mt 28:19; Acts 5:4; Gn 1:2
]). Gregory of Nazianzus considers the various ways in which the Scripture speaks of the divine attributes, so as to show that a thing could be spoken of which did not literally exist. Gregory is aware that human language can be used in various wonderful ways to approach the unapproachable. Often this happens with the use of anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms. An anthropomorphism is a description of God using the analogy of human bodily form, such as, God turned His face (Num 6:24-26
). God, who is a spirit, does not literally have a face. Anthropopathism is attributing human emotion to God. Is God literally able to undergo change (Heb 6:17-18
)? No, however it seems so from the perspective of humans like us (Jer 18:8
), just ask the Ninevites (Jon 3:9
). The Bible often speaks of God changing His mind as a sign of His mercy to sinners. I am glad that He does, because I too am a sinner.
What do we do with this? Gregory is certainly looking at this question from the perspective of the human being. We are attempting to see what is unseen and know what is unknowable. However, we are not attempting to look upon anything other than what the Lord has Himself made known to us. God has graciously condescended to make Himself known to us in the form which is susceptible to our understanding. He Himself has made us; He knows exactly how to communicate with us. So we are not imposing these figures of speech upon Him, but He is graciously speaking to us in the way that is best for us to understand, in the same way we speak to a small child using small words that they are able to comprehend. This analogical language must not be pushed beyond the point that is making, as though, since God is spoken of as having a face, we might be able to talk about his eye color or the size of His nose. These figures of speech are telling us something about the character of God that He thinks we need to know. These statements are figures of speech, and what they point to is literally true. When God lifts His face to us, He is expressing His gracious care for sinners like us. O Lord, let me see the face of Your grace.
"Over and over again you turn upon us the silence of Scripture. But that it is not a strange doctrine, nor an afterthought, but acknowledged and plainly set forth both by the ancients and many of our own day, is already demonstrated by many persons who have treated this subject, and who have handled the Holy Scriptures, not with indifference or as a mere pastime, but have gone beneath the letter and looked into the inner meaning, and have been deemed worthy to see the hidden beauty, and have been irradiated by the light of knowledge. We, however in our turn will briefly prove it as far as may be, in order not to seem to be overly curious or improperly ambitious, building on another's foundation. But since the fact that Scripture does not very clearly or very often write of the Holy Spirit as God in express words (as it does first the Father and afterwards the Son), becomes to you an occasion of blasphemy and of this excessive wordiness and impiety, we will release you from this inconvenience by a short discussion of things and names, and especially of their use in Holy Scripture.
"Some things have no existence, but are spoken of; others which do exist are not spoken of. Some neither exist nor are spoken of, and some both exist and are spoken of. Do you ask me for proof of this? I am ready to give it. According to Scripture God sleeps and is awake, is angry, walks, has the cherubim for His throne. Yet when did He become liable to change? Have you everheard that God has a body? This is a figure of speech, not really a fact. For we have given names according to our own comprehension from our own attributes to those of God. His remaining silent apart from us, and as it were not caring for us, for reasons known to Himself, is what we call His sleeping; for our own sleep is such a state of inactivity. And again, His sudden turning to do us good is the waking up; for waking is the end of sleep, as visitation is of turning away. And when He punishes, we say He is angry; for so it is with us, punishment is the result of anger. His working, now here now there, we call walking; for walking is change from one place to another. His resting among the holy hosts, and as it were loving to dwell among them, is His sitting and being enthroned. This also is from us, for God rests nowhere as He does upon the saints. His swift motion is called flying. His watchful care is called His face, and his giving and bestowing is His hand. In a word, every power or activity of God was depicted for us as some other bodily one."
Gregory Nazianzus, Fourth Theological Oration, 21-22
O Lord, do not hide Your face from Your servants in the day of distress. Incline Your ear to us and answer us speedily when we call; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen
For the leaders of Memorial Lutheran Church, that those who serve the Lord might find strength in His Word and confidence in His mercy
For President Timothy Scharr of the Southern Illinois District, that he would be strengthened in his body and encouraged with the gifts of God
For Cathy Knight, who has cancer, that she would receive the gift of healing
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015