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Who is the Holy Ghost? February 18, 2011

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Uncategorized.
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At a new (or newish) web site called Quora, someone asked, “Who is the Holy Ghost, as in ‘the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost’??” My answer at Quora, which is an earlier version of what you’ll read below, can also be found here.

The Christian answer depends on understanding the difference between “ghost” and “spirit,” and understanding that the Christian Testament says “spirit.” Today you and I see little or no distinction between the two words; we think of both words as referring to the part of human consciousness that survives physical death.

In Jesus’s time, however, a spirit was something different, more like a nonhuman entity that infuses you the way a few drops of blue food coloring turns a glass of milk blue. The glass of milk is now “possessed” by the spirit of blueness. Similarly, you might be “possessed by a spirit” of anger, lying, perversity, jealousy, fear, bondage, divination, whoredoms, etc. In Jesus’s time, the spirit was the main way you could tell the difference between life and death. In other words, when Mark 3 and Matthew 12 talk about the only unforgivable sin being blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, a modern-English translation might be something like, “How can you be forgiven by a God you don’t even believe exists in the first place?”

Another way of looking at the Christian answer is to remember that there is only one God in all the Universe, but that since there are almost 7 billion humans alive on the planet today, there are almost 7 billion ways of perceiving God. In that sense, God is a little like a Transformer toy, so that you might see God as a dinosaur and I might see God as a robot and they might see God as a truck, but it’s always the same God. You have probably already thought of the old story about the blind people who described an elephant as a snake, a tree trunk, a wall, a flag, or a rope, depending on what part they were touching.

Yet a third way of looking at the Christian answer is that the one God has three essential “components.” A computer consists of hardware (the physical machine), software (the operating system and the various programs), and electricity (the “spirit” that makes the difference between the computer being “alive” and being a really big paperweight). Christians frequently distinguish between the God who creates (the “Father”), the God who loves and rescues (the “Son”), and the God who sustains (the Holy Spirit, who is the “electricity” keeping you and me and every other living thing alive).

Finally, there’s the NON-Christian answer, which is that Christianity grew out of Judaism, and like Judaism proclaims that there is only one God in all the Universe: monotheism. But the earliest followers of the Jesus Movement lived in a culture where polytheists were all around them, worshiping Zeus and Aphrodite and Baal and Asherah and dozens of other gods and goddesses, and the earliest Christians wanted to worship Jesus as if he were just as divine as God is. In other words, NON-Christians say that the Trinity is the way that Christians practice polytheism while pretending to themselves that they’re monotheists.

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