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Monday, May 31, 2010

The Holy Spirit and the Meaning of Life

I just started reading Ecclesiastes, a book of the Bible I've read before but never studied closely.  Ironically, the Preacher's point in Ecclesiastes is that life has no point.  All human activity is for nothing (though he traces complications to this assertion as the book proceeds).  For example, in 1:3-11 he says that everything is pointless because nothing ever changes, so no person really leaves a mark on successive generations.  In 1:12-2:23 he says that all human activity is pointless because not only can you not really enjoy it when you have it, but when you die you lose your whole life's work anyway and someone who did nothing to earn it gets it.

So I was pondering the pointlessness of life if nothing about life ever really changes and if each of us is an isolated individual essentially unconnected to anything or any people beyond ourselves.  And while I was doing this, I picked up the 2009 annual report of a missions organization I support, Gospel for Asia.  And I read about how women's groups in GFA churches in India are alone among native Indians in reaching out to illiterate "Untouchable" (Dalit) and low-caste women as sisters and teaching them to read so that they can be grounded in the word of God and get an education.  And when I read this I spontaneously started weeping.  At a deep level in my soul, I knew without a doubt that this activity involving these people that I did not know thousands of miles away meant something very important.

How did I know this?  The Holy Spirit.

What the Preacher of Ecclesiastes did not possess is the Holy Spirit dwelling within who makes sense of life by connecting the children of God to God's purpose that extends beyond themselves and to each other.  (Perhaps when I've finished studying the book I'll blog about Ecclesiastes' place in the biblical canon.)

Paul teaches that "when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation)—when you believed in Christ—you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of his glory" (Eph. 1:13-14).  That means that the Holy Spirit is the living proof in the hearts of believers that there is something more out there that in the future we will inherit—that things are not always going to be this way, that there is a purpose, a telos or goal, for this life we're living: that we're going somewhere.  The Holy Spirit himself living in us is our first portion of that Something and Somewhere.

But also, the same Holy Spirit lives in me and in that precious Dalit sister in a village I can't name learning to read today.  He connects us even though we don't know each other.  So I know instinctively through him that I'm not alone.  I'm an individual, but I'm not only an individual.  As essentially as I am an individual I am part of a People—the People of God.  To say that this People is no more than a collection of individuals is to cut in pieces the one Holy Spirit, into whom we were all baptized, and to dismember Christ, whose body we are.

The Holy Spirit is how we know that we know that there is a meaning to life and how we gain the first taste of what that meaning is.  If you don't have the Holy Spirit, you can never be sure that the alienated Preacher wasn't right, that life has no point, no matter how much you try to drink or drug or work or study that thought away like he tried.

For us Christians, even in our churches and our Christian activities we can sink into a "what's the point?" attitude.  Good and religious activity carries that potential in it just like all other human activity.  For me, I don't want to prepare all week for Sunday, have worship, then do it all over again the next week and wonder apathetically, "What's the point?"  I want our worship, our acts of service, and even (God helping us) our meetings be so infused by the presence of the Holy Spirit that defies comprehension that we know for certain that There Is A Point, and that we are working for it.

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