God in spirit

June 13, 2011

For more commentary on this week's readings, see the Reflections on the Lectionary page, which includes Sawyer's current Living by the Word column as well as past magazine and blog content. For full-text access to all articles, subscribe to the Century.

In my church we've been exploring the idea that God is fully present in each person of the Trinity. Recently our focus has been on the Holy Spirit. On Trinity Sunday, a week after Pentecost, it might be fruitful to consider the implications of this full presence of God in the Spirit.

We could ask these questions:

  • Is there any place where the Spirit of God is not present?
  • Is the ruach/breath/spirit of God/Spirit God?
  • How is the "breath of life" similar to or different from the breath or Spirit of God?
  • If God the Spirit is present, how would we recognize that presence? (Does it look like a man from Nazareth?)

The creation story in Genesis 1 recounts that at the beginning of creation the "Spirit (ruach) of God was moving over the face of the waters." Later it's noted that God has given as food every seed-bearing plant and tree to human beings--and to "everything that has the breath (ruach) of life."

In Psalm 104, the psalmist says this of God's relationship to all creatures, who look to God for food:

When you take away their breath (ruach), they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit (ruach), they are created.

This Hebrew ruach/breath/spirit becomes pneuma in the Greek, and it inhabits Jesus, too. When Jesus appears to the disciples in John 20 after his resurrection, he sends them out to forgive the world:

He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit (pneuma hagion). If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

When we consider the Great Commission from Matthew 28, what is the "everything that I have commanded you" that Jesus wants us to bring to all the nations? What is the Spirit that Jesus gives?