I Am Not the Holy Spirit: Reflections On The Go-Between God by John V. Taylor

I am not the Holy Spirit. An obvious statement, yes, and one that I would never deny verbally. In action, though, I often live as if I am the Holy Spirit, and I suspect I’m not alone in this behavioral blasphemy. As Christians, we believe that God’s Holy Spirit is within us, guiding us and forming us into the image of Jesus Christ. Often times, though, the Holy Spirit I claim to follow bears striking resemblance to myself. He seems to have the same personality as myself, the same desires, and the same thoughts. From my perspective, it’s not just the Holy Spirit who seems to resemble me. Even as I interact with others, I project myself onto them. I enter dialogue with another assuming he has the same values, the same basic assumptions about life, and the same worldview. I suspect I’m not the only one with this problem, but maybe that, too, is a projection of myself on the rest of the world.

It’s this interaction with the Holy Spirit and with the “other” that John V Taylor addresses in The Go-Between God: The Holy Spirit and the Christian Mission. Taylor was an Anglican bishop and theologian, doing most of his work in the mid-twentieth century. He worked for sometime as a missionary in Uganda, and brings a missionary perspective to his work. The Go-Between God was first published back in 1972, and is now considered a classic theological work. (In fact, the edition of the book I read is from the SCM Classics series.)

Drawing heavily on Martin Buber’s I and Thou, Taylor’s main point of the book is that the Holy Spirit primarily works as a “go-between.” In other words, when individuals meet and converse, the Spirit is not merely “in” each of the individuals, but is His own personality working between them. If life were a drama, the Holy Spirit would be a separate character with his own personality. To use another analogy, used by Taylor, if a conversation between two people were represented by the equation 1+1, the Holy Spirit would be the “+”.

Not only do we need to see the Holy Spirit as his own character, Taylor goes on to explain that the Spirit’s function in the mission of God is to draw people together, to be the “+” in the 1+1 equation. The Spirit does this, Taylor argues, by helping people to see other individuals and entirely “other” than them. To help people to realize that the other person in the dialogue sees the world through entirely different lenses shaped by their own experiences.

Taylor draws out numerous implications for Christian mission. Among them, he writes of the importance of listening when doing evangelism or interfaith dialogue; that before the gospel can be proclaimed by one person to another, the evangelist must understand the worldview of the other. Taylor devotes an entire chapter to the pentecostal movement, and explains that the rest of the Church needs to learn from them in order to become more aware of the Holy Spirit’s personality and action. What I found most striking, though, was Taylor’s chapter on prayer in the Spirit. Taylor first explains, “To live in prayer, therefore, is to live in the Spirit; and to live in the Spirit is to live in Christ… to live in Christ is to live in prayer. Prayer is not something you do; it is a style of living.” And he later continues, “…we are saying that the essential missionary activity is to live in prayer.”

This, of course, is nothing new, but the type of prayer Taylor went on to recommend I found intriguing. He called it the “prayer of stillness.” The first step is to still the mind. (For what it’s worth, Taylor suggests Yoga or Tai Chi as methods to do this.) Next, he says to focus your awareness on another object – a lit candle, a glass of water, etc. When entirely focused on the object, the next step is to begin to think of it as a symbol of Christ – the Light of the World, Living Water, etc. – and then to slowly replace the image of the object in our mind with the person of Christ himself. The value of this type of prayer, I think, is that it brings us into deeper awareness of the Hearer of our prayers. We realize that when we pray, we actually are speaking to someone else. This awareness can then move toward those for whom we’re interceding, prompting us to pray for them without projecting ourselves onto them.

The Go-Between God has been published for nearly 40 years, now. But I think it’s a much needed book for ministers and missionaries today. In my pastoral work, and my campus ministry work, I’m often struck by how eager people are to take advantage of a listening ear. On more than one occasion, strangers I’ve met for the first time have shared with me deeply painful experiences of brokenness from their past, and longings for their future. Our busy and individualized society is increasingly isolating us from one another, and it’s leaving people with the desire to be heard and to be known by others. And I suspect that in the midst of our busy-ness, the Holy Spirit too is calling out for us to listen and to know Him. The Go-Between God paints a picture of the Spirit that just begins to scratch the surface of the Spirit’s personality, and the personality of humanity, and invites us to dive deeply into further exploring the deep mysteries of the Spirit and our neighbors.

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The Lord is a Warrior

When I was a kid, I used to love watching WWF wrestling. One of my favorite wrestlers to watch was this guy…

… the Ultimate Warrior. He was always one of the toughest “good guys” there was. Every now and then one of the “bad guys” would start to beat him up, but then all of sudden, just when you thought it was all over, the Ultimate Warrior would start shaking the ring ropes and would “miraculously” get his strength back. Then it really was over, the Ultimate Warrior would go crazy and destroy everyone in his path.

Strangely enough, I was reminded of the Ultimate Warrior this past week when reading my Bible. (Go ahead and laugh… I am.) I’ve been reading Judges, and this past week took me through the stories of Samson. Samson seems to “go crazy” twice in chapter 14. First, he’s approached by a lion, you’d think the lion would destroy Samson, but nope, Samson tears apart the lion with his bare hands. Then again at the end of the chapter, Samson strikes down thirty men of Ashkelon when they cheated at solving his riddle. Samson was destroying everything in his path… and he didn’t even have ring ropes to shake.

Here’s the part that really surprises me, in both instances, with the lion and with the men of Ashkelon, what prompts Samson to do all this is that “the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him.” (See vv.  and 19). Huh? When I think of the Holy Spirit coming upon someone, I usually think of Jesus’ words (quoting Isaiah) in Luke 4: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” See, I can understand the Holy Spirit coming upon someone to preach the gospel. Sometimes, I’ll even think of the Spirit of the Lord coming upon people and causing them to speak in tongues. (Not often, of course. I am Presbyterian after all.) But the Spirit of the Lord coming upon someone and causing them to destroy a lion, or 30 of the person’s enemies?

I suppose this is a good reminder of the “wildness of God.” C.S. Lewis’ oft-quoted line about Aslan is true: he’s not a tame lion. God is not tame. There’s a wildness to God the Holy Spirit. We cannot tame Him, despite our best efforts. Maybe when we pray for the Holy Spirit to come, we should be more careful, we might actually wake him.