“Led by the Spirit of God”

In this season of Ordinary Time, and in this season of summer, it is profoundly difficult for me to keep my nose to the grindstone and persevere in work. Kids are running around with balls and bikes and water balloons; friends are spending their afternoons at the beach; the sun begs to be enjoyed. At first glance, “work” would not have surfaced as an obvious theme of Romans 8; however, after reading this and reading Barth, I can’t help but see my work as a profound implication of the Truth.

Romans 8:11-17 | “The Spirit: The Truth” (part 1)

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Barth focuses, after Paul, on the role and reality of the Holy Spirit in this passage. Barth insists that the Spirit is the Truth, and as such, we have a much more complicated relationship with “Truth” than we usually admit. Here are a few of his assertions:

    • “Truth is not what we say about God, but what He does and will do and has done.”
    • “Truth is no objective observation of the Truth; for its objectivity is that by which we are observed before ever we have observed anything at all…Truth cannot therefore depend upon my observation.”
    • “We cannot begin with Truth, for it is our beginning.”
    • “Truth therefore, does not stand and fall with us, does not live and die with us, is not right whe we are right and wrong when we are deceived, does not triumph in our victory and fail when we are defeated. Truth is death poised above the cradle; it is life breathing o’er the grave.”

Because the Spirit (the Truth) is at work within us, was at work before us, and continues to work ahead of us, Barth lays out an interesting image of what it means to respond to the Truth and to follow the Truth.

“There is no warm sunset glow which succeeds the storm of our lives — save by the orientation which is given to men by God Himself and by God alone. This orientation is embarrassment, threatening, promise, the final security of insecurity, which, as the reflection of light uncreated, encompasses every created thing. This orientation is the End which announces the Beginning, is the eternal disturbance and the eternal peace, is the command which banishes us from every quiet or unquiet nook and compels us to faith, because our veritable redemption can only be believed in. — Such is the peace of God which passeth all understanding.”

compassThis image of “orientating,” of discerning “True” cardinal directions in relation to (in spite of?) the surrounding environment and positioning ourselves accordingly, is a fascinating picture of how we respond to the Spirit’s direction, as though the Spirit were the compass by which we understand the cultural and religious landscapes within which we live.

“By the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, by the knowledge of God, we are…orientated from west to east, from death to life; the Holy Spirit exercises His function of judgment and of consolation; the Truth is the Truth — this is the meaning of our being led by the Spirit of God.”

In the Reformed Tradition, the Spirit’s work is most closely linked to the Bible, making the Word of God living, active, and clear to our human understanding. If the Bible is our map for navigating our lives, then, according to Barth, the Spirit is our compass.

May God, our True North,
make His Word clear to us
— both the map-pages of His Written Word
and the living Guide of His Word Incarnate —
and send His Spirit of Truth to swivel and spin within us,
directing our wills and desires and interests
according to His will, His design, His character,
So that we might orient ourselves accordingly,
with careful precision and dynamic obedience,
to be and act in our worlds
— our workplaces, our families, our homes, our leisure — 
perfectly aligned, and continually realigning, to God.