Filled with the Holy Spirit

Yesterday, the Epistle Lesson for PENTECOST  Sunday (Acts 2:1-11 ), included these words:

Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

What caught my attention were the words “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”    The text also says the whole house was filled with the sound of the rushing mighty wind.  


It is an interesting word.

We don’t normally conceive of humans being empty like a bottle that you can fill.    So what exactly does it mean for a person to be filled by the Holy Spirit?   Of course, to be scientifically accurate, a bottle is not empty (as in vacuum), it is filled with air, and we displace the air with the liquid with which we (RE-)fill the bottle. 

So did the Holy Spirit fill the otherwise vacuous disciples?  Or did the Spirit displace that with which the disciples were already full of?

The text is of course describing a spiritual experience in metaphorical language, so St. Luke (the author of Acts) is trying to approximate the experience described by the apostles.  He is after all writing about the event years after it happened, and has to rely on their description of what they experienced in that moment of Pentecost – the inrushing of God’s Spirit into their lives.

The Greek word which St. Paul used for “filled” has a variety of uses literally and metaphorically and among its many cognates:  To fill, To make full,  To influence, To imbue, To supply, To accomplish, To furnish, To complete, To satisfy, To fulfill

In our prayer, we claim the Holy Spirit fills all things.   It is a rich image, which to some extent defies (and maybe deifies!)  understanding.  We do not usually think of all things as being empty – but rather things contain mass, and yet the Holy Spirit fills them. 

Is it that apart from God all things are still lacking something?   Only with the Holy Spirit filling something or someone does that thing or person attain its fullness of being – all that God intended for it, him, or her.   Only when we and the Church and world are full of the Holy Spirit do we experience the created world as God intended it to be and as He experiences it Himself.

The Holy Spirit is neither filling a vacuous being, nor displacing what is already in each of us.  The Holy Spirit fills us – brings us to fullness, completes us, recreates us so that we are the humans in whom God breathed His Spirit in the beginning.  “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth”  (Psalm 33:6).   It is the Holy Spirit of God which continues Christ’s saving activity in the world – transfiguring and transforming all things.  By abiding in us, filling us with God’s Spirit, we are cleansed of every impurity, for there is no room for evil in the one in whom God’s Spirit dwells.

See also my Pentecost post. 


Evil is a Sign that Free Will is Real

In 2003, I was asked “why does evil exist?”   This was the response I penned.

Imagine creating a universe in which the people/creatures were incapable of doing anything except what the Creator wanted them to do.   What would we call such people?

       Robots or automatons.

Robots don’t think or choose as such, they simply do what they are programmed to do.  They can be programmed to make certain choices – if they see a certain pattern they respond in one way, if a different pattern appears, they respond in a different.  But their programming still limits them to whatever responses have been put in them.  “Choice” for such robots is completely an illusion.  They can never really do any more than they were programmed to do. (They can even be programmed to respond randomly, but they are still programmed).

In such a universe, one could not really speak of choice, of right and wrong.  Wrong would exist only if there was a malfunction in the programming or a mechanical malfunction.

It is the Christian thought that we don’t live in such a robotic universe.  God created humans not automatons. 

 We live in a universe in which there really are choices, each which results in a different consequence.   There is  right and there is wrong, even if that is said to be a human construct.    And in this world people choose, have free will, can be creative, can come up with new ideas, can actually think and decide.

To the question, “why is there evil?”, I offer what I said above.  As long as the above is true, it means people are not robots, aren’t programmed, don’t have to follow a script.  God gave us free will to make decisions.  We actually can disobey God, we actually can choose to do wrong, choose evil, choose to destroy, and choose to disobey.   

 Evil is potential in any universe in which free will exists.   If evil wasn’t a real choice – and an attractive one, not just a repulsive one, then we would not be free beings, and we would not be able to choose love. 

If the potential for evil didn’t exist, there would be no real choice, no free will, no right or wrong, no ability to repent, to love, to forgive.   All we could do is what we have been preprogrammed to do. 

Could a world have been made in which people only loved?   Yes, but then it would not be love by choice, but simply following pre-programming.  In that sense it wouldn’t be love at all.  We wouldn’t be forgiving, repenting or loving as in choosing a particular reaction.  We would be following a pattern and like a robot simply seeing a pattern and doing the programmed response. 

Love is a choice, a decision, a reaction, an action only in a universe in which there is free will and real choices to be made.  In such a universe evil must also exist as a real choice, and one that can attract us.