What does it really mean when Mormons say they “feel the Spirit”? According to this thread, “feeling the Spirit” equates to positive emotional reactions to bad art. If this is true then the Spirit is particularly adept at pulling heart strings. Let’s call this “feeling the Spirit” via a lump in the throat.
Something about this leaves me cold. It’s not just that I’m a cynic, it’s also a resistance I have to reducing the workings of the Spirit of God to something so, well, saccharine. Any old fool can pull off the trick of emotional manipulation.
It also seems to be terribly unpredictable. On another bloggernacle thread, one commenter noted that a certain film left him “sickened…I felt a complete absence of the Spirit.” This comment puzzled me because the exact same film had filled me with a love of Jesus so deep I was left speechless. I was sure I had “felt the Spirit.” But we cannot both be right. The Spirit cannot utterly condemn a film to one person and testify to its truth to another. Therefore, one of us is misreading this thing we call “feeling the Spirit.”
So, allow me to briefly explore what we mean by the Holy Spirit and how he (or she in Hebrew) works in the human sphere. I’ll begin with the Old Testament.
The “Holy Spirit” that appears in the OT is more accurately described as “the Spirit of God.” (The term “Holy Spirit” — ruah qadosh appears only seldom and late. “Holy Ghost” and “Holy Spirit” are synonyms; I prefer the latter.) The Spirit of God is basically God’s Spirit abroad in the world (and not a separate “being” despite occasional metaphorical personifications). God’s Spirit appears as a driving force in Creation, brooding over the waters in Genesis 1, is a saving power (Exod 14:21), and acts as a bringer of destruction (Hos 13:5). Here’s a real beauty: the Spirit (or a “spirit from God”) can also be an agent of evil (Judg 9:23, 1 Sam 19:9, 1 Kgs 22:23).
Here’s how the Spirit works on humans: it chooses and magnifies leaders (Judg 3:10, 1 Sam 10:1-13) and acts as an agent of prophecy. According to Hosea, a prophet is a “man of the Spirit” (Hos 9:7) and Micah says that he is filled “with power, with the Spirit of the Lord” (Mic 3:8). In the eschatological age, the Spirit will be poured out upon all people and be the means through which people will hold to righteousness (Isa 59:21). Late texts speak of the Spirit offering wisdom, revelation, and guidance (Wis 7:7, Ezek 2:2).
So, for the OT the Holy Spirit acts as God’s divine force on nature and as the power that leads and inspires the righteous (setting aside the mischievous spirits — an interesting topic for sure). Alas, I don’t think the Old Testament is able to help me decide whether the Spirit can lead me to cry at a movie, or, if he/she/it can, how to know for sure, especially when a co-religionist claims the opposite effect.
Next time, the New Testament Holy Spirit…
1. Another option is that the Spirit has nothing to do with it and that these are just visceral reactions that have to do with taste and worldview.
2. Don’t get excited, feminists. This is just the quirk of language that makes “breath, spirit” mostly feminine in Hebrew.
3. The case of the evil spirits brings up a complicating factor, however. Is there one “Spirit,” or different “spirits,” or both. In the case of God-inspired mischief, we prefer to read, “God placed an evil spirit” not “God’s Evil Spirit.” Big diff.