ADDENDUM: Wonderful Corpus Christi note here. I hope to publish Part 2 of below tomorrow (1 June), and Part 3 on Tuesday 4 June.
BEGINNING of original post:
"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you." (John 16:12-14, NRSV)One current theme in Anglican theology, at least in the august corridors of ADU, is that the Spirit is speaking new things into the life of the church. Intriguingly, even where these new things might disagree with what we thought the Spirit has spoken to us through Scripture, invocation is made of Scripture. Specifically, John 16 is invoked, "I still have many things to say to you ... the Spirit ... will guide you into all truth."
What do these words mean?
In one way it is a little bit ludicrous to think that, say, Jesus really wanted to give the disciples the low down on the iniquity of slavery, but that had to wait to a future time when they could 'bear' that truth.
In another way, we can see that Jesus is making no great claim for the future of general knowledge and his disciples. Jesus is not here a schoolmaster with pupils thirsty to learn facts and figure. He is the Only Son of God who has come from the Father's heart to make the Father known (1:18). 'All the truth', especially when it relates to what the Spirit hears from the Father and the Son, is the truth of God. To be guided by the Spirit into all truth is to be guided deeper into the heart of God. Intimate knowledge of God is unbearable and we need a gentle, understanding guide. The Spirit of truth who is also in Johannine terms the Paraclete/Helper/Counsellor/Advocate/Comforter is that guide.
But what does it mean for disciples to be drawn ever more deeply into the truth of God? In Johannine terms, thinking in terms of 1 John as well as the Fourth Gospel, the truth of God is that God is love (1 John 4:7).
At this point in our exegesis we need to take great care. Such great care that I am going to make this part one of a series and come back after further thought to the matter! The care needed is how we understand the love of God and the God who is Love.
We have a way of talking about the love of God which goes something like this: God loves you. You do not quite understand this, so let me say it again, God loves you. It is the love you need, the love you may never have received as fully as you would like from family and friends. It is - when truly understood - utterly irresistible, this divine love.
But is the love of God like that? If it is, then our churches, surely, would be full of people giving thanks for that love? More to a Johannine point, if that is the love of God, how does that square with the divisiveness of Jesus' ministry? In John's Gospel disciples keep falling away from Jesus because his teaching is too tough for them. In 1 John the Christian community of love is torn apart through sectarian division.
No. We need to think a little about the love of God, the truth of which we cannot bear now but the Holy Spirit can guide us into it gently. What is the Spirit of truth telling us about the love of God?
Back soon (ish - some non-blogging deadlines to meet this week)