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Monthly Letter

The Vicarage


On Sunday 20 May we celebrated Pentecost where we celebrate God sending his Holy Spirit to live amongst his people. It’s often considered the birth of the Church.

But just a couple of weeks later, we might find ourselves sitting thinking about what difference this Holy Spirit living among and within us actually makes, or in our more despondent moments, perhaps we even doubt that this spiritual event has any relevance to us at all in our scientific age. How can we insist as Christians, that the Holy Spirit lives among us and talk about God’s power and care, when so much in our world seems to suggest otherwise? In some ways, for a Christian, living after Pentecost is harder than before because we have to grapple with this divine presence which fails to produce the clear, tangible results we look for.

Now, obviously this is a huge question, and not related to Pentecost at all really; it’s just that Pentecost brings it into focus. And it’s a hard question, not just intellectually but emotionally: we’ve all been touched by tragedy and all wished that life could somehow, perhaps miraculously, be different from the reality we face now.

One of the names given to the Holy Spirit in the Bible is the Greek term ‘Parakletos’ which means ‘Comforter’ in some translations. In others is it ‘helper’ or ‘advocate’. It can also mean ‘consoler’. One of the works (and I only mean one - there are many more) of the Holy Spirit seems to be in some sense an aid for us and someone to act as an advocate, or go-between, to take up our case with God and to encourage us as we struggle.

I’d be the first person to acknowledge that this isn’t an answer to why we suffer; that’s a much bigger issue. However, it is important for us, since it is divine acknowledgement that we will struggle at times. Perhaps it’s even a nod towards the fact that at times, in our struggles, we feel like God is unapproachable and unreachable and so we need someone to act as a go-between – it gives us something to hold on to when God’s presence seems remote.

For me, this is only one small angle on suffering, but it is really important for us to notice that unlike what we might have assumed, even God acknowledges suffering as a reality and provides comfort and aid for his creation. The Holy Spirit, part of God himself, is given to us, to a certain degree so that we can undergo suffering without despair.

This is worlds away from a secularist materialist worldview which cannot logically and philosophically ground any basis for caring about suffering. The value of a small child is measured in more than its atomic make-up or its genetic potential; and because of that, the suffering of a small child is infinitely more heart-breaking than survival of the fittest and a Selfish Gene. It’s also worlds away from a view of God as a heavenly ‘fixer’ who we tell how the world should be, and then denigrate when it isn’t the way we want it.

Instead, the Christian view of God, post Pentecost, is much more true-to-life than either of these extremes. It is precisely because God values his creation and recognises the reality of the broken world that we live in, that he gives of Himself to comfort, aid and advocate for us. This means, that while I ask my other questions about suffering, I can do it knowing that I’m at least asking my questions in the correct ball-park instead of swinging off into an unrealistic and incoherent view of the world that I don’t really believe in.

We live in a post-Pentecost period where bad stuff happens, and God gives of himself to comfort, encourage and advocate for us. It’s not a fix, but it’s a light in the dark that we can use to search by.