Pneumatological Orthopathy

In a culture where subjectivity reigns supreme, the idea of orthopathy can be offensive and controversial.  To claim there are right feelings, emotions, or affections toward something or someone can feel paternalistic and is a large reason I have shied away from exploring orthopathy.  Despite these reservations, orthopathy is important.  This paper will be dedicated to exploring the theological fruits of orthopathy with Holy Spirit and what practical concerns face us.  As should be true with any theological consideration, our motivation for studying and engaging in orthopathy with Holy Spirit is for the purpose of becoming Christlike for our union with God.

Exploring Feelings

Feelings and emotions are an interesting aspect of life because how spontaneous they appear. They bubble up and grip us before we are able to consider what we should feel in a given situation.  In what seems to be a response to an overly rational approach to life, combined with the influence of individualism and radical subjectivity coming from some forms of post-modern philosophy, feelings have come to reign supreme.  They have become our guide to truth and goodness.  God has created us emotional beings and so there must be a place for emotion in our life (Ecclesiastes 3:4).  Yet like anything, they can be destructive if not understood and interacted with appropriately.  Feelings and emotions tell us important things about ourselves and the world and thus serve as a great gage of a situation, but we should be weary of using them as a guide.

The complexity of emotions must be considered when thinking about orthopathy.  In my previous job, I experienced great emotional distress.  I was frequently anxious most days at work, stressed, tired, overwhelmed, felt trapped and desperate, was angry and frustrated with God.  I was constantly praying for relief, peace, joy, comfort, and hope.  God being faithful, provided Holy Spirit in my moments of despair. Holy Spirit always gives us feelings of life and renewal. Many experiences of Holy Spirit will not be had until we have been close to what feels like death.  I did not feel his comfort until I needed comforting, did not appreciate his steadfast presence until I felt alone, did not revel in his hope until I was gripped by despair.  Experiencing Holy Spirit will not immediately negate feelings of death, but the life he brings gives us something to hold onto as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.[1]  For a time, we may experience opposite emotions simultaneously.

Orthoprathy

This same idea of right feeling and emotion needs to be applied to experiences with Holy Spirit.  In pursuing orthopathy, we will end up commenting whether a particular subjective experience is appropriate or not.  If we do not have “appropriate” feelings or emotions toward Holy Spirt, or experience the emotions and feelings promised by Holy Spirit, we should be led into introspection on the matter.  This is a contentious task because of the cultural value of subjectivity.  Yet, it is important if we are going to recognize where or when Holy Spirit is moving in our life and in our world.  Given that this does require us to make decisions about another person’s experience that we cannot experience and feel ourselves, this must be done in the utmost humility.

Considering the complexity of emotions and that subjectivity should not be our guide to truth, what is orthopathy, and what does it say about what we should feel and experience with Holy Spirit?  Orthopathy are those experiences that provide life and lead us to pursue union with the Trinity.[2]  Interaction with The Spirit should be something we depend on to know God’s will.[3]  As much as we can read the Bible to learn about God and how he would have us act in the world, we must be engaging with Spirit to hear what acts or decisions we should make.  This stems from our utter dependence on Holy Spirit to fully live in God’s will and the personal nature of Holy Spirit.[4]  To have a robust relationship with God, we have to personally interact with him, since as a person this is what he desires.[5]  As a person, many of the experiences and feelings that Holy Spirit bring are not solely the fact that his presence alters our emotions and feelings.  This may be the case to some extent, yet I believe it’s through the ability for Holy Spirit to respond personally to us and for us to respond personally to him that we experience those feelings of life that he brings.

Given that Holy Spirit is the source of life, we should have a desire to pursue an interactive relationship with him.[6]  Pinnock described salvation as a process of falling in love with God.[7]  If we don’t feel this love for God, then that should tell us something about our brokenness or sin.  Many moments in my life, I avoided pursuing Holy Spirit because of shame of sin or because of ways I had been distorted by my brokenness to not see Holy Spirit as a necessity or valuable to my life.  I continued to talk the talk like I wanted a relationship with Holy Spirit, yet emotionally had no feelings of desire to make experience with Holy Spirit a part of my daily life.

Emotionally, Holy Spirit should invoke a whole host of emotional feelings.  To name a few, Holy Spirit should bring feelings of hope, love, comfort, grace, forgiveness, not feeling alone, joy, peace, perseverance, thankfulness, conviction, repentance, humbleness, life, not fear, newness, restoration, motivation, strength. Also considering the emphasis of familial vocabulary in the Bible, Holy Spirit should give us feelings of family relations to God, Christians, and humanity as a whole.[8]  There are obviously more feelings than this but these are central feelings to a life lived in the Spirit.  If these are feelings you don’t feel while with Holy Spirit, then some introspection should be done to discover what, if anything is in the way of you experiencing these gifts from Holy Spirit.  You also must do some investigation on if you truly are interacting with Holy Spirit, or if it is actually some other spirit, or no spirit at all.

Experience of Holy Spirit brings a varying arraying of the “gifts of the spirit”, like speaking in tongues and prophecy.  These charismatic gifts are strong evidence of Holy Spirit’s presence in one’s life.  Yet we must be careful to not get carried away and think these are the only evidence for Holy Spirit or that anytime these are present it is undeniable proof of Holy Spirit’s actions.[9]  The Bible gives us reason to think that evil spirits that are not the Spirit can mimic these spiritual gifts

Other Religions

The two toughest things for me to consider with orthopathy is other religions and discernment of Holy Spirit.  As for the former, there are two things that lead me to believe that other religions and worldviews interact with Holy Spirit in some way.  The first is my conviction that Holy Spirit is present and active all around the globe.[10]  He has always been interacting with people wherever they have been, providing them life and leading them to the Trinity.[11]  Western thinking has created too much of a divide between the secular and sacred and could learn from Asian and African cosmologies that view those two as more intimately linked.[12]  Given this, I find it hard to deny that non-Christian religions and people have experienced Holy Spirit and responded to that experience in some way.  Secondly, when I look at the list above of emotional feelings we should have when interacting with Holy Spirit, I cannot deny that a variety of worldviews and religions provide those feelings for their adherents.  If those feelings are evidence of The Spirit’s presence, then I must conclude that when someone is experiencing those things, in some ways they are experiencing Holy Spirit.

As true and beautiful as this may be, I do still hold that those worldviews that are not based on the Bible are in error and do not interact with God to the fullest or in the manner we are called to engage with him.[13]  To complicate the picture more, I do believe that there are evil spirits or demons.  As such, I allow the possibility that these spirits have found their way into other religions and worldviews to implant error and falsehood.[14]  I also accept the possibility that these other faiths and worldviews directly interact with and experience these evil spirits, yet believe they are benevolent spirits.  I would argue that any spirit that does not lead someone back to Christ should be considered an evil spirit.  Thus, these evil spirits may bring positive feelings that mimic the emotional feeling of Holy Spirit, yet if that experience is not directed back towards affirming Jesus and leading someone to the trinity but is meant to lead them away from that, then that spirit was not Holy Spirit or from God.

This is a topic close to my heart given that several important people in my life are not professing Christians, or at least not orthodox.  These include two of my best friends and my dad, and several others.  In their character and experience of life, I cannot deny that they have experienced Holy Spirit and may even interact and respond to Holy Spirit.  Yet their decision to not accept Jesus as revealed by the Bible is an indication that they are not fully experiencing Holy Spirit, and may be in ways lead by evil spirits beyond just their own sinful nature.  Saying my friends and family may be interacting with evil spirits is an extremely uncomfortable thing to claim.  Yet, I cannot deny that possibility given that they all have had experiences and emotions, positive and negative, that have led them to deny Jesus.  However, Holy Spirit is calling me to point out the moments they experience him and name it for them.

Discerning Spirits

My final consideration is that of discerning Holy Spirit.  Discerning Holy Spirit is possibly the most difficult for me to define, given the way subjectivity plays into the discerning process.  As stated earlier, anything that leads someone away from the biblical revelation of God and Jesus is not Holy Spirit.  Christian community, ethical considerations, charismatic gifts, and comparison to biblical witness serve as a way to discern whether you are interacting with Holy Spirit, and what Holy Spirit may be revealing to you.[15]  Also, I think the feelings and emotions we experience can serve as a way of discerning a spirit.  If the Spirit does not bring feelings that lead to life, then that spirit is not Holy Spirit.  However, this on its own will not be enough to discern whether one is experiencing Holy Spirit given the possibility of evil spirits to mimic the emotional feelings of Holy Spirit.  So, these feelings need to be taken in consideration with other avenues of discernment.[16]

This is a deep concern of mine given my skeptical disposition towards other’s claim to hear from Holy Spirit.  Since these claims are based off experiences that I cannot directly access and just have to trust, this has left weary of these claims.  Especially when considered with all the ways this has been abused by people to claim falsehoods or used as motivations to commit wrong acts or decisions.  In response I try to put up safe guards around discerning Holy Spirit, many of which involve use of reason and logic, to allow me access to judge whether another person is truly experiencing Holy Spirit.  This is needed, but I cannot escape the reality that Holy Spirit blows as he wills and legitimately my lead someone to do something I do not agree with.  Also, I have found that many reasons I have for following Holy Spirit’s prompting are not from reasoned logic, but just “a feeling”.  I find it hard to defend this feeling in any rigorous way beyond it just being “a feeling”.

Conclusion

The desire and attempt to systematize orthopathy sometimes flies in the face of the reality that many times we discern Holy Spirit’s presence and guidance by a raw and brute “gut feeling”.  However, this does not mean we do not use our intellectual capacities the best we can to engage with this difficult practice.  We take them as far as they will go, knowing that eventually, we will have to move from the intellectual to the experiential.  At this level, the best way to know if we are experiencing Holy Spirit and walking in step with him is if we are experiencing and pursuing life itself.  In attempt to thwart Holy Spirit’s work, other evil spirits may try to mimic many of the emotional and outward experiences of Holy Spirit.  Yet if we stay true to recognize that any Spirit that does not lead to Christ is not from God, we are moving in the right step for orthopathy.

[1] Pinnock, Clark H. Flame of Love: a Theology of Holy Spirit. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2016. 164.

[2] Pinnock, Clark H. Flame of Love: a Theology of Holy Spirit. 150.

[3] Barclay, Robert, and Dean Freiday. Barclays Apology: in Modern English. Elberon: Freiday, 1967. 179.

[4] Green, Gene L., Stephen T. Pardue, and Khiok-Khng Yeo. The Spirit over the Earth: Pneumatology in the Majority World. Carlisle, Cumbria: Langham Global Library, 2016. 52.

[5] Pinnock, Clark H. Flame of Love: a Theology of Holy Spirit. 152.

[6] Ibid. 171

[7] Ibid. 156

[8] Green, Gene. The Spirit over the Earth. 65.

[9] Kärkkäinen Veli-Matti. Pneumatology: the Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018. 82.

[10] Pinn, Anthony B., Katie G. Cannon, and James H. Evans. “The Holy Spirit in African American Theology.” The Oxford Handbook of African American Theology, January 2014. 168.

[11] Green, Gene. The Spirit over the Earth, 2016. 53.

[12] Kärkkäinen Veli-Matti. Pneumatology. 154.

[13] Pinnock, Clark H. Flame of Love: a Theology of Holy Spirit. 202.

[14] Ibid. 208

[15] Kim, Kirsteen. The Holy Spirit in the World: a Global Conversation. London: SPCK, 2008. 168

[16] Kim, Kirsteen. The Holy Spirit in the World.  169

 

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