‘May the force be with you.’ One of the most famous lines of cinematic dialogue, and one which certainly as a young lad in the playground I would happily shout at my mates as we ran around, pretending we were flying the Millennium Falcon or fighting Darth Vader.
Looking back now as an adult, I feel somewhat more ambivalent towards this phrase. Strange as it is to admit, it’s been hugely influential in shaping not just our media but also our religious culture. The tendency of the last 50 years or so has been towards seeing spirituality in terms of vague forces of good and evil which are unpredictable but can be harnessed by those ‘in the know’. The divine spirit is seen as a force, and naturally we want this ‘force’ (whatever you call it) to be with us.
Unfortunately, even Christians can be swayed by this way of seeing things – misunderstanding biblical images of wind or fire to give the impression that the Holy Spirit is really another force as well. In worship we have become increasingly prone to mistaking emotional highs for the true work of the Spirit, simply because we ‘feel it’. It’s the Star Wars Heresy (my name for it!) by another name.
Thankfully, Jesus sets us straight in this lovely story of his meeting with the Samaritan woman. There’s so much we could say about it, but today I just want to observe that the Spirit is not a force, it’s a person. And the great thing about that is that we don’t have to try and create situations where we can somehow feel a ‘force’ – if we want to know what the Spirit is like, we can look at the visible manifestation of this person (Jesus) and see. That’s so much better, isn’t it!
Since Jesus loves the truth, it follows that one of the most important qualities of the Holy Spirit is truth. And, as Jesus says in our passage today, real worship involves us worshipping ‘in Spirit and in truth’. The two work together – the Word of God and the Spirit of God. They both have the same goal in mind – to glorify Jesus in the world and in our lives.
They also work together in particular ways: Jesus tells us that the truth sets us free (John 8:32); St Paul tells us that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17). Both the Spirit and the truth lead us to freedom. Elsewhere, Paul also says that as our mind is renewed (truth) so we are able to offer our lives to God, which is our ‘spiritual act of worship’ (Romans 12:1-2). Spirit and truth working together to help us lead worshipful lives.
Spirit and truth, truth and Spirit. Two sides of the same coin (and who ever heard of a one-sided coin?). It’s what a real relationship with God looks like. Jesus the living word, dwelling in us by his Spirit.
What truth is the Spirit speaking to you today? May it lead you into freedom!