1.2.6 The Holy Spirit: God as Mother
Volume 1: Foundations—Chapter 2.6
The Holy Spirit: God as Mother
We don’t have to read very far in scripture to encounter the next Logos manifestation: it’s found in the second verse of the Bible: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2) Verse one tells us, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” (that is, God created space-time and matter-energy), unorganized at first, formless, empty, and lightless—just raw materials. “God” is the Hebrew word for deity: ’Elohiym—a “job description,” not a name. (He wouldn’t assume the name “Yahweh” until man’s advent was in view, in Genesis 2.) God would go on to speak light into being, organize the universe, create plant and animal life on earth, and finally introduce man. But why was God’s Spirit first seen “hovering over the face of the waters?” Something’s “face” (in Hebrew, paniym) is its countenance, its disposition, its “mood,” if you will. Ask any astrobiologist (yes, there are people who get paid for searching for life that God didn’t create) what’s the primary requirement for biological life? He’ll tell you it’s water. H2O, as it turns out, is the third most common molecule in the entire universe (after molecular hydrogen and carbon monoxide). So under the mothering and nurturing of the Spirit of God (see Deuteronomy 32:11-12 for a parallel example of what “hovering” is all about), the waters were being encouraged and prepared to bring forth and sustain life—one of Yahweh’s fundamental attributes.
The word translated “Spirit” is Ruach, which basically means breath or wind. The problem is, no one really knows what a spirit (in the biblical sense) is. Scientists can’t capture and study them, so they “naturally” assume spirits don’t exist. Yahweh is clearly using the word as a metaphorical description: breath or wind is merely a hint, a symbol, of what Yahweh was trying to communicate to us. The Random House Dictionary lists thirty-one different definitions for “spirit.” The salient definition for our purpose is #5: “A supernatural, incorporeal being, especially one inhabiting a place, object, etc., or having a particular character.” (#10 lists “the third person of the Trinity.” Not very helpful.) Complicating matters, two other Hebrew words, nephesh and neshamah, are presented in scripture with very similar imagery. The nephesh, or soul, is “a feminine noun meaning breath; the inner being with its thoughts and emotions.” (Baker and Carpenter) And neshamah, the unique attribute differentiating man from the animals (see Genesis 2:7) also literally means breath or wind (it’s derived from a verb meaning to pant or gasp), and is thus seen as a rough synonym for the spirit and life. People tend to use these words more or less interchangeably (well, not neshamah—that one they just ignore), but they shouldn’t: Yahweh is very precise in His word choices.
Yahshua told the woman at the well, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) Having been transmitted to us in Greek, the word used here for “spirit” is pneuma. (Actually, it’s expressed with a code-like placeholder—a “nominum sacrum,” as they’re called—in all of the extant pre-Constantine manuscripts.) But pneuma is a pretty good linguistic equivalent for the Hebrew ruach: it literally means breath or wind, but carries with it the same metaphorical associations ruach does. So although we haven’t learned anything new about what a spirit is, at least God’s use of metaphor has remained consistent from the Hebrew to the Greek. More to the point, whatever a spirit is, we now know that Yahweh’s intrinsic nature is spiritual, not physical: in His undiminished state, Yahweh is incorporeal—He is not restricted by a material body, atomic structure, the laws of physics, or anything like that. The idea that He can (and has) manifested Himself in bodily form in the person of Yahshua of Nazareth is one of the primary stumbling blocks of Judaism, which observes that Yahweh (they’d never use His name, of course) is both “One” and incorporeal. They’re right about what God is, but they’re wrong in assuming limits to His power. Yahweh can and does manifest Himself however He pleases—even if it means “taking the form of a servant,” inhabiting a mortal body.
A spirit, then, is any incorporeal living being. The primeval Spirit, the First Cause of all others, is Yahweh, who, we have learned, “has life within Himself.” He has in turn created multitudes of immortal “spirit messengers,” commonly referred to as angels (a transliteration of the Greek aggelos) that share some, but not all, of His qualities. (Notably absent from their makeup is the privilege of choice, of free will: they are servants, soldiers, envoys. They are therefore not equipped to love, though they can show loyalty, obedience, and honor.) It is hinted in scripture (see Revelation 12:4) that a third of these angels rebelled against Yahweh in a satanic revolt, becoming demons. These are they for whom hell is prepared—an eternal fiery abyss designed specifically for the eternal incarceration of rebellious spirits (see Matthew 25:41)—a place that’s necessary because once spirit messengers are created, they cannot be killed. Hell was not intended for men. God wasn’t even thinking about people when he built the place (or state, or whatever it is). In order for a man’s soul to end up there, it must be indwelled with—be made “alive” by—a satanic, fallen spirit. Human souls, in a very real sense, are just “along for the ride.” But as with being “born from above” in Yahweh’s Spirit, the only way this can happen (i.e., being “born from below” in Satan’s spirit) is for us to choose this tragedy. Man is endowed with free will; it is up to us to select our own eternal destiny by inviting one spirit or the other—or neither of them—to fill our neshamah.
I’m admittedly reading between the lines, but there are apparently other differences between Yahweh and His created spirit messengers. He is eternal: He not only exists from eternity past to eternity future, but He can maneuver in the dimension of time. This explains why he uses predictive prophecy as His primary means of vindicating His Word to us: that which is future to us is already a fait accompli to Yahweh. As one wag put it, “We shouldn’t be surprised when Yahweh’s predictions come to pass just as He said they would: God cheats.” I know it sounds like science fiction, but He has “seen” us do things we have not yet done. But this is not predestination: Yahweh doesn’t determine our destiny for us, even though He knows what path we’ll choose, even before we do. False gods and demons have no such ability. All they can do is try to influence the world as they’ve found it. Angels, though they’re immortal (they can’t die once they’re created), are not “fourth-dimensional.” That is, they cannot go forward or back in time as Yahweh (who is eternal) does. (If Satan could, we’d all be in big trouble, I suppose.)
This brings up an interesting side issue: if Yahweh can maneuver in time, why doesn’t He merely go back and start over—keep rewinding the tape, as it were, until He gets the result He wanted? As usual, it boils down to the free will He gave us. If our choices, whether for good or ill, weren’t allowed to come to fruition, if they didn’t have natural consequences, then they wouldn’t really have been “choices” at all. In the end, we’d be nothing but ones and zeros in some grand cosmic video game. No, Yahweh is far too honest, far too loving, to prevent us from choosing our own destiny. But we need to get it right the first time, for God won’t interfere with our choices.
Though they’re incorporeal, created spirits (angels and demons) have the ability to affect the physical world. They are immensely powerful and extremely intelligent. But because they are not imbued with free will, they live on a short leash. That is, they can do only what Yahweh has allowed. If they could exercise unrestricted volition, the world would be a very different place. There is apparently angelic-demonic warfare going on that we seldom see (cf. Daniel 10:13), and I suspect that the coming Tribulation will be a time characterized by unrestrained and unmistakable spiritual conflict in the world (hinted at in II Thessalonians 2:7).
But the actions of angels and demons shouldn’t concern us any more than those of other created things, from mad dogs to microbes. It’s the nature of spirit that we’re trying to get a handle on, for Yahweh is both a spiritual being Himself, and He is said to reveal Himself to us as His “Holy Spirit”—a diminished Logos manifestation of God, set apart from Him today in order to dwell within the neshamah of every believer, making our souls alive. The Ruach/Pneuma designation is clearly just a metaphor, for God’s Spirit can’t be literally described as “air in motion.” The “wind or breeze” comparison is helpful, however, in that it tells us that the spirit moves, affects its environment, and leaves evidence of its presence, even though we can’t actually see it. And the concept of “breath” reminds us that our mortal life requires respiration—if we cease breathing, we die. Speech—the audible communication of thought (which, if you’ll recall, is what Logos means)—is achieved via breath expended with a purpose. So the words pressed into service to represent “spirit” do indeed tell us something about how God’s Spirit operates in this world.
Ruach, the Hebrew noun translated “Spirit” in the Old Covenant texts, is derived from primitive root verb ruwach (it’s spelled slightly differently in Hebrew but pronounced the same) that means “to smell an aroma or scent, to perceive an odor, to accept.” It should come as no surprise, then, that the noun translated “aroma” (reyach) is based on this same verb, and a study of that word can give us some valuable insight into what the Spirit is and how it’s implemented by God. I’ve always been a little puzzled by the dozens of references in the Torah to the “soothing aroma” of the Levitical sacrifices in which Yahweh took pleasure. These always struck me as being somehow primitive and anthropomorphic—I felt (in my ignorance) a little embarrassed for my God, that He would allow Himself to be characterized as if He were a god that man had invented in his likeness, enjoying the savory fragrance of steaks on the barbeque. Now I can (finally) see that Yahweh was really just trying to communicate the nature of His Spirit to us. The sweet aroma of a burnt offering on the altar told Him that His people were trusting in His instructions and were willing to let His Spirit lead them—even if they didn’t fully understand all of the Torah’s prophetic ramifications. Yahweh could smell their faith, and it was a beautiful thing.
A few non-Levitical usages of the word will serve to illuminate what I’m talking about. After the flood, “Noah built an altar to Yahweh and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when Yahweh smelled the pleasing aroma (reyach), Yahweh said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’” (Genesis 8:20-22) Was Yahweh pleased with the smell of burning flesh after a year of smelling the rotting, bloated corpses of drowned animals? No. What pleased Him was the attitude and gratitude of Noah. The lesson: the Spirit of God ordered Noah’s steps, and Yahweh found that spirit agreeable.
Fast forward a few generations. Jacob, impersonating his brother Esau, went in to his half-blind father to receive the birthright Esau had so foolishly sold him. “Then his father Isaac said to him, ‘Come near and kiss me, my son.’ So he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell (reyach) of his garments and blessed him and said, ‘See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that Yahweh has blessed! May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!’” (Genesis 27:26-29) Jacob (though his name implies “cheater”) had the Spirit of Yahweh (represented by the aroma that surrounded him) while Esau, who had despised his birthright, did not. The lesson: our reverence for Yahweh’s covenant and faith in His promises is pleasing to God.
The Spirit of Yahweh was not compatible with the spirit of bondage in Egypt, so we read, “They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; and they said to them, ‘Yahweh look on you and judge, because you have made us stink (reyach) in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.’” A few weeks later, these ungrateful slaves would be free and on their way to the promised land. But they didn’t know that yet. For now, they were merely slaves who’d had the temerity to announce their affiliation with Yahweh to a boss whose affiliations lay elsewhere. We can still count on the world to be repulsed and offended by the odor of Yahweh’s love about us—a smell that He finds delightful. The lesson: the Spirit of God stinks to a world that wants to enslave us.
The Song of Solomon is an allegory that describes the torrid love affair between King Yahshua and His called-out bride, the Ekklesia. Here the fragrance the King finds so pleasant is the aroma of the Holy Spirit that permeates the air about his beloved. “How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance (reyach) of your oils than any spice! Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the fragrance (reyach) of your garments is like the fragrance (reyach) of Lebanon.” (Song of Solomon 4:10-11) The “oils” of which He speaks are a common metaphor for the Holy Spirit; and the fragrant garments are reminiscent of the “garments of light,” the imputed righteousness of the saints, that clothe the Bride of Christ in Revelation 19:8. The lesson: the fragrance about us that the King (Yahshua) finds so intoxicating is the Spirit of Yahweh, permeating the lives of His people.
We can therefore begin to see the distinction between Yahweh (who is Spirit, the self-existent, living, unlimited, incorporeal First Cause), and the “Spirit of God,” that is, the “Holy Spirit” (Ruach Qodesh) who dwells within us. Though both are “Spirit,” the latter is a diminished Logos manifestation of the former, set apart from Him (as are all six of these Logos expressions) for our benefit. In a manner of speaking, the Holy Spirit is the fragrance of Yahweh that tells Him (not to mention the world) whose we are and where we’ve been. If we’ve been out in the pasture hugging the Lamb of God, we’re going to smell like it.
Just before He was betrayed, Yahshua told His disciples to expect the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would remain with them—and in them—after He had finished His mission. He began by saying, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” The foundational commandment, as we have seen, was to love, for love is the fundamental attribute of Yahweh. He’s saying what we saw above: that love for Yahweh would naturally, inevitably, manifest itself in love for our fellow man. (But in case it still wasn’t clear, Yahshua spelled it out in John 15:12, where He commanded us to “Love one another as I have loved you.”) “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper,” that is, a divine expression other than Himself, a manifestation of Yahweh not confined, as Yahshua was, to a mortal body in space and time, “to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you….” This “Spirit of truth,” then, was to be a surrogate for Yahshua in the personal lives of the disciples. The Helper (I’ll address the personal pronouns “He” and “Him” in a moment—they can be misleading) had been dwelling with them (in the person of Yahshua). But the time would soon come when a different divine manifestation would be appropriate and necessary—this new Helper, the Spirit of Truth, would henceforth dwell in them.
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live.” I can practically guarantee that this made no sense to the disciples when they first heard it. They didn’t understand that their Master was about to “leave” them—crucified, entombed, resurrected, and ascended back to Father Yahweh. The world had just had the only face-to-face encounter they would ever have with Yahweh in the flesh, and they’d hated what they’d seen. So from now on, only those who chose to would get to “see” Him and share in His essential life. The word “see” (Greek: theoreo) implies not only ordinary vision, but also means to perceive, understand, or experience something. “In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you….” This has to be one of the most confusing verses in the Bible for Trinitarians. Yahshua is speaking as if He were the Holy Spirit who would abide in the souls of the called out ones. But if we understand that Yahweh is One, then it all makes sense (in a mind-blowing sort of way): the form in which Yahweh is manifested to us may change depending on the function He wishes to fulfill, but His identity never varies. The amazing thing here is our part in the whole thing. If Yahweh—in whatever form He chooses—is “in us,” then the essential life that defines His nature has become our nature as well.
Not only can we have this life, we can also know we have it. The essence of religion—and the reason Yahweh despises it—is the fear, the uncertainty, the apprehension it breeds. The sheeple are taught to live in dread of a grumpy and vengeful god who will punish them in righteous fury if they step out of line or make a mistake. The lie of religion is the concept that self-appointed gatekeepers—priests, rabbis, imams, gurus, and clerics—can intercede with this nasty god and keep him at bay, as long as we honor them, as long as we obey them, as long as we pay them. But the minute we know that Yahweh’s life is within us—and that it can’t be taken away, even if they kill the body—this terror becomes unsustainable. The cold grip of religion around our throats is replaced with the warm embrace of a loving, living relationship with God. Perfect love, after all, casts out fear.
So this should come as no surprise: the evidence of this Life residing within us is the other fundamental component of Yahweh’s nature: Love. Yahshua explains, “Whoever has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me.” Since His primary “commandment” was to love one another, this might be paraphrased, Whoever loves his brother loves Me. “And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him….” In other words, this love is reciprocal in nature. The Father (who is Love) sent His Son to demonstrate love to us, and when we receive this love, His Holy Spirit will in turn produce love within us. Now that’s what I call recycling.
The disciples, of course, still didn’t understand how this would all work. “Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep my word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our home with him.” We’ll get to how Christ would manifest Himself to His disciples (but not to the world) in a moment. For now, Yahshua merely reiterated the principle of the unity of God, for that is the key to the whole thing. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit would all share one divine identity in the life of every believer—the identity of Yahweh. “Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words. And the word that you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me. These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:15-26)
The word translated “Helper” here (“Comforter,” in some translations) is the Greek parakletos, which denotes someone who is summoned, called to one’s side, or called to one’s aid. Strong’s notes that it could be “one who pleads another’s cause before a judge, counsel for defense, legal assistant, an advocate or intercessor; in the widest sense, it means a helper, succourer, aider, or assistant.” Its root verb, parakaleo, means to aid, help, comfort, encourage, exhort, or invite. (Para means “to the side of” or “near,” and kaleo means “to call.”) From our vantage point, it isn’t hard to see that this Parakletos, this comforting, exhorting, Helper—the Holy Spirit of Yahweh—is ultimately the source of whatever love we’re able show our fellow man in this world. But there in the upper room, it all had to have been terribly confusing for the disciples.
Seven weeks later, however, all of it came to pass just as Yahshua had promised. “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4) Pentecost (the Hebrew Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, or “Sevens”) is the fourth of seven annual “appointments” or “convocations” Yahweh had instructed Israel to keep with Him throughout their generations. Each of these predicts and commemorates one of the seven most significant events in Yahweh’s plan of redemption. The first was the sacrifice of Yahweh’s “Lamb” at Passover, followed immediately by the removal of our sins on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and then the resurrection of the Messiah (proving that He had Yahweh’s “life within Himself”) on the Feast of Firstfruits. Our thankful acknowledgement of Yahweh’s provision naturally led (in God’s plan) to that about which we just read: the indwelling of His Spirit—the Pentecost experience. It’s the fulfillment of Yahshua’s promise that the Spirit of Truth would be in His disciples, just as He had been with them.
I need to address the touchy subject of the gender designations of Yahweh and the Logos manifestations through whom He reveals Himself. We’re used to calling God “Him,” that is, envisioning “Him” as a male personality. And scripture seems to generally support this view. For example, Exodus 15:3 says, “Yahweh is a man of war; Yahweh is His name.” Iysh milchamah is a “warrior.” War (milchamah) is traditionally considered a masculine pursuit, of course, and the word for “man” here, iysh, is the normal word for a male. So the masculine pronouns “He” and “Him” used throughout scripture to refer to Yahweh are perfectly appropriate, though it is clear that Yahweh (being Spirit) is not a man, nor is “He” really a male. As usual, God is delivering truth in metaphorical terms. “He” was trying to teach us something about “Himself.”
Of course, Yahshua, being fully human, was a man, a male homo sapiens. As Isaiah had prophesied, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of Yahweh of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7) This manifestation allowed Yahshua to assume the persona of the “Son of God,” the One who would legitimately present His Father’s case before His human peers. It was the “Son” who would rightfully inherit the family business—in this case, the salvation of all mankind.
But with the Holy Spirit, gender designation is not so clear cut. Both masculine and feminine roles are evident. “And the angel answered [Mary], “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18) That’s a masculine role, if I understand the biology of the thing. But many of the descriptions of the Spirit’s function in our lives are gender-ambivalent in character, and indeed, the Greek noun pneuma is neutral in gender. In the passage we quoted above (when Yahshua spoke of “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you”) the personal pronoun “Him” is not masculine, but neutral: autos—“it.” That last sentence literally reads, “You know It, because beside you It stays [Greek meno: to remain, abide or sojourn], and in you It will be.” I know it sounds awkward this way, but I think that’s mostly because we’re used to thinking of the Holy Spirit in personal terms—which in English is expressed as either “he” or “she,” not “it.” But the problem is with our perception (not to mention our linguistic tradition), not with God’s nature.
Complicating matters is the fact that the word for Spirit in Hebrew, Ruach, is a feminine noun (as is neshamah, or “breath of life,” the capacity for conscience and spiritual indwelling that distinguishes humans from animals). I firmly believe that when Yahweh tells us to “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you,” (Exodus 20:12) He’s speaking not only of our human parents, but also of our spiritual “father and mother,” so to speak: His Messiah and His Ruach Qodesh, the Holy Spirit. Call me old-fashioned, but I see the “father figure” as the authority, the provider, the one who contends with the outside world to keep the family safe and secure. I see the “mother figure” as the comforter, consoler, intercessor, the parent who is intimately involved in our daily lives—and yes, the one who confronts and convicts us wayward children with the error of our ways. This is precisely the way the Holy Spirit functions in our lives. Anything else is dysfunctional.
I also believe that Yahweh ordained the generalized roles of our human parents to illustrate His own character and function. That would at least explain why Satan works so hard to break up families, and failing that, encourages us to abandon our traditional familial and gender roles. If men act like men, and women like women, then God’s order is mirrored in our lives, and we will be in a position to see what He meant to tell us about Himself when He made us male and female. Both of these parental roles are absolutely essential to our spiritual well-being.
I fully realize that linguistic nuances like this shouldn’t be made to “walk on all fours.” Though “She” is undoubtedly our Spiritual Mother, it’s impossible to make a convincing case that the Holy Spirit should be characterized exclusively as either feminine or masculine. (Case in point: our old Greek friend Parakletos is a masculine noun.) But far too often in our world (and even in Yahweh’s assembly) men have used the myth of God’s “masculinity” as justification for dominating and oppressing women, imposing second-class status on them. It’s a tragic comedy of compounded errors: if God is a male (He’s not), and if Yahweh’s primary attribute is being Lord (it isn’t), then if I’m lucky enough to find myself equipped with a Y chromosome, I can feel free to abuse and subjugate any of the “lesser creatures” around me—beginning with women, who are by this twisted theory reduced to the status of chattel, or at best, second class citizens. In extreme cases they exist only for man’s convenience, personal gratification, and procreation. Muslims are masters of this madness, but they’re not alone.
If God’s gender characteristics aren’t exclusively masculine, however, then the whole arrogant hypothesis falls apart, and we’re left to ponder, “What did He mean to teach us by portraying Himself as a male?” We don’t have to look far for the answer: it’s a recurring Biblical metaphor, actually two of them. Israel is pictured time and again as Yahweh’s wife—unfaithful and now divorced, but destined to be restored. And the Ekklesia, the called out assembly of Yahshua, is characterized as the Bride of Christ, a pure and spotless virgin with whom our Messiah/King is passionately in love. We need to come to grips with the fact that when God allows “Himself” to be represented as one gender or another, it’s not a biological observation, but rather a spiritual teaching tool. God isn’t a “man” any more than He’s literally a rock, a fortress, or a consuming fire.