That’s the (S)pirit–er, well…

An Australian news team reports on a Roman Catholic monsignor’s outburst in a confrontation with a group of teens skateboarding on church property.

The Catholic Church is defending the behaviour of one of its leaders, the Dean of Melbourne Cathedral, after a video showing him verbally abusing a group of teenagers surfaced on the internet.

The Reverend Geoffrey Baron is seen being harassed and abused by a group of skateboarders, but rather than turning the other cheek, he lets fly with obscene and racist epithets.

Apparently the monsignor was indeed sorely provoked. The incident, however, calls to mind certain promises of Scripture.

I don’t want to pick on the good monsignor. After all, he’s only human, and the circumstances were stressful and even threatening. He reacted the way a lot of people would react when they are angry and/or frightened. But in the Bible, and particularly in the teachings of Jesus, it says things like:

[T]he Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:26-27)

When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say. (Luke 12:11-12)

[T]hey will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. (Luke 21:12-15)

If you think about it, this is really all quite reasonable. If we’re all God’s beloved children, and He wants to save us through faith in the Gospel, and He’s able to speak to us in our hearts through His Spirit, it’s just good sense for God to reveal to Christians how they can turn hostile situations into opportunities to demonstrate the power and wisdom of a loving God.

Only it doesn’t happen.

Here’s Monsignor Baron, a longtime believer, a high-ranking official in the Church, responding to hostility and persecution in a thoroughly human, uninspired way. Where’s the Holy Spirit? Where’s the “utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute”? There’s no sign of it.

“That’s not a fair comparison,” some will say. “The monsignor failed to trust in God and rely on His wisdom. It’s not fair to blame God for the monsignor’s weakness.” True, but the question is, why didn’t the monsignor trust in God? People are not stupid, but they are somewhat lazy. Why would someone fail to trust in God if their experience led them to believe that God would easily provide them with a smart way out of tense situations like this? Why would someone prefer to trust in his own instincts instead of the Holy Spirit if he had a long experience of the Spirit’s wisdom and effectiveness being superior to his own?

The answer, of course, is that the monsignor’s experience does not reflect the superiority of the Spirit’s wisdom, it reflects the absence of a genuine, divine, wise Holy Spirit in his life. He trusts in his own instincts because experience has taught him that no divine alternative is actually available. He might preach about the Spirit’s wisdom and the Spirit’s presence in the Christian heart, but when it comes to real life, it’s just not practical because the Spirit is never there when you need Him. Not to pick on the monsignor necessarily. Everyone has the same experience. The Holy Spirit gets credit for being wise and irrefutable, but in real life He does not show up in the lives of believers, and they’ve learned to manage without Him.

“How do you know it’s the same for everybody?” someone will ask. Simple: we know that the monsignor has had to learn to get along without any help from God. We also know that there are any number of different denominations besides the Roman Catholic Church, not to mention all the cults, non-denominational congregations and unchurched believers. And they’re all fairly equal, in the “wisdom that no one can resist or refute” department. If there were some group, denomination, or individual preacher who did have the benefit of God’s wisdom, they’d have a very pronounced (one might say, unfair) advantage in competing against the others. It would be plain who had the benefit of God’s divine help, and who didn’t. As it is, though, all we have is a variety of different interpretations, and a mass of believers who each believes whatever interpretation seems right in their own eyes.

Clearly, the Christian experience reflects the absence of God’s presence in the lives of believers. They’d like to be able to tap His wisdom for ways to make an irrefutable argument against unbelief, but none of them has any access to it. We know this, because no particular group or denomination has any noticeable advantage over the others, wisdom-wise. And if God did provide His wisdom to one of them (or even to a few), we’d easily spot the difference, assuming God really is as wise as they say. So either God does not (contrary to Jesus’ promises) provide divine wisdom to believers, or else for some peculiar reason He does not want us to know which version of the Gospel is correct. But that contradicts the idea that God wants us to believe the Gospel, because how can you believe it if you can’t even tell what it is?

The monsignor’s experience was unfortunate, but there was one good thing about it. It does help document, for those who are interested in the truth, the fact that even Christians have had to adapt their “walk” to cope with the absence of God.

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