Comfort from the Spirit
“He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” – Isaiah 40:11
Whenever we feel real despair in our lives, oftentimes we think of the comfort that God provides as something mystical and internal. We think of the Holy Spirit almost as a force of nature, giving us an “inner peace” that defies understanding or reason. And sometimes the peace that God provides in a given situation does go against our understanding. But the kind of comfort the Bible provides is much more substantial than a feeling or force of nature. This is what Psalm 85 and John 14 teach us.
In Psalm 85, those who are lamenting the iniquity of Israel and crying out for restoration are comforted by the coming harmony of justice (“righteousness”) and mercy (“peace”), through the marriage of heaven and earth (Ps. 85:10-12). This is an outworking of God’s reconciliation with man.
As Christians we know this harmony came through the sacrifice of Christ: God’s mercy is extended to earth, but the justice that heaven demands is also satisfied. This is why the angels that appeared to the shepherds at Christ’s birth could sing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace” (Lk. 2:14).
While Psalm 85 anticipates Christ’s coming, John 14 expresses this same comforting idea from the other end of Christ’s ministry. The disciples – who do not know the future, and are growing worried as Christ tells them about how he is going to die in the coming days – will soon start to feel profoundly alone. Jesus, the Messiah, will be crucified and dead. It will look as though all hope is lost.
Throughout the Bible God is continually reminding his people that he will not abandon them, and that they are not alone no matter how isolated they currently feel. Jesus reassures his disciples in the same way when he promises to send the Holy Spirit, whom he calls “the Helper.”
Do we think of the Spirit in the same terms that Jesus did in John 14? Rather than serve as a force of nature or source of good feelings, the Holy Spirit’s task is to teach disciples, and help them to remember Jesus’ teaching: “he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn. 14:26). So rather than providing some sort of vague or temporary hope, the Holy Spirit points us back to story of Jesus.