Ortberg: the shyness of the Holy Spirit

normalFrederick Bruner, in a wonderful essay on the Trinity, begins with the person of the Holy Spirit:

One of the most surprising discoveries in my own study of the doctrine and experience of the Spirit in the New Testament is what I can only call the shyness of the Spirit….

What I mean here is not the shyness of timidity (cf. II Timothy 1:7) but the shyness of deference, the shyness of a concentrated attention on another; it is not the shyness (which we often experience) of self-centeredness; but the shyness of an other-centeredness.

It is, in a word, the shyness of love. Bruner points out the ministry of the Spirit in the Johannine passages, which is constantly to draw attention not to himself but to the Son. The Spirit comes in the Son’s name, bears witness to the Son, and glorifies the Son.

When he teaches, Bruner sometimes represents the ministry of the Spirit by drawing a stick figure on a chalkboard to represent Jesus. Then, to express what the Spirit does, he stands behind the chalkboard, reaches around with one hand, and points with a single finger to the image of Jesus: “Look at him; listen to him; learn from him, follow him, worship him, be devoted to him, serve him, love him, be preoccupied with him.”

This is the shyness of the Holy Spirit.

But when we look at the Son, oddly enough we see that he didn’t walk around saying, “I’m the greatest!” Rather, he said, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing.” He said he came not to be served but to serve. He submitted to the Spirit, who, according to Mark, drove him into the wilderness. He told the Father during his climactic struggle, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus, too, has this shyness.

Then there is the Father. Twice in the synoptic gospels we hear the voice of the Father: once at Jesus’ baptism, and again at the Transfiguration. Both times his words are a variation of this message: “This is my priceless Son; I am deeply pleased with him. Listen to him!”

It is noteworthy, Bruner writes, that this voice does not say, “Listen to me, too, after listening to him; don’t forget that I’m here, too; don’t be taken up with my Son.”

This is because “God the Father is shy, too. The whole blessed Trinity is shy. Each member of the Trinity points faithfully and selflessly to the other in a gracious circle.”

Growing up, I remember hearing teachers speak about God as a proud, almost arrogant being who could get away with his pride because he is God. The doctrine of the Trinity tells me this is not so. The whole blessed Trinity is shy—but not with the shyness of timidity. Rather, God exists as Father, Son, and Spirit in a community of greater humility, servanthood, mutual submission, and delight than you and I can imagine. The Trinity is “a self-sufficing community of unspeakably magnificent personal beings of boundless love, knowledge, and power,” as Dallas Willard puts it.

Ortberg, J. (2009). Everybody’s normal till you get to know them. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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