Tired children display a grief that often draws our sympathy. They look so pathetic that as we tuck them into bed, we also tuck them into our hearts. When wee ones fight naps despite their exhaustion, we sometimes even respond, “Don’t give me any grief. You need this.”
Grief morphs into a far more sordid shape when a loved one dies. Getting through the initial shock, funeral arrangements, funeral or memorial service and burial, we often find ourselves operating on autopilot. Infused by adrenalin, practical care from others, and prayers, we simply, as Elisabeth Elliot says, “Do the next thing.”
Only in the alone moments after the official functions end do we wrestle with the angst of memories. We begin to grieve. Dates on the calendar, clothing, still pictures, videos as well as telephone-recorder messages, even smells, can avalanche through our gut months, even years, later.
If our human understanding of grief straddles the momentary grief over a tired child and the undulating waves of pain from the loss of a moved one, how are we to grapple with grieving the Holy Spirit? I am again indebted to Sinclair Ferguson’s series, Knowing the Holy Spirit, for helping me sort through what it may mean to grieve the Holy Spirit. The phrase, grieve the Holy Spirit, appears in Isaiah 63 and again in Ephesians 4.
I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. For he said, “Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely.” And he became their Savior. In all their affliction, he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled and grieved the Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. Isaiah 63:7-11
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:27-32
I begin to see the pivotal, but often secretive work the Holy Spirit does. He took part in creation (Genesis 1:2), as well as being present in Mary’s womb at the incarnation (Luke 1:35). In the OT, the Spirit unveiled not only the attributes of God, but also the face of God to man (Ezekiel 39:29). Any who embrace the gospel today today receive Jesus as the Spirit unveils Him.. “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” II Cor. 3:16-18.
Ferguson uses an analogy of a father playing peekaboo with his child. How long do we play such a game? Endlessly, it seems, because the child delights to see the face of one who loves him. The Holy Spirit is the intimate companion of the Father, the One who unveils Jesus and God to mankind. To grieve that Spirit is to ignore any biblical insight He shares with us about the Father and the Son. Wouldn’t we rather enjoy a game of peekaboo, allowing the Spirit to reveal more to us about our Father and His Son?