The dove is a standard and venerable sign of the Holy Spirit – and a good one it is. Yet the point of this symbol for the Spirit is not readily evident for most of us today. So I propose one of more recent vintage that none of us will have difficulty understanding. In 1972 John V. Taylor wrote a now classic book about the Spirit, The Go-Between God. He visioned the Spirit as God who goes between people and works to bring them together. He offers a + sign as apt image for this “go-between” God.
In the formula 1+1 the numerals designate individuals and the +-sign the Spirit. We often think of the Spirit as the presence of God within us. And that’s true. But it’s not the whole truth. The Spirit is also God active in the world standing between individuals and groups and working on both to bring them into union and community. This is, I believe, a helpful complementary image to add to that of the Spirit’s indwelling us.
This points to a larger truth about the Spirit. We might put it like this: in North American Protestantism there is a distinct tendency to view God as a “show and tell” deity. God speaks, he tells us what we need to know. Yes, we’re good with that. God shows us in Jesus both himself and how he is toward us. Yes, we’re good with that too. Often, though, we stop there. A fully biblical and Trinitarian view of God must include the Holy Spirit as a full partner playing a role that is uniquely his. And that role is “do”. Tell–Show-Do is how we might put it. The Spirit is God in action enabling us to listen-see-respond to what we hear and see from God.
The Spirit keeps our view of God both real and personal. Indeed, the Spirit is the reality of God, the reality of God’s personal presence in and with us. This is far more important than any gifts the Spirit brings us, important as those gifts are. Knowing God is the goal of our humanity and the Spirit is God’s relationship to that makes that relationship real and enables it to grow and flourish.
To the degree that the Spirit is ignored, neglected, or given short shrift, to that degree we are an impoverished people and significantly disabled from being and doing what God desires from us.