“He will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13b). You say that life surprises you? That you are caught out from time to time? How many of us had all that has transpired over these past few years in our long-range plans? Maybe we just haven’t been in tune with the Holy Spirit all these years. Maybe we haven’t prayed enough or listened enough. Maybe the gift of knowing was right there, and we just didn’t avail ourselves of it and were therefore doomed to stumble around in the darkness, constantly being surprised by the turn of events that constitutes our lives.
But is that really what Jesus is saying here? “I’m sending your own personal oracle to let you in on the secrets of your own life. Just pay attention, and there will be no more surprises.” Really? I don’t think so. Let’s look again.
This passage is a small part of the farewell discourse in the Gospel of John. These are the final instructions of Jesus to his chosen followers. Some have called it cramming for the final exam. But I’m not sure that’s it. It is more like the parent passing on instructions to the adolescent going off on a date. Or to go a little further back, this speech in John sounds like parents giving instructions to the babysitter before leaving their precious treasures with some near stranger and wanting to make sure the sitter has the information to cover whatever contingency might arise.
Only in this case, the worried parent is Jesus; the precious treasure is the world that God so loved that he sent this Son into. And the sitters are this motley crew of incompetent bumblers bringing to mind those guys from the Hangover movies or some such. No wonder he seems nervous; no wonder he goes on for three chapters; no wonder he tries to leave and then launches into even more instruction (look at the end of chapter 14, for example). But before you smirk too much at the incompetent bumblers of the gospels, it isn’t too long until they morph into the incompetent bumblers we lovingly call the church—charged with the same task of caring for the baby that is the world sorely in need of changing!
But here in these verses, the speech seems to shift a little bit, from instruction to promise. Oh, there is more instruction needed. Witness verse twelve—there is more I need to tell you, but your eyes are already starting to glaze over. So, instead of giving them more things to put on the list (you know “when he cries, try this” or “her favorite toys are over here” or “give them this to eat, but not too much, as it gives them gas”—that kind of stuff), Jesus says, “Here’s how you can reach me.”
“Uh, wait,” you’re saying, “that isn’t what it says there, is it?” Well, no. But then cell phones wouldn’t come on the scene for a millennium or two. So, he does the next best thing. A spokesperson. A spokes-presence, maybe, spokes-spirit. When the Spirit of Truth comes . . . Truth, and not too long ago (chapter fourteen to be precise), Jesus says, “I Am the Truth.” The Spirit that is me, that is of me, that speaks for me and speaks what I have spoken and would speak/will speak in the future.
“Here’s how you can reach me,” he says. “I am in touch; I am within reach.”
“Can you hear me now?” That’s the question of the era, the question to the church today: “can you hear him, hear the truth, hear his voice, and know that we are not alone?”
But more than that, more than just a comforting presence, this Spirit, this connection, this Christ within reach (or Christ in our contacts for the cell phone users) is a Spirit of Truth. Tell us what is and what will be. “Declare to you the things that are to come.” Wow, does that mean we can make our lottery picks based on hints from this Spirit? Can we make our Super Bowl picks? Or, more realistically, can we avoid those potholes on the road of life? Well, in a word, no.
This isn’t a promise of prophetic powers or a glimpse into the details of a worldly future. This truth that is shared is the truth about the kingdom of God. It is the truth about living in community. It is the truth about reconciliation and about forgiveness, about grace and judgment. That is far more important than lottery numbers or winners of Super Bowls yet to come. And while it may not give advance warning of circumstantial potholes on your individual and corporate roads of life, it can give you tools for climbing your way out of whatever holes you might find yourselves in; it can give you guidance for helping you to stop digging your own potholes and sabotaging yourself and those you love. The Spirit that declares to you the things that are to come is a Spirit that tells you the truth about yourself in such a way that you can, if you so choose, course correct to reduce the chances that you’ll lose control.
In other words, it’s about wisdom. Someone said, “wisdom is knowledge applied” or something like that. I found such quotes attributed to Charles Spurgeon and Beth Moore (and that’s a duo that is interesting to contemplate), but who knows where it really came from?
In Proverbs, however, Wisdom becomes an entity. There is some debate as to the nature of this entity—an aspect of God, an independent being, a creative force, a supportive presence—these verses have given commentators and biblical scholars plenty of scope for debate—much like the discussions of the nature of the Holy Spirit. I’m not brave enough to declare that the Wisdom of Proverbs is indeed a reference to the Holy Spirit of John’s Gospel, but the lectionary preparers certainly saw a correlation; that is why they put these texts together. But even if we see wisdom here as what has come to be called common sense or learned knowledge to be applied, the passage suggests that there is help available.
Wisdom calls, the text declares, and she offers a way to life, the life that God intends for all of us—a life of community and of connection on one level. This is Trinity Sunday, a time when we celebrate the mystery that is the nature of God— God who is one and yet is experienced and approached in three aspects. These aspects have been given a variety of names, some to correlate to human experience—though God is not human; some correlate to functions—though none encompass all of the power of God; some correlate to relationship—to each of the other aspects and to we who worship and approach this ultimate Essence.
Both the Gospel text and Wisdom depicted in Proverbs describe a God who seeks us, who connects with us, who guides and calls and shapes us. Jesus reveals that God when he offers the disciples continuing contact, even once he is no longer present with them in the flesh. Wisdom cries out with the presence of God, if we would but have ears to hear. God desires contact with us; God reaches toward us; God speaks. “In the rustling grass, I hear him pass, God speaks to me everywhere” (“This Is My Father’s World,” UMH 144). We sing that; we believe that; we are sustained by that—by wisdom’s cry.