In II Hermas 5, the divine messenger tells Hermas that the Holy Spirit won’t dwell in a person who’s bitter and angry. The Holy Spirit is sensitive and gentle, after all, so he can’t inhabit the same place as a rancorous spirit! And anger mixed with forebearance makes a person’s prayer unacceptable to God.
I don’t like this part of Hermas! The reason is that I myself am bitter about many things. I’d like to think that God reaches out to me in compassion when I’m angry, rather than standing aloof on account of my human frailties. And why’s the Holy Spirit have to leave because I’m not perfect? Isn’t he powerful enough? Christians are told to love (or at least tolerate) complete jerks. Why can’t the Holy Spirit?
Hermas reminds me of a book I read by Charles Haddon Spurgeon several years ago: The Saint and His Savior. I love Spurgeon’s sermons, but I hated that book! It reeked of “A true Christian should feel this, and not that,” and I found that I didn’t feel the way Spurgeon wanted. I vaguely recall a few passages in which he said that the Holy Spirit could leave if a person didn’t do such-and-such, which was strange, considering Spurgeon embraced Calvinism precisely because it says God’s grace is constant for the elect, not dependant on our emotions. So the book was not all that comforting!
At the same time, I can somewhat understand the point Hermas and Spurgeon are trying to make. For one, God is a gentleman. He’s not going to force himself on people. I like that, especially since I hate the way some Christians try to shove their religion down people’s throats. So, if the Holy Spirit is definitely not wanted, why should he stay?
Second, the Holy Spirit can have a fuller influence if we’re not contaminated with bitterness and anger–if we instead rejoice in God and his goodness.
Personally, I’m not going to stop praying just because I have bitterness. I pray to God because I’m imperfect, not because I always feel the right way. And there have been times when God has reached out to me in the midst of my rants, like he’s saying, “Now, here’s something constructive to think about.”
II Hermas 6 is more understanding of human flaws, in my opinion, for there the divine messenger says that Hermas has both the works of the gentle angel of righteousness, and also those of the wicked angel of iniquity. Hermas is exhorted to embrace the angel of righteousness. It’s like my Grandpa Pate has said, we need to yield to that right spirit!
This sounds to me like “the tyranny of niceness” in religion. Authenticity be damned, just be nice or else God will smash you. I am sure Tony Soprano will blush at the thought.
It is extremely rare for me to get angry at a person, but when I do, it can take over a year to let go. During that time, I often have to seek the Lord’s help – sometimes daily.
We all have different personalities and I don’t believe that there is a “Christian” personality or temperament. As we struggle with the flaws, the Holy Spirit really is there to help us, provided we are aware of the flaw and really seeking the Lord to be able to overcome it.
Hi Looney. How do you personally seek the Lord to overcome it? Is it through intense prayer, Bible reading, etc.?
Just prayer and Bible reading. Talking to others about it is a mixed bag, sometimes helping but sometimes I am tempted to vent. Mainly it is the time element, but prayer and the Bible help me get through the period. Another aspect is enumerating God’s blessings, which always far exceed whatever wrong has been done.
Last night I was reading the “Confessions of Saint Patrick” regarding conniving elders from Britain who were trying to undermine his mission to Ireland, as if he didn’t have enough troubles. This is something I can relate to as a similar incident caused my last bit of anger. Here is something Patrick wrote:
“For although I was put down and shamed, not too much harm came to me: I can only pray to God that ‘this be not counted as a sin against them'”.
Indeed, without conniving elders, this wonderful document would probably never have been written and nothing reliable about Patrick would have survived to the modern era.
None of that makes it easy. But the Holy Spirit is with us in the process.
BTW: Thanks for highlighting this Hermas document.