by Joshua Tan
We learn a lot about a person through their nicknames and titles. Harry Potter was called “The Boy Who Lived”, Frodo was called “Ring-bearer of the One Ring”. These titles not only tell us about the achievements of Harry and Frodo, but they also give us clues about who they are as people – their contexts, traits, and personalities. To become “The Boy Who Lived”, Harry was protected by people who loved him. To be a Ring-bearer, Frodo needed perseverance, a strong sense of duty, and courage.
The Holy Spirit has many titles in Scripture. He is called the Spirit of adoption (Rom 8:15), the Spirit of glory (1 Pet 4:14), and the Spirit of Christ (Rom 8:9). Isn’t it wonderful that we have a God who gives us his titles and names, who wants us to know what sort of person he is?
One of the richest and most revealing names of the Holy Spirit is the one that Jesus himself used. At the Last Supper, he calls the Holy Spirit the Paraclete, literally, “he who is called to one’s side” (CCC692). One common way to translate Paraclete is Advocate, another word for lawyer. Like a lawyer, the Holy Spirit is called to our side, to defend us and give us legal aid. He is our defender against Satan, who is called the ‘Accuser’ (Rev 12:10). Father Gregerson paints an image of the Holy Spirit engaging in battle with the Accuser:
“Imagine a courtroom scene where you are the defendant, the Holy Spirit is your attorney, and the prosecutor is Satan. Satan is good at what he does, and he will produce as evidence against you all of your sins, asking the judge for the highest penalty – eternal condemnation…. The Holy Spirit then defends you not on the ground of any merits you have… but instead He will point to Christ, whose sacrifice on the Cross has won for you the mercy of God the Father.” – Fr. Royce V. Gregerson
Of course, this courtroom scene doesn’t fully capture the reality of God’s relationship with us. God doesn’t need to hear Satan’s case to know your sins, nor does he need to be reminded of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to remember that he loves you. God the Father already knows you and loves you. But we need the Advocacy and Defence of the Holy Spirit because, oftentimes, we sit in that seat of judgement, judging ourselves. We listen to the accusations of Satan, letting him remind us of our sins, our weaknesses, and failures. We feel compelled to make our own defence by pointing to our worldly achievements and our own spiritual merits – we wear a mask of our own worth. Or worse, we agree with Satan that we are irredeemable and condemn ourselves.
As our advocate, the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, reminding us that God loves us that much – even unto death on the cross (Phil 2:8). He defends us by telling us that God loves us in our failures, weaknesses, and even our sin.
Another way to translate Paraclete is Consoler. The Holy Spirit consoles his people by walking with them through their suffering, assuring them that they are not alone. As he accompanies them, he raises their eyes above the uncertainty and suffering of their worldly circumstances and consoles them by pointing to God who is above all things, and who works things out for the good of his people.
I’ve personally encountered this consoling love and friendship of the Holy Spirit. Some time ago, I had to meet someone with whom I had a broken relationship. I knew that God wanted me to have this meeting, and I had two weeks to mentally prepare for it. My heart was anxious, and I was weighed down by my fear of being reminded of all the ways I was hurt by this person, and by the thought that I had to enter this conversation alone.
I initially avoided thinking about or feeling my pain. But, one day, the Holy Spirit broke through to me, “Your heart is hurting right now.” Instantly, the memories of the trauma in this relationship, as well as my own feelings of anger and sadness bubbled up. I was suddenly aware that I was running away from the painful memories and emotions. I also realized that God knew my heart better than I did. He saw the wounds in the depths of my heart, and he wanted to tend to them with his mercy and healing. As I prayed, God assured me that he would walk with me through this tough conversation and this valley of suffering was part of his plan to restore me and make me whole. Gradually, I was able to surrender my fears to God.
It consoled me to know that God was walking with me so closely. Though my feelings of anger and sorrow did not go away, I was no longer overwhelmed, because I knew that God himself was accompanying me. I was also relieved of my need to carry the burden of this broken relationship all by myself, since the Holy Spirit reminded me that God is working on this relationship, and restoring my heart. I was freed me from the expectation that I had to ‘solve’ this relationship in my meeting, and I went to this meeting with an open mind and heart.
Consoler. Advocate. Paraclete. These names of the Holy Spirit reveal that He is delighted to walk with His people, to defend them and console them. As we journey towards Pentecost, invite the Holy Spirit to show you how He is walking with you, both in the past and today. Invite Him again, intentionally, to be your Paraclete and commit to walking in intimacy with this gracious and loving God.