It is one of the lines in the Bible that I’ve read rather lightly over, never stopping to consider what it might mean. Perhaps it’s easy to overlook because I want to get to where the story really begins. Or it’s so well known that I simply skip over it.
The line is in the book of Genesis, chapter 1, right at the very beginning in verses 1 and 2: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and void, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters (NIV; emphasis added). The King James Version, always more poetic, says the Spirit was moving over the face of the waters.
Well, of course the Sprit of God was hovering; this is the creation story, and where else would the Spirit of God be?
I never stopped to ask the rather obvious, what is meant by “hovering”?
One approach, the Life Application Bible, says that the image suggested by the words in the original Hebrew “is similar to a mother bird caring for and protecting its young.”
This isn’t a simple movement of the Spirit, or a pausing over the waters. This is something active, implying caring and protecting, as a mother – any mother – would be protective toward her children.
It implies even more. It implies that the Holy Spirit has personality.
Have you ever thought of the Holy Spirit as having personality? My image of the Spirit has always been that rushing wind and those tongues of fire in Acts 2, when the Spirit comes upon the disciples and they begin to speak in foreign languages.
And there’s more, says Francis Chan in Forgotten God: The Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a person, he says; “He is not an indistinct ‘power’ or thing.” He is a person, with personality, and we are called to relationship with Him, just as we are called to relationship with the Father and the Son. It’s a three-for-one deal. It’s not relationship with two and being come upon or empowered by the third.
Chan goes on to list the key elements of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. He is a person. He is God. He is holy and eternal. He has his own mind and he prays for us (consider the image of a mother and father praying for their children). He has emotions; the Bible clearly says the spirit can be grieved. He has his own desires and will. And the Spirit is all-powerful, all-present, and all-knowing.
My surprise at the idea of the Spirit having personality is evidence for the point that Chan is making in this book – we Christians, and perhaps especially we American Christians, have neglected the Spirit. In our focus on having a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” and our prayers to the Father, we have forgotten the Spirit, the “power source” for our Christian lives.
And the Spirit is hovering over us. Caring. Protective. Feeding. And being grieved.
As the Life Application Bible says, “God’s Spirit was actively involved in the creation of the world. God’s care and protection are still active.”
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading Forgotten God. To see more posts on this chapter, “Theology of the Holy Spirit 101,” please visit Sarah at Living Between the Lines.
Photograph by Brunhilde Reinig via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.