A young woman whose family I have known for years called me for advice. She had just been told by a young man that after long and earnest prayer, after seeking the face of God for days, the Holy Spirit had informed him it was God’s will she form a romantic attachment with him. With little deliberation and equal gravity I informed her she could tell her swain and his Spirit to go jump in the lake, and add a boot in my name to their collective backside with her good riddance.
There was a time I would have been more cautious about contravening the earnestly sought will of God in this way, since I was raised in a tradition that, while not charismatic, gave a good deal of respect to decisions earnestly prayed about--the earnester, the better. There was something arresting, and at times awesome, about the altered state someone could get themselves into by doing it, and the slightly grey but steely-eyed look acquired by the spiritually exercised lent authority to their pronouncements about the opinions of God.
But I am more confident now that the Holy Spirit, while mysterious, infinitely subtle, and often counter-intuitive is for all that no fool. The gabbling of enthusiasts is not his favored means of communication, nor is he a private gentleman. If he has a message for one who speaks for him, it meets what he has already placed in many of his own, and agrees. He is a friend to reason because he invented it, a friend of counsel, because he is eternally in counsel himself (some would even say, and not without reason, that he is Counsel), and a friend to the wisdom of age and experience, for he is the one who has given it, presumably for use toward his ends. (The presence of these virtues in the church virtually eclipses, I believe, the need for much of what is commonly regarded as charismatic gift. Since they are themselves part of the concrete and enduring telos of the Spirit’s work, there is good reason to suspect that the overuse and overvaluation of charismata--which may indeed be from God--is also, in whatever age and in whatever church they appear, a sign of spiritual infantilism.)
So, what should we say to the earnest conviction of this passionate stylite, this slightly haggard, bearded and bug-eyed boy who has spent an earnest week in prayer, ending in the revelation that God’s desires match his own, an infant Christian with a history of bad judgment in his religious associations, proud of an ethnic preference for passion over sterile reason, uninterested in the observations of the young woman’s other counselors--why should he be, since he has achieved a direct word from God--and with another girlfriend in his native country, forsooth?
I suppose we should be pleased that we are not dealing here with the effusions of a bishop, for then reason, counsel, and wisdom might (or might not) have a longer and more arduous task before them in review of his history, passions, and girlfriends back home. But my young friend was very happy for my judgment that this one was, as they say, a “no-brainer.”