Not alone

I’ve said it before, in a previous post: I’m an introvert. I don’t often feel lonely, even when I’ve been by myself for a while. Maybe that’s just because I already have a lot of people in my life, most especially a loving wife whose very presence — even in silence! — satisfies my need for companionship.

But that’s not to say that I don’t know what it’s like to feel alone, neglected,  left to fend for yourself. It’s a strange tension: even if in some ways you’d rather do it yourself, you don’t want to bear the burden by yourself.

I don’t know which of Jesus’ disciples might have been introverts or extraverts (though I have some suspicions). But gauging their reaction to the announcement that their master was leaving, I suspect that they were feeling bereft and abandoned. As we’ve seen in earlier posts, Jesus seems to spend time reassuring them. And most reassuring of all, perhaps, were these words:

I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever. This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you. I won’t leave you as orphans. I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Because I live, you will live too. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, you are in me, and I am in you. (John 14:16-20, CEB)

I don’t hail from a charismatic tradition — well, all right, as someone who didn’t come to Christ until college, I don’t really hail from much of any tradition at all. The congregations of which I have been a part haven’t said a lot about the Holy Spirit. But the truth of who we are as disciples of Jesus is that we have the incredible gift of the Holy Spirit, our ever-present and empowering Companion.

“Companion.” The King James Version says, “comforter” (a translation that scholars agree has little support), while translations like the NIV and NRSV have “advocate.” The confusion is understandable: John’s word stems from a verb that means to be called to stand or walk alongside another. Typically, that meant someone who would advocate for you in a court in law. But it could also refer more generally to someone who stood with you as a helper.

In 1 John 2:1-2, John speaks of Jesus as our advocate before the Father. The context there suggests that Jesus — the one who died for our sins — pleads our case when we sin. Put that together with the fact that in the passage above, Jesus speaks of “another” companion or advocate, and it makes sense to choose the latter translation; Jesus is one “advocate,” and the Holy Spirit is another.

But the context in John 14 is different. The disciples are feeling orphaned. Jesus is telling them that he will come to them after his resurrection, that they will see him even if no one else does. He is promising them resurrection life and a continuing presence: just as Jesus is one with his Father, so will they come to realize that he is one with them.

Jesus will, of course, have more to say about the Holy Spirit. But I want us to receive Jesus’ words like a much-needed hug (apologies to all those who hate it when we get all touchy-feely with the Bible). There may be times in which we feel very much alone, as if God doesn’t care and has left the building. And yet…in what must have been the disciples’ darkest hour up to that point, Jesus gives a very different picture. We have a Companion who will be with us — indeed, “in” us, forever.

We are not orphans; we are loved by our Father.

We are not alone.